Game Ramblings #115 – The Last of Us Part II

More Info from Sony

  • Genre: Survival Horror / Adventure
  • Platform: PS4

Admittedly, I wasn’t a huge fan of the first game. The only reason I finished it in the first place was because the story and setting for the game was so captivating. Mechanically, it otherwise reminded me a lot of Red Dead 2 – unnecessarily tuned towards realism, and generally clunky. For the sequel, it was again the story that kept me rolling on through, although I was surprised as I played how much the game had mechanically improved. That’s not to say I think that its mechanics are necessarily great, but it felt much better as a game, which allowed me a much smoother path forward through it.

If I look back at the original game, there were a number of mechanics that generally frustrated me that feel much improved here.

Gun combat in the first was pretty difficult, mostly because aiming felt made to be incredibly difficult on purpose. This one was somewhat more tuned to be a game. That’s not to say it was CoD aiming, but it was more forgiving. There were also some upgrades that provided significant boosts to your ability to quickly aim, have stability, etc that made things cleaner. It also just felt like the game was made to support gun-based interactions better. The original felt like guns were there for oh-shit moments. In this one, resources aside, I felt like I could legitimately play the game using gun combat as a primary path, even if I didn’t go that route. It’s better enough that I kind of wonder how much of it has actually changed, or if I just had a better feel for it this go through.

Melee combat was also significantly improved in a way that made me avoid combat significantly less than in the first. Dodging attacks is extremely fast and useful. Enemy tells are obvious without having huge timing windows. The melee combat in that regard is simple – basically dodge and swipe – but it feels fair, and it feels precise. The original game’s mechanics basically resulted in me avoiding combat entirely, because it felt like a death sentence. In this one, oddly large damage at times aside, combat didn’t feel like a reload – it just felt like a different kind of challenge.

However, the big thing that really changed combat for me is that the set pieces felt designed for combat. That’s kind of vague, but this is probably my best description of it. In the original, encounters with the infected were generally stealth sequences with guaranteed death traps. They were tight quarters, often had sound-based traps, and if you triggered the wrong infected, you were screwed. The infected areas in particular were terrible for gun combat, since they were generally winding corridors with no sight lines to shoot. That generally just exacerbated how rough the guns were for me to begin with.

In this one, things are just a lot more free flowing. The encounter areas are generally wider and more open, even when indoors. There’s a lot more escape spots – whether it be vaulting over something, escaping through a gap, or just generally having the horde go back into roving patterns if you kill your immediate target and hide. The same things you can use to vault over can also be used for peeking over and firing. Sight lines are much longer in almost all encounters, giving you more opportunities to shoot and save yourself when things do go wrong. There’s much better ability to even fire silent ranged projectiles like arrows, which greatly enhances your stealth capabilities. Overall, this one felt much better as a combat game, rather than combat being something that is a last resort.

That’s not to say that things always felt great. The picture above is from what is probably the largest boss-style encounter, taking place in the VERY dark and VERY tight abandoned basement of a hospital. This one felt straight out of the original game. I couldn’t see far, I couldn’t navigate well, and I was able to get stuck on things extremely easily. I probably died more in this single fight than the rest of the game, and generally speaking it felt less like mistakes I made, and more the game fighting against me. Luckily, this was far less common than the original.

There was also one early game surprise that really brought me into the game, but quickly and sadly went away. The first day of the first of the game takes place in a pseudo-open downtown Seattle. You get a map, you get to check off areas you’ve explored and pilfered for goods, you actually get to just randomly explore. They so heavily teased an open world experience, with all the side tracking exploration that I love out of that type of game. Then you get to the end of that chapter, and it’s completely linear for the rest of the game. It felt like a cock tease, and even worse is that it worked really well. It was fun to wander over to a big ruin, see if there was a path in, go in and sneak around the infected, and find some prize at the end. That’s not to say that the rest of the game didn’t have some semblance of side tracking, but from then on it was always incidental entering a building you were walking past anyway, and not giving the player the agency of wandering around a city just to explore. In the context of the story it made sense, but I was sad to see the mechanic teased then pulled away.

So then, that story:


I suspect I ended up liking the story a lot more than the general internet has, or at least, the internet seems really up in arms about it, and it’s hard to tell how much of that is noise or consensus. There’s no way to really avoid it – Joel came out of the first game looking like a real asshole. I sympathize with what he did, and I sympathize with Ellie being the only immune survivor, but there’s no doubt that Joel potentially fucked humanity. However, the story felt complete. It being complete is what made the start of this one so predictable. Joel was going to get killed by someone in an act of vengeance. There was no way that was going to be avoided, because there’s no reason for the sequel to exist otherwise. If Joel isn’t going to get killed, then him and Ellie are going to be living their best survivor life in Jackson, and this was not going to be a farming simulator.

