The Last of Us Part II has garnered a ton of controversy and discussion since it released on June 19. One of the biggest criticisms about this game is that it forces you to kill hundreds of enemies but later tries to hammer home a message of “violence is bad”. I will go on record and say that I disagree with this criticism because I don’t find the game’s message to be as simple and lazy as “violence is bad guys”. We know that, and developer Naughty Dog knows that we know that. The game says a lot more than this, although the fact that this is the overarching takeaway for many may speak for a problem with the execution.
Nevertheless, I am also of the belief that you can bypass many of the combat encounters by simply through stealth. To attempt to prove this, I am going to go through my fifth playthrough of The Last of Us Part II and I will try to kill as few enemies as I possibly can. I am going to be counting Abby’s forced kills too even though the argument really is “Ellie has to kill a lot of people then the game goes violence bad”. And I do want to focus on kills that you as the player are forced to do. I will be counting enemies that need to be killed but can be killed by NPCs, but the focus here is on kills The Last of Us Part II forces you as the player to make. Before we deep dive into this challenge, allow me to lay down a few rules:
- NPC companions such as Dina, Jesse, and Manny can kill as many enemies as they want without it counting towards my kill count. YouTuber Dante Ravioli did a challenge similar to this for The Last of Us Part I where it was discovered that NPC kills didn’t count towards the in-game kill counter for Part I. There is no kill counter for Part II, and since I am not controlling NPC’s, I won’t count it. I will be keeping track of both my kills and the NPC’s for both Ellie and Abby. I’m doing this by just counting the bodies on the ground and writing it down, so it might not be entirely accurate, and if anyone can get fewer kills then by all means let me know.
- Usage of the accessibility options is allowed because they are built into the game and everyone can use them. Mods and cheats are not allowed, and I am not aware of any glitches but if I was, glitches would be allowed for the same reason using the accessibility options are.
- Cutscenes do not count towards kills because I did not do it myself. There are a few “interactive cutscenes”, for lack of a better term, where it still is a cutscene but you are in control of killing or attacking a character. Those “interactive cutscenes” do count. If this doesn’t make sense now, I’ll make it a bit more clear in when these kinds of scenes come up.
- Flashbacks also do not count. These flashbacks are apart of the story, yes, but they have no bearing on the argument of “oh Ellie killed all of these people but the game wants me to feel bad about it later”. Another reason stems from the fact that none of Abby’s flashbacks involve enemies, so I don’t think it’s fair to count these kills. There is only one section in the flashbacks where Ellie has to kill enemies, but like I said, it ultimately has no bearing on the argument being made.
The prologue wasn’t hard at all. Our beloved former smuggler Joel told his brother Tommy about the end of the first game. For context, Joel slaughtered a bunch of Fireflies to save his baby girl. After this conversation, Joel and Tommy ride back to Jackson and Joel plays the guitar for Ellie, which becomes a massive part of this game later on. No enemies to kill, and my innocence is still intact. Thank you Naughty Dog, very cool!
We wake up four years later as 19 year old Ellie, who’s late for a big important thing, and her best bud Jesse came to remind her of such. I petted a cute doge, creepily stared at a man playing a banjo outside in the freezing fucking cold, and got dog-piled in a snowball fight against small children. Ellie and Dina, Ellie’s love interest, then join the rest of Jackson’s patrol group before riding off to clear infected. We then get a spooky perspective switch to Abby.
Abby’s first part in Jackson introduces the first forced kill of the game. While there are a couple of runners that jump you at first, you only have to hit one of them one time to fulfill the tutorial. The forced kill comes during this section where you have to crawl under this house in order to progress. On the other side of the exit is a runner. Once you reach a specific point, the runner will know where you are and start chasing after you. You have to kill this runner, or else you die. I tried going backwards to lure the runner into the house, but the game won’t let you do that. So here is forced kill number one. Luckily it was the only forced kill through her first part.
The first forced kill as Ellie comes in the supermarket shortly thereafter. There’s a runner in the room before this that Dina can kill after alerting it. However, there’s a room you try to squeeze in to after that where a runner charges at you, and the game has a scripted sequence where you throw a bottle to stun it before killing it with your switchblade. That is the last time you are forced to kill an enemy in the Jackson portion of the game. So far, there are only two times where you as the player are absolutely forced to kill an enemy.
