The Last of Us 2 has a pacing problem [Spoiler Free]

Last night I finished The Last of Us 2; it took me about 35 hours. Granted I tend to be a slow gamer, but still it felt way too long even accounting for my methodical gaming style. This post is Spoiler Free, beyond just talking very generally about the game’s structure.

TLOU2 is part interactive movie, part adventure game, with a healthy dash of survival horror mixed in. The big issue for me is the movie part didn’t flow well since there were such long stretches between story beats. So you get some story (often via in-engine cut scenes) and then you play for a long time, then you get a little more story. This formula has worked nicely for prior Naughty Dog games like the first The Last of Us and the Uncharted series, all of which were some of my favorite games ever.

What bogs this one down is the scavenging. There are several categories of items you need to scavenge for:

Materials: This is stuff like rags, alcohol and bottles. You use this stuff to make health kits, Molotov cocktails and the like. I’ll lump bullets in this category too. Inventory space is quite limited so you never feel over-stocked, but since it is so limited you’ll often want to make sure you’re at capacity. Still once you are full you COULD stop scavenging except for the other categories.

Supplements and Field Manuals: These items are the focus of the skill system. You have to find Field Manuals to unlock skill lines, and supplements (jars of pills) are your currency to buy skills. You want as many of these as you can get, and if you miss a Field Manual it could really hamper you later. I didn’t max my skills by the time the game is finished.

Parts: Parts are the currency you use to upgrade weapons. Again, you want as many as you can get and I didn’t fully upgrade my weapons by end of game.

Collectibles: These are mostly for Trophy hunters.

The gameplay loop is basically move into an area, fight the baddies and/or solve some traversal puzzle, then spend a LOT of time exploring every nook and cranny of that area. You’ll want to replenish supplies you used in the battle, of course. More importantly you’ll want to make sure you haven’t missed any supplements, manuals, parts and (if you’re a trophy hunter) collectibles that may be there.

For me the action:searching ratio was probably like 1:4. In other words for every 5 minutes I spent fighting, I spent 20 minutes scrounging for supplies. It got really tedious.

Not only is it tedious but it impacts how you play the game. In theory you could stealth/sneak through an area, which would mean you don’t use up supplies (and keep your body count down). You’ll still want to scavenge the area for supplements and parts though. This is extremely hard to do while enemies are still alive, so effectively needing to scavenge takes stealth off the table. Generally I killed everything, then searched.

I don’t remember this being as much of a problem in the first game. Maybe the areas were smaller or the supplies more generous? There’s nothing like climbing through a building because you see a ‘glint’ the indicates something is there, and when you get there it is 1 bullet or 1 supplement (when you need 40 for your next upgrade).

One trick I did learn was to go into the Accessibility Options, pick the Navigation & Traversal option, and turn on Enhanced Listen Mode. This will let you send out a sonar-like ‘ping’ that will indicate the location of items that you can grab. It’s ‘smart’ too. If you can’t carry any more rags, it won’t ping rags, for example. I set it to maximum range and minimum time and used it a lot. I still missed stuff, though, based on the Trophies I didn’t earn.

I have a lot more thoughts on the game overall, but I’ll hold off until more people have played it, or I’ll just do a spoilerific post. I’m glad I played it, though I was also happy to have finished it so I can move on to other things.