That’s not to say that the predictability was bad, but it muted what was probably the opening shock moment to me, and it set an early tone for Ellie’s arc in this one. She was always going to come out looking like an asshole on her quest for vengeance. However, I had no problem with that. She had good reasons within her character arc to go out for vengeance, had a good path in doing so, and the payoff was gratifying within the expectations I had.

The big swerve for me in that regard ended up being Abby. Her connection to the first game as the daughter of the surgeon you murder right at the end of the game was incredible. It gave a second arc of vengeance that was definitely convenient in its appearance, but equally strong. Abby’s arc in particular felt more interesting and complete to me. Her arc started as one of completed vengeance, grew into a character learning to trust in others and not so blindly follow orders, and ended back at the beginning in vengeance after Ellie and her crew killed her friends. Of the two arcs, Abby’s felt like it had more overall growth, and wasn’t just fueled of blind rage. In doing so, it added to both of their arcs, and added interesting back story to the path of the original game.

That’s not to say that everything in the story felt great to me. Dina’s pregnancy in the game’s first arc felt a little too like a convenient plot device to give a reason for Ellie having a fixed base in Seattle, and felt too convenient of a way to provide tension in their relationship. Jesse’s character felt like a convenient pop-up helper in the first arc as well, then after he’s killed he felt swept under the rug entirely, as Ellie’s anger through the end of the game was still clearly around vengeance for Joel. The Scars also felt less like the intended “back to nature” rebel group, and more like another convenient way for the second arc of the game to have a large-scale enemy. It gave Abby some room for character growth, but it felt unnecessary when she could have also been rebelling against the group she was a part of with the same end gain.

However, the big issue for me was really the lack of player agency in the finale sequence. This is a similar problem I had with the first game. You had no choice but to escape with Ellie in the original, and you had no choice but to kill the surgeon. Without it, this game wouldn’t exist. This one had a similar problem. The Seattle portion of the game ends with Ellie and Abby facing off, and effectively fighting to a violent draw. They’ve both lost people at each other’s hands, and they’ve gotten to a point where Ellie has lost, and Abby no longer has the will to fight. As an ending, this felt appropriate. They’re both assholes, and neither of them are going to gain anything by killing any more. And then the game continued.

The end arc of Ellie tracking down Abby again to kill her felt forced, especially in how the result panned out. Abby is found imprisoned and at the end of her rope while trying to find any of her past life with the Fireflies. Ellie is emotionally and physically drained, and has abandoned her life with Dina to continue her path of vengeance. Given the rest of the game, it felt like one more unnecessary smack across both of their faces – giving them one more dose of suffering in an already shitty world. You’ve got no choice in the path that this takes, and it’s incredibly frustrating. You can’t help Abby not get imprisoned. You can’t have Ellie just enjoy her life in Wyoming. Hell, you can’t even go for a complete bad ending and have one of them die anyway. In the end, Ellie is alive and goes home. She lets Abby escape to Catalina Island to go to the Fireflies. Ellie has nothing to go home to, and the Fireflies have no ability to even provide her with the saving grace of being humanity’s savior anymore. It all ends in complete hopelessness, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Really, it feels setup in a way that provides a path for another sequel.


I guess overall, this one fell on the more positive side of what I expected. Given the first game, I expected some mechanical roughness. I definitely got that, but mechanically it fell far more on the positive side that I went in expecting. On the story side, I expected a difficult story, but one that I enjoyed and I got that, even if a few things rubbed me a bit the wrong way. On the setting side, I expected a fantastic compelling setting, and I got that in spades. It’s interesting seeing where this one landed, and it’s a really fine example of what’s possible in game storytelling, despite the fact that the internet seems to be a little angry with the end result.

Game Ramblings #70 – God of War

More Info from Sony

  • Genre: ARPG
  • Platform: PS4


  • Phenomenally well made game that brings the series out of its brawler roots and straight into a full blown action RPG.
  • Well written characters and story, to the point where they effectively make you hate the son when he’s acting like an ass.  Does a good job blending in Norse mythology to what was previously a Greek-focused series.

