Last of Us 2 Review: That’s a lot of revenge

Doing some big revenges here.

(A note about spoilers: by the time I write a review of a game, you the audience have had ample time to play the game in question, if you had a mind to do so. So anything spoiled is your fault, bucko.)

Last of Us 2 is a game full of revenge and the consequences of trauma. Sounds fun, huh? Despite the crushing weight of the narrative themes, it does manage to be a “fun” game when you can put the grim reality of the story out of your mind for a bit. Complicated.

Basic story:

There was a fungal outbreak 30 years ago or so. The fungus turns people into murderous mushrooms. The remnants of humanity have huddled together to rebuild new societies to survive the ongoing mushroom threat. 4 years ago (AKA the events in The Last of Us), our hero Ellie was escorted by gruff ol’ Joel to a group called the Fireflies. Ellie is immune to the fungus, and the Fireflies were working on a cure. Easy peasy, right? Except that the Fireflies would have needed to kill Ellie to investigate her immunity. Ol’ Joel didn’t like the idea of his proxy daughter getting killed for science, and he did some bad bad things to stop it. Now they live in Wyoming town, trying to move on. Until one of the few remaining Fireflies finds Joel and extracts their bloody revenge for his bad bad deeds. And since they kill Joel in front of Ellie, Ellie swears revenge on the killers. Revenge leads to revenge leads to revenge.


Over the course of the game, our hero Ellie gets her revenge. Each time she kills one of the Firefly murder squad, it is a visceral and unappealing encounter. There is no joy in the revenge killing, only a nauseating hollowness. This is great for supporting the story’s theme, less great for the player’s enjoyment. I felt bad after each encounter. By the time I was 2/3rds of the way through the game, I just wanted to “press X to abandon revenge quest and grow beans with Dina instead”. I was not given that option.


And you can’t tell her to walk away because Ellie cannot walk away from her trauma. It haunts her. She’s compelled to keep seeking revenge because the accumulated trauma of her past and watching replacement dad get killed keeps her from functioning. She can’t sleep, can’t really eat, and is pretending to be normal for the sake of her girlfriend. Layer this on top of the constant psychological stress of fending off murderous used-to-be-humans, and fighting murderous actual humans, and it is a wonder that anyone can have a healthy human relationship. As the story unfolds, you learn that she knew about the bad bad things Joel had done. She knew that her chance to give her life purpose and meaning by being sacrificed for a potential cure was taken from her. And she had just decided to try to forgive Joel and build a new life, right before the revenge squad rolled in and killed him. The darkest truth is that there isn’t much life left inside Ellie. The need for revenge is the only identity that feels real to her anymore. Keep the fun coming!

The real monsters

Ellie versus murdermushroom person

The murder mushrooms are scary, sure. And the threat the fungal spores pose, an infection that has spread widely through the population like an, oh let’s say, a pandemic, is poignant for some reason right now. But they are monsters, and left on their own they will eat humans, so I don’t feel bad stabbing a murder mushroom in its weird spore-neck. The human factions are a different story. Townsfolk, Fireflies, Washington Liberation Front, Seraphites, Rattlers. All humans, all fighting each other over territory and ideology. No matter how awful and violent a particular faction was (and most of them were truly awful), I felt tremendous guilt when I stabbed one of them. The game also took special care to show the blood and gore from my murdering, enhancing my unhappiness. I wanted to save human lives, not end them. In a post-apocalypse, human life should be precious.

Is this still going on?

The game had pacing issues. Multiple flashback scenes for the pair of main characters. Playing through a section of the game, only to replay the same time period from the other character’s perspective. A neat trick the first time, but by the third or fourth time (I lost count) I was exhausted. I knew all the awful things that were to come, I knew that both Ellie and the other main character (Abby, the one who actually killed Joel because he killed her Firefly dad. REVENNNNNNNGE) were dark, flawed people. Pretending to be these people stopped feeling good by the end.

