The Last of Us Part 2: What makes a Masterpiece?

Hot Take:  The Last of Us Part 2 has found a way to be even more divisive than Death Stranding.

As dumb and asinine as that may sound, that seems to be the case wherever you look online for the reviews. At the time of writing of the game’s launch, Metacritic was a fine example of an “us vs them” approach to how we look at games. The overall score from critics might be in the high 90s but the user score falls under 4.

This was when Last of Us Part 2 launched. It has sense moved up to 4.4
Source: Metacritic

As fun as it would be to speculate, “How can this be?” it isn’t hard to guess that a leak about the game’s story certainly didn’t help. There will be no talk about the spoilers here (although that could be a discussion for another time), but needless to say that if we didn’t have them, we could have begun to see the reactions of players and them coming to this conclusion of what was done with the story.

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But let’s take a step back. We aren’t here to ask “How is The Last Of Us Part 2 getting perfect (and near-perfect) scores?.”  Rather, the question we are going to speculate is more on the lines of “What does The Last of Us Part 2 do to be seen as a Masterpiece?”

Improving from the predecessor

So it should be easy to say what issues people have with The Last of Us Part 2. Again, for the sake of those who are playing through the game or do want to experience it, there will be no spoilers here.  Still, I can make an easy argument for how the story for The Last of Us was the reason why people saw it as a standout title on PlayStation. So much so that it would be a much easier argument to make saying how the original is more of a masterpiece than the sequel.

But now let’s look at the game itself. From those who do love the game for the gameplay, one common theme that always came up was how “This improves on the original in every way.” Joel might have been a man hardened by the world falling apart around him, but Ellie does have youth on her side. And with this seeming change to the playable characters, it does seem that there is less focus on just trying to survive and more on how you want to survive. The idea of having the mobility to jump or climb while also having much more variety in what you can do to the original is an attractive reason as to why 2 is better than 1.

How to make the world feel alive

And then there are the visuals in both characters and the world. It was one thing to have waves of enemies to murder as violently as possible, but another to make them seem like there’s some kind of humanity to them (as long as they aren’t infected). To have the enemy characters seem just as human, but find themselves in the same hell you are currently in is something we don’t really see nowadays. If we look at say, random people in a Grand Theft Auto, there may be some variation in how they look and if they interact with each other, but when it comes time for shooting, the AI kind of has everyone acting in the same way. Either “get into cover and shoot” or “mad dash to shoot target point-blank. That issue is here too in Last of Us Part 2, but even enemies feel like humans. 

If you want to point towards a game that you want to showcase the capabilities of the PS4, it is this right here.
Source: The Last of Us Part 2

And then there’s are the visuals of the game. It’s probably fair to say Naughty Dog knows how to build their worlds to make them visually stunning to look at. There was plenty of time given to each location to have them truly shine in their own respective rights. From the cities where the foliage has crept over the buildings to the vast fields and snowy landscapes; It would be easy to look at it all and say, “Dang, that does look good.” So much so that you can probably look up the photos fans continue to take while playing and see a wide variety of landscapes and locations that showcase the beauty of a world that’s fallen apart.

Giving a whole new meaning to accessibility

There is one last thing of note that we should mention here, and it is something we usually tend to overlook. While many gamers don’t usually have an issue playing video games as is, there are those who might have impairments. It doesn’t completely disable their means of playing video games, but it can become so much harder in comparison to everyone else. Enter in The Last of Us Part 2‘s accessibility options that not only cover visual accessibility but also for hearing and motor as well. In a way, this could explain my most quick time options could be tied into one button, but in a sense, there are those who are actually labeling this as “the most accessible game ever.

Say what you will about The Last of Us Part 2, but they do certainly did look into all details
Source: Sony Entertainment

From their expansive list of accessibility options, you do have your standard options like subtitles and making the HUD bigger and easier to see, but they took it steps beyond that. As you can see from the picture above, there are actual changes that can be done with the visuals that allows a player to better see the environment around them; including highlighting characters, items, and other prompts. Is a puzzle difficult to solve? Skip it.  Need to know if there is a sudden sound? get an indicator that highlights it. And even controls that might be too complicated for some can be made easier to execute while allowing things like auto-aim, unlimited prone invisibility, ledge guards, and so much more.

Is this excessive? Probably with more than 60 accessibility settings, but in a way, it shows how much the developers actually care. If The Last Of Us Part 2 will be remembered for anything, it should definitely be how it sets a standard of how to make your game accessible for everyone.

Who is the best person to judge?

Now there are plenty of other aspects to take into account, but in the end, it would be fair to say the following. For a game to make vast improvements from the original while expanding the capabilities of what can be done? Perhaps from that aspect, it is entirely possible that one can declare The Last of Us Part 2 to be a Masterpiece. Even some online are looking past particular scenes to take in the story as a broader picture and how in the end, it tells a moral for us all to consider. Would everyone agree with that said moral? No. The biggest thing here though is that when it comes time to talk about “those scenes,” we will find out then if the story would still hold up.

In the end, who could we say would be the best person to judge the game? The answer is pretty simple: look in a mirror.  You can read the reviews all day long and skim through just as many comments either praising or despising The Last of Us Part 2, but in the end, the final choice is yours to make. If you want to buy the game because you loved the first one, then go out and get it. But if you’re on the fence on it because of the story and where it went, then you have YouTube and a wide selection of Let’s Plays to watch others play through it. As long as you look at both sides of the argument, you should be able to make a fair judgment call from there.

Thanks for Reading

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As a quick personal note (if anything cares) I would argue that the story direction for The Last of Us Part 2 was not well thought out. From what happens to characters in the story and the outcome of those actions, that alone would be enough for me to say this game is not a masterpiece.

But at that same point, I’ll admit I do not have the right to really go any further beyond that point for one simple reason: I did not play The Last of Us. As such, if the gameplay and visuals did improve greatly from the first game, I can see how others would say the sequel is a masterpiece. Sadly though, I feel like when you take the story into account, that is where the argument does get messy for me.

Hopefully, for those who may share the same sentiment, it will be because they do see the flaws of the game rather than having a prejudice against certain characters and how they “identity.” Apparently that was the other thing I found in my research and honestly seems minuscule to focus on that as the “main issue” when there are much worse things at work.

Still, if you can have two affiliates of the same site give The Last Of Us Part 2 both a 10/10 and a 7/10, it shows that this is still more than just trying to “stay on a company’s good side” as some might put it. Take it as you will, be if anything else, please keep it civil. It almost seems silly to resort to accusing people of being bigots because “they didn’t like or understand the story.”

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Michael Solseth

How’s it going everyone, I’m Mike Sol and I am one of many contributing writers to Culture of Gaming. You can usually find me playing some of the latest games to come out, although I tend to avoid anything related to sports or strategy. I enjoy the big three and all the games on them but my main console is the Xbox One. I don’t have a specific preference in gaming, but any game that has fun action and beating up waves of enemies is usually my cup tea. If you ever want to game with me or want me to write about something of interest, feel free to hit me up. I also now have a personal blog where I go into deeper thoughts about things happening in the gaming world. Please come and check out Mad MAS Gaming here: https://bit.ly/31kPLMA

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