Editor’s note: Due to embargo restrictions around spoilers, parts of this review are intentionally vague. We’ve done our best to explain certain parts of the game and our critique without discussing any story spoilers; however, if you want to understand the full context of our analysis here, you can read the spoilery version of this review, which discusses the story in greater detail and further explains our thoughts. That review has the same score and just serves as a deeper, more detailed analysis for those who want to read more.
At the beginning of The Last of Us Part II, you get a glimpse of Ellie’s life in idyllic Jackson, Wyoming. If it weren’t for the walls surrounding the town, you could almost forget that the world is crawling with infectious monsters that would kill everyone in sight; its main road, blanketed in snow, is a charming row of old buildings with decks for sidewalks, more Old West town than post-apocalypse settlement. Its residents grow food, care for horses, tend bars, and even have dances and movie nights. Four years after Joel saved (kidnapped?) Ellie from the Firefly hospital, this is the life he wanted for her.
The Last of Us Part II grapples with Joel’s decision not through Joel, but through Ellie. This life is clearly not enough for her; she’s distant and brooding, obviously conflicted about something. She’s changed a lot. And when everything falls apart and she sets out in search of vengeance, you see her pain in its rawest, most brutal form. It’s a devastating, gruesome story of revenge in which the purpose of violence gets muddied by its intensity. But as a character study, The Last of Us Part II is beautiful and haunting, and I found myself completely overwhelmed by the emotional weight of it.