Without question, The Last of Us is a game worth celebrating. Of all AAA video game releases to have come from a major publisher/developer combination it is one of the most tender, thoughtful and insightful. Naughty Dog manages to comment on the innate fears, needs and desires of humanity, using the relationship between Ellie and Joel as a vehicle to present its message in a way the audience can relate to.
Inevitably, with Uncharted 4 disappearing fast in the rear view mirror, everyone is wondering what Sony’s flagship studio has planned next. The Last of Us 2 has been on everybody’s mind since Nolan North, the voice of Uncharted’s Nathan Drake, let slip that Naughty Dog has plans for a sequel. Of course, we're all expecting any sequel to expand upon and improve the ideas served by the original. How, though, can Naughty Dog go about improving on something that is already so loved and respected by so many? Call us heretics if you like for daring to suggest any improvements, but we’re about to do just that.
Fewer enforced action scenes
For the most part, The Last of Us features expert pacing and a satisfying blend of slower, more considered moments alongside faster, more frantic moments. However, the frequency with which you are forced to interact with concepts of shooting and killing sometimes worked to break the illusion that you were playing as two people struggling to survive. By having you kill so many, it became difficult to believe that you were anything other than the most powerful duo in existence – a problem especially pronounced in segments where you control the pre-pubescent Ellie, who is more often than not somehow able to fight off vicious (adult) marauders and zombies in a physical confrontation. And remember that terrible shooting gallery section with the machine gun?
The Last of Us 2, therefore, would benefit greatly from asking you much less often to rely on your gun to see you through tough situations. Nobody enjoyed fighting the bloaters, let’s be honest. So why not make a total stealth run an option? Ideally, the gun should be the last resort in all cases and no matter what difficulty setting you decide to play on. The Last of Us is at its best when protagonists Ellie and Joel feel isolated and without hope, a sensation that is undermined whenever they blast their way through numerous aggressors.
Fighting enemies was the weakest point of The Last of Us: the combat was overshadowed by other games doing similar things – not least Uncharted – and in no way does it match the quality exuded by the rest of the game. Attacks felt laboured and predictable, sequences quickly felt repetitive and tiresome and before long you were crossing your fingers and hoping you didn't have to indulge in another fight.
Improving combat would go a long way to making action sequences something to crave rather than scorn, making you want to take the fight to the enemy rather than wish there wasn't an enemy at all. More variety in your actions, smarter AI opponents and more diverse ways in which you can avoid fighting through stealth should be top of the priority list in this regard.
More use of visual storytelling
If The Last of Us' 'Left Behind' additional content taught us anything about the people behind the series, it's that they are individuals capable of communicating information and generating emotion without simply relying on spoken dialogue.
The old cliché of 'less is more' was again proven true through Left Behind, the relationship between Ellie and Riley relying just as much on the audience interpreting the imagery as it did on anything the two girls said to one another. Video games are a visual medium, after all, and it makes sense that designs should seek to make the most of this advantage.
Visual storytelling also has the benefit of making something feel more personal as different players are going to pick up on different and thereafter it becomes exciting and fun to talk about what we did or didn't pick up on. The Last of Us 2 is likely going to provide the same kind of deeply personal look at its characters that the first game did, so generating this personalisation across the audience would be welcome.
Greater development of supporting cast
Whilst Ellie and Joel felt like well-rounded characters with believable motivations that fed into and enhanced their relationship with one another, the cast around them often felt hollow and in existence only to serve the progress of the leading pair.
More emphasis on believable secondary characters would help develop further the world established by the game and tempt players to think more deeply about why these apocalyptic events have happened and how they have affected the lives of normal people. Having support characters worth caring about would generally enhance your relationship with the game as a whole and tempt you to play through multiple times in order to fully understand everybody's motivations, fears and desires. In essence, it increases the humanity of a game if more characters within it feel human.
Native 4K and HDR support
With the PS4 Pro offering so much in terms of visual upgrades, it would be an enormous shame if The Last of Us 2 didn't support each and every one of them to their fullest potential. Developer Naughty Dog is well-known and respected for the quality of its visual design and, as such, the art team should have little problem taking advantage of the extra power offered by PS4 Pro – so long as the technical departments are able to soundly implement the visual production ideas.
Most important of all is support for 4K and HDR, the former allowing for greater generation of finer details and the former offering an expanded colour palette and greater levels of contrast. Within the kind of dilapidated, zombie-infested environments that The Last of Us 2 is likely to take place, both the details and the contrast can be put to good use.
Option for very low difficulty setting
The Last of Us 2's narrative design would more easily come to the fore if Naughty Dog allowed players the option of engaging with an extremely low difficulty option. Dying and restarting is one of the greatest barriers to creating a believable, realistic narrative within a video game and so limiting death makes sense in a game trying to make you feel empathy for its characters and story.
Presumably, The Last of Us 2 is going to attempt to deliver the same kind of focus on character relationships, surviving harsh conditions and the emotion that these things bring out of the player. If the player is dying regularly then these elements are disrupted and some players might decide to quit altogether – this is especially likely for people that want to play the game but aren't good at games in general.
The 'hardcore' gamer can play a more challenging difficulty, but there also needs to exist a straightforward one for those more interested in the narrative than the action.
One of the most important elements of The Last of Us is its character development, the bond that grows between Ellie and Joel as events unfold being the core reason to stick around to see the finale. However, given how that game ended, it could be argued that there is little interest in revisiting the same characters and that a new leading cast would be better suited to expanding upon the wider narrative.
Introducing new characters would allow us to see the same gaming universe through different eyes, forcing a fresh reading of the deadly situation the world finds itself in.