God of War is one of those series that screams Sony first-party, but it’s been eight years since the Greek timeline games ended.  Ya we had Ascension, but that was a prequel and even that was give years ago.  After such a long gap, announcing a Norse reboot / sequel was already a head turner.  Announcing it as a drastic genre departure was another, with this game now being very much an action RPG with all the free roam trappings that come with it.  Side quests, item collection, crafting, upgrades, skill trees and more are all there.  Despite it all, this is both extremely fitting for the series, and quite possibly the best entry of them all.

The entire game is the story of Kratos and his son’s travels, and that’s where the differences begin.

This first screen shot says a lot about the differences in this game relative to the original.  For one thing, Kratos now has a son and he hasn’t managed to accidentally kill him in a rage.  Beyond that though, you start to see little details.  The son brings in a set of ranged combat possibilities that add some new depth to the core combat.  Kratos is wearing gear that was crafted at a vendor.  We’re clearly no longer romping around in Greece.  On the far left, Kratos is using an axe instead of blades (although the blades come back later).  Basically, this is still God of War, but it’s not quite what we’re used to.

The combat front straddles that line between familiar and new in a really good fashion.  This is still melee-chain combat, but it’s not quite as high speed as the original.  You still have your light and heavy attacks, but there’s a much larger focus on parrying and dodging.  Later on in the game, you end up juggling between frost and fire weapons based on the enemies that you are attacking, so there’s some built-in strategy.  The skill tree that is there brings in some familiar special attacks, but the risk of being hit during them is much higher, so their timed use becomes much more important.

It’s the son that ultimately brings in some of the big changes.  While his positioning isn’t directly controllable by the player, his basic move set is.  He’s got arrows that can be fired at enemies, sometimes for additional damage, sometimes for the use of crowd control, sometimes for the use of stunning to allow Kratos to get damage in.  He’s also got some special attacks that can be triggered on cooldowns.  However, it’s his passive skill growth that becomes the most useful.  By late game, he’s got skills that allow him to engage in melee combat more often, including things like hopping on enemies backs as distractions and doing his own quick hitting melee.  Basically, as the son grows as a plot device, he becomes inherently more useful as a combat device, and it eliminates the frustration that typically comes with escort-based secondary characters.

Now, that’s not to say that moving to more of a core RPG combat has removed some of the flashiness. Case in point:

The big flashy scenes are largely reserved for finishers in battle, and more specifically generally against bosses and minibosses.  Stun kills on trash enemies also have mini-cutscenes, but these are quick hitters and don’t try to keep you out of combat for very long.

Despite the changes, the flow of combat feels phenomenal overall.  Most engagements are going to be a heavy mix of attacking, watching for enemy tells to parry, or really large attacks to dodge.  Its a system of constant movement, rather than a system of waiting for moments, and it really works well.

If you want to, you can spend a lot of time in boats exploring

If you really have that RPG itch though, this is also a great game for that.  Beyond the main story line, there’s side quests and collection galore.  For the most part, these simply exist for purposes of getting more gear, but that becomes important for the post-game content.  The end boss is by a long shot easier than some of the creatures out in the world and some of those fights are among the most fun in the game to engage in, so you have a lot of reasons to get out there exploring.  If you’re a lore or collection nut, there’s also a lot there.  Shrines, treasure hunts, rare ingredients, dragons to free, and more are there for exploring.  If you’re really feeling brave, there’s also two realms that exist purely for the sake of side quests.  Basically, once you finish the game you aren’t really finished if you think you want to get a bunch of hours out of this one.

At this point in the game I wanted to kill the kid, and that’s a lot larger of a complement to the developers than it sounds.

However, the thing that kept me coming back is that this was a well told story.  The interplay between Kratos and his son starts off as somewhat hilarious on the surface as Kratos pretty much spends hours yelling BOY GET OVER HERE.  However, once the boy finds out what he really is, he becomes effectively a pompous ass for an arc of the game.  The fact that I was legitimately pissed at the kid says a lot about how effective their writing was.  The gods they meet throughout, the secrets beneath the surface, and to the end of the game the little plot twists that were thrown in were all part of what would make this one great, even for folks watching it like a movie alongside someone playing.

So, I guess I’m somewhat surprised even if I shouldn’t be.  The God of War series has always been somewhat of a hallmark for the quality of Sony’s first-party teams.  However, it always was kind of a brawler with a cool theme, and not necessarily a super deep experience.  This one turns all that on its head, giving us an extremely deep action RPG that still feels familiar despite all the changes.  The fact that they so fundamentally evolved this series is a phenomenal achievement.  This is the type of game that turns other platform traditionalists into PlayStation owners, and I can’t recommend it enough to go out and play it now.