The open world of Downtown Seattle was rather interesting. There were enemy encounters, but only two enemy encounters seemed to be mandatory. The infected you see in the bank as well as the runner that jumps out at you in the bathroom in the Barko’s Pet Store are all encounters you can avoid completely. Both mandatory encounters occur in the courthouse, one on the first floor and the other in the garage while trying to find gas for the Fuck FEDRA Gate. Dina can kill all of the infected without your help, but Dina’s aim is absolute dogshit, so it’ll take you a while if you commit to doing a pacifist run like this.
Moving on to the Serevena Base, there’s one enemy encounter immediately after you hop the fence to follow a runner that had also hopped the fence. Once again, these must be killed in order to move on, and Dina can kill these without help. The elementary school gives us our second forced kill as Ellie. After being caught by the WLF, Ellie is interrogated by Jordan and almost shot by one of his friends. Dina saves Ellie, falls through the glass ceiling, and you have to kill Jordan before he chokes Dina out. And this is about the time I tell you about my best friend throughout this entire run.
There is an option among the combat accessibility settings to make it so you are invisible while prone. This option isn’t absolute, believe it or not. Invisible While Prone works only when stealth is an option. There are certain set pieces where you legitimately cannot be invisible because the enemy has to notice you in order to kickstart the set-piece. I’ll clarify this more once I talk about the TV station, but just know that when I could stealth, this was my best friend. Even when stealth is an option, it isn’t always perfect. For example, if you are prone while in a combat encounter against infected, if the infected run into you, they’ll immediately know where you are and the invisibility is broken. Human enemies to an extent will also know where you are if you run into them, but they won’t be able to see you.
For another example, I spent about a half-hour on the elementary school section not because it was in any way difficult, but because fucking Dina wouldn’t follow me. I found out that I had to sprint, stop, and sprint my way through each wave of enemies at the school in order to get her to follow me through the fucking school. The only parts I didn’t have to just haul ass through were the first two enemies right after killing Jordan, and the last part where we crawl through the window to escape. Now, you as Ellie can sneak through the entire combat area without killing a single enemy. However, in my experience, Dina will not follow you at all unless you kill those first two enemies. So, I guess that’s two NPC kills added to our total.
Remember when I said invisible while prone only works for parts of the game where stealth is an option? The TV station is a great example of how this works. After you find Leah dead, Ellie and Dina hear that the WLF is sending a support team over to their location. They run into a wave of enemies as they try to escape. You can stealth your way by these enemies without any problem. However, there’s a set-piece that starts in the next room where Ellie and Dina are chased into what appears to be a train station by the WLF. Invisible while prone does not work from the moment this set-piece starts until you open the door to enter the train station. You don’t have to kill anyone during this segment, but you can’t stealth by it either. You have to run.
The train station isn’t altogether difficult either. You can stealth by every combat encounter with the exception of the last set-piece where Ellie’s mask breaks and the two have to run from the horde. I actually had to replay this set-piece to be sure there wasn’t a scripted kill for Ellie. As soon as the set-piece begins, an infected will grab Dina and you only have a certain amount of time to either kill it or stun it. I didn’t have a brick or bottle on me, and my dumb ass didn’t think to throw a stun bomb at it. So, I shot it in the leg, thinking it would be non-lethal. Nope. Every fucking time I tried to shoot this runner in the leg or foot, it’s leg blew off and it died. No matter the weapon. After saving my run, and loading up the tunnels chapter on a separate save, I found that you can just throw a bottle to stun this runner and you do not have to kill it. Dina does however have to kill two infected in order to save your life. That ends Seattle Day 1, and so far you, as Ellie, are only forced to kill twice.
