There are many things against human nature that we fight against. We see what we want to see. We gain our beliefs and views of the people and the world around us. And sometimes, to see, you have to show yourself. The Last of Us Part II illuminates many complex and challenging facets of humanity – a journey that touches on empathy, anger, and how we are defined by those around us. These philosophical considerations can be uncomfortable to contend with, but Naughty Dog conveys them with painstaking nuance and unfailing emotion, creating a narrative masterpiece with a unique power that few games have ever achieved. The story opens with a conversation about the end of the first game – about what Joel did at Firefly Hospital and the lie he told Ellie about it. This exchange lays the groundwork for the current state of their complicated relationship, which players understand even more deeply as the story continues. Locked in an encampment in Jackson, Wyoming, Ellie and Joel attempt to cope with the consequences of their previous actions, and the world continues to suffer from the chaos of infection that transformed humanity and ravaged civilization. The Last of Us Part II is defined by its story at every turn, and Naughty Dog masterfully weaves its themes across all levels. It portrays the raw violence that Ellie uses to navigate this difficult world, and that violence feeds into the crux of the plot during her quest for revenge. Yes, you kill many humans and infected along the way, but the accumulated effect of Ellie’s fury weighs on you over time. Even by clearing an area of hostile guards, you question your own role in the brutality. The people you murder have names and you can hear them talking about their loved ones as you sneak up on them. While it’s hard to say it’s “fun,” the way The Last of Us Part II forges that level of investment and immersion is one of its greatest strengths. The chaotic, post-apocalyptic layering creates the perfect opportunity for different factions to vie for power. In addition to the infected zombies, you also fight the militarized WLF and the tech-savvy seraphites. You deal with all of these groups in intense encounters that mix stealth and shooting in varied and unpredictable ways. Ellie’s increased agility allows you to jump, crawl, and leap through areas and enjoy verticality, but the biggest improvement in combat is how the world pushes you to play. Stealth is always rewarded, and you can control the battlefield using your resources wisely, especially in larger environments. I knew I had made a mistake by dying and felt content to skillfully handle a situation. Even with its many combat scenarios, The Last of Us Part II offers some quiet and lonely moments. Some areas are completely devoid of dating, but they don’t feel sterile. Instead, they focus on world building or get you as a player thinking about your actions. The people you meet along the way also play an important role in your trip; when you travel alone, you feel their absence. Environments tell their own stories of those who have been infected. People waiting for their families to return, soldiers hunting deserters and patients seeking care – you piece together these tragic and compelling stories as you read notes and interpret clues around the world. From a more practical standpoint, exploring each area is important to gather the resources used to craft items and improve talents like faster exploration and enhanced awareness. Almost every corner has something to find and I felt rewarded for rummaging through drawers and rummaging through every room. Walking into an empty store, it was easy to sense the characters in this world who had their lives turned upside down. And as much as gambling can be an escape, the state of the real world right now provides a lens that’s hard to ignore; I never thought seeing the remains of a bookstore or restaurant would be harder because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but they did. The production values that Naughty Dog brings to this experience are unmatched. The characters aren’t just beautiful – they look real, with quirks that make them more believable as humans. The world and its people are visually stunning, with illustrations and animations you will only see once, jokes and conversations that make the world feel alive, and a soundtrack and sound effects that m ‘made my back shiver. The low buzzes and water flowing over empty bottles add to the tension as you navigate the perils of the world. I can rave about the attention to detail, the world, and the combat, but it’s in this story that The Last of Us Part II sets a new bar. It’s more about challenging your heart than your reflexes, and I just can’t recommend it enough. There is a lot to be said about this game that cannot be said here due to spoilers, but you should play it as soon as possible with as little information as possible. But you don’t need to know the details to appreciate how the gameplay and environmental cues all play out for one purpose: They make you feel the choices, the helplessness, and the violence at the heart of this world and its characters. I can say this is the best narrative game I have played. I felt the loss. I felt the confusion. It’s a game that turned me upside down with every turn of the screw.