File Not Found: Redemption Arc

I am a sucker for a qualified happy ending. I know there’s no magic anti-murder mushroom solution. I know the things Ellie has gone through has damaged her fundamentally. But give me some hope that even the broken can find peace. And if they move towards peace, please stop inflicting awful things on them. I get the point, the world is cruel and humans are wicked. You don’t need to hammer it home again and again and again.

Final score: B

I did enjoy playing this game. It is gory, it presents violence in the most unflattering light possible, it made me feel bad for humanity, but I think that was the goal. It was fun to negotiate the unpredictable landscape of a partially collapsed Seattle, skulking through ruined buildings looking for salvage and seeing the sad tableaus left by the previous occupants. I only wish it gave me a little less despair.

One of the few non-revenge moments. It was nice.

New book, who dis?

(AKA watch me make my wife mad)

The final book in the “Spellbound Railway” series is here!

Happenstance is here!

In what may be the softest soft launch in the history of publishing, my latest book, Happenstance, is now available. Okay, so it’s been available for a while. I just didn’t tell anyone. There really hasn’t been a good time to self-promote during the age of plague and unrest. But I’m telling you now! It’s on the Books page and everything! I should have set up a virtual book launch where a small group of people could watch me awkwardly read an excerpt on Zoom, but who wants to see that? (Honestly, who? If you do like the idea of attending a virtual book launch, comment on this post and let me know!)

Happenstance is the fifth and final book of my young adult series, “The Spellbound Railway”. The big climax! The multiverse in peril! Smooching! This book has it all.

Important Reminder about Free Stuff!

I am giving away digital copies of the first four books in the series…for FREE! Can you even comprehend my magnanimity? I barely can. Go to to grab an e-copy. Tell your friends. Inform your acquaintances!

Love of Music

BartMetalI am a music nerd. I hear a song I like, I read up about the artist, their past work, their lives. I grab their old albums and dive deep into their work, sometimes with disappointing results. There are a lot of albums out there that should have been a single or at most an EP.

But I digress.

The lyrics are the part of a song that I focus on primarily. You ever been to a concert and been stuck beside some loudmouth who bellowed along with every song? Sorry! I can’t help myself, nor do I want to stop singing along.

Back in the summer, I had the chance to see one of my current favourite bands, The National. Here’s one of my current faves:

And for the first time in possibly forever, I went with a friend who loves music as much as I do, my friend Sue.

As we sat around between opening acts and hoped that there would be food left in the food trucks for us, I discovered a shocking fact: Sue loved the music much more than the lyrics. How could this be???

I had assumed that she loved the music in the same way I did, and it blew my mind that someone could be as equally devoted to a song as I was but for a completely different reason.

Don’t get me wrong, the music part is important to me too. Otherwise, I’d be sitting around grooving to poets doing spoken word. (shudder). But I thought the lyrics were always the star for me. The bands I love (The National, The Hold Steady, The Tragically Hip as examples) are storytellers, and I am a sucker for a narrative. I chew it up and wonder how those characters got to that point (which triggers my own storytelling gland).

Imagine my surprise when I discovered songs that I loved despite not being able to sing along with them. Both songs are by Greg Dulli, from two different bands that he helmed.

Song #1:Crazy

There’s something about this song that activates the primal part of my animal brain. It floods me with imaginary memories of that pure and joyful lust that comes at the first blush of infatuation. No guilt or doubt, just two people starving for each other.

Song #2: Teenage Wristband

This one has some sense of romance to it, but it asks more questions that it answers. It makes me think of two people driving around in the lost hours of the night. A pause before whatever happens next, good or bad. Delaying the inevitable next step forward.

And as much as I love both of these songs, singing along with them doesn’t give me the same thrill as shouting along to my other favourites. These two songs skip the verbal part of my brain and go straight to the emotional section, and that is a mildly unsettling experience for me. I am all about words, words, words.