Seattle Day 2 as Ellie is interesting because most of the time, you don’t have an NPC with you. This led me to predict that I could stealth by 95% of the combat encounters. And for the most part, this was true. There is a stalker that you absolutely have to kill as Ellie to progress the story, but the most kills come from set-pieces. Jesse does have to kill a few WLFs to get the keys to one of their trucks to kickstart an action set-piece. Ellie has to kill two WLF soldiers during the set-piece, as well as a clicker that Jesse runs over but doesn’t kill. There’s another set-piece where Ellie goes through an office building and is jumped by a stalker. That stalker knocks you out of a building and into the raging rapids below. You have to kill this stalker or else you’ll drown.
The rest of Seattle Day 2 as Ellie is pretty much stealth. There is a WLF soldier killed in a cutscene, but since we don’t push a button to initiate the killing, it doesn’t count. The kill that does count however is Nora. After sneaking my way through the WLF hospital, you find Nora in a room and Ellie will try to interrogate her. It goes to shit and there is an amazing chase scene where you eventually catch up to Nora, throw her in a room full of spores, then bludgeon her with a pipe. You don’t see her death, but it is implied, and you do have to hit square three times before the scene ends and everything goes back to the theatre. All in all, Ellie is forced to kill six enemies during Seattle Day 2.
Seattle Day 3 brings no NPC kills. All of the combat sections with Jesse can be passed by without killing anyone, although you may have to restart the encounter for one or two of them because Jesse may not follow you. Overall, Jesse’s AI is leaps and bounds better than Dina’s and he’ll usually do what you need him to. Ellie is forced to kill three enemies in this section. There is a bloater in an arcade you have to kill in order to progress the story, then you have to kill Abby’s dog, Alice, or else the canine will kill you. Lastly, Ellie kills Mel in what is technically a cutscene, but you have to mash the square button before she can stab you in the throat. Ellie stabs Mel immediately after that, so I am counting it as a forced kill. Ellie shooting Owen doesn’t count because you didn’t have to pull the trigger yourself.
I will quickly address the argument that players, as Ellie, kill “hundreds of enemies” before Naughty Dog attempts to make you feel bad with some “violence is bad” message. Whether you got that kind of a message out of the game is completely subjective. However, the game does not force you to kill hundreds of enemies as Ellie. By my count, from the Jackson chapter all the way through Seattle Day 3, Ellie herself has to kill 11 enemies. Also from my count, you have to kill 35 other enemies in order to progress, and the NPCs can kill all 35. Ellie doesn’t have an NPC companion in Santa Barbara, and no enemies spawn on The Farm, so that number will not change. While admittedly this may not be a perfect count, I think it suffices to say this argument that the game forces you to commit all of this violence is just incorrect.
Now, for comparison sake, we move on to counting Abby’s kills. In Jackson, she was forced to kill one enemy (and no, you sarcastic fucks, it isn’t Joel) and there were 13 NPC kills. Those NPC kills were Joel being an absolute mad lad with a shotgun. There is an action set-piece early in Seattle Day 1 where Abby and Mel are attacked by a group of Seraphites, or Scars. Abby does not have to kill anyone in this section, and neither does Mel. Mel did kill one of the Scars at the very beginning of the set-piece, and I am going to count it because I think that was a scripted kill. Really, Abby didn’t even have to shoot her rifle much.
After crashing the car, Abby and her friends run into two waves of infected. The first wave can be stealthed by, by you cannot stealth your way by the second wave. However, the NPCs can kill all of these infected, even the shambler. The Scar encounters aren’t all together difficult either. The first wave of Scars can be stealthed by, but the second wave initiates an action set-piece where Mel, Manny, and Abby are saved by fellow WLF soldiers. Abby again doesn’t have to kill anyone. The NPCs take care of the work for you.
Abby’s first forced kills come after she is captured by the Scars. Her, Lev, and Yara have to fight off waves of stalkers in this forest area. During the first wave, Abby, who doesn’t have her backpack, has to break the hammer she’s given in order to progress further. I tried my best to dip around and have Lev kill all of the stalkers with his bow, but after about 10 or so stalkers, he died. I didn’t get any different results, so it took me four stalkers to break the hammer and move forward. The second wave of stalkers can all be killed by Lev, but you might take a ton of damage because you can only run in a circle if you want to stay alive. Abby then has to kill a Seraphite Brute in order to retrieve her backpack.
