Storytelling in games simply doesn't get any better than this. The Last of Us Part II is an epic, emotional, character-driven tale that focuses not so much on monsters or disease, but on familiar issues including family, love, friendship, anger, and death. But the hub around which everything rotates is an urge for vengeance so strong that even the players might feel it, even though they know -- as the protagonists do -- that it's bound to lead to yet more suffering and tragedy. Even as players engage in the violence to which our heroes seem committed, which is brutally intense and often terrifying, there's an unavoidable feeling of dread and regret. Do the people we kill really need to be killed? What about their loved ones? By the end of the lengthy story, players likely will no longer want to fight. Pressing buttons to attack certain characters becomes agonizing once we fully understand everyone's pain. It's a deeply violent game that somehow uses its violence to protest violence.
Serving to enhance our immersion in this moving story filled with complex characters is the stunningly realized world they inhabit. It's strangely gorgeous. Urban streets have been reclaimed by nature in all its glory, including animals, creeping greenery, and rivers. And every location we visit -- from little mom-and-pop shops with broken windows to the dusty homes of families long dead -- has its own sad story waiting to be discovered through notes, artifacts, and architecture. It's easy to spend hours simply exploring the environment, starting off looking for supplies and getting lost looking at old posters on walls or working out the history of a ruined wall or collapsed ceiling. A more authentic and compelling imagining of a post-humanity planet doesn't exist in the world of games. The Last of Us Part II is a decidedly grown-up experience, packed with horrifying situations, adult themes, and multidimensional characters with good intentions and tragic flaws, but mature players craving an action-packed game with an emotional wallop won't find anything better.