There’s a combat encounter where Abby gets trapped in a building full of infected as Lev and Yara try to find a way out for her. You have to kill the infected until a shambler shows up. My count for this encounter, in particular, isn’t entirely accurate, but by my count, Abby needed to kill nine infected before being able to escape that building. This puts her at 14 forced kills in total, which is more than Ellie had through her first four chapters. Seattle Day 1 ends with Abby having, let’s just say, a really fun time.
Seattle Day 2 was interesting. There is a mandatory combat encounter rather early on. As Abby and Lev are making their way to the Wolf Hospital, the two climb a Scar ladder. Lev is immediately grazed by a bullet or arrow, I’m not entirely sure which. Abby can stealth her way through this section, but as soon as you start climbing the ladder, a Scar will grab Lev. This seems to be scripted because one of the accessibility options I have on is Allies Don’t Get Grabbed. This was another reason why I thought Ellie might have a scripted kill when the runner grabbed Dina in the tunnels during the Seattle Day 1 set-piece where they ran from a horde. Lev had to kill four Scars in order to progress.
Yes, Abby does have to kill The Rat King in the hospital. Also, fuck The Rat King, and fuck whoever had the idea for that boss battle. It probably is my fault for playing this on New Game instead of New Game Plus, but I digress. I was hoping I wouldn’t have to kill the Bloater/Stalker thing that detaches itself from The Rat King, but alas, you have to kill that too in order to progress. These two kills were the only two forced kills for Abby on Day 2, however. The rest of Day 2 is spent amputating Yara’s arm.
Day 3 is another interesting experience. Abby does not have to kill anyone at the marina. Manny can kill all of the infected that Tommy lures towards them with his sniper rifle. You can stealth your way through every combat encounter on the Seraphite Island except for the action set-piece on horseback, and the boss fight with the Seraphite Brute near the end of the chapter. During the set-piece, Lev will kill an enemy that jumps up on the horse that tries to attack Abby, as well as a Scar on horseback right before the burning building collapsed and scared the horse. The boss fight isn’t something you can get around, and you have to kill the brute to progress the story. Abby loses her backpack shortly before this fight, by the way. The brute attacks in twos and threes. You just have to guess which he’s going for. Have fun.
Abby’s killing of Jesse doesn’t count as that was done in a cutscene, and that concludes the Seattle portion of The Last of Us Part II. No enemies spawn on The Farm, and we switch to Abby in Santa Barbara. This portion is easy, as there’s one enemy encounter that you can just stealth by. Ellie, who isn’t accompanied by an NPC, also isn’t forced to kill any enemies in Santa Barbara. So, we have finally reached the end of this experiment. Here are the results:
Forced Kills NPCs Can Execute:
Ellie’s NPCs: 35 Abby’s NPCs: 53
Forced Kills The Player Must Execute:
Ellie: 11 Abby: 20
Suffice it to say that no, Naughty Dog and Neil Druckmann did NOT force you to kill hundreds of enemies as Ellie before using Abby’s story to try and make you feel bad about it. Ellie and her NPCs kill less than Abby, and most of the kills that Abby’s story would make you feel bad about aren’t even kills you make as the player. Most of Abby’s friends are killed in cutscenes. With the exception of Jordan, Nora, and I guess Mel (even though they aren’t really friends) you take no part in killing Abby’s friends and let’s not be conspiratorial to the point where we think a developer such as Naughty Dog is dumb enough to try and make you feel bad for shit you didn’t technically do. Not to mention, close to 80% of the forced kills in The Last of Us Part II are some type of infected. So I don’t buy this argument. Call me a shill if you want, but this is my opinion.
Now, I guess if you wanted to argue that Naughty Dog does force you to kill at least a hundred enemies based on the fact that those four numbers add up to 118, you could. However, I think it would be a bit of a weak argument, especially when the vast majority of these kills are made by NPCs. I am positive that someone out there can get these numbers lower, and I definitely look forward to seeing just how low The Last of Us community can get these to go. And if any of you spot a mistake I made in the counting or would like to see the breakdown by chapter I wrote down on paper, let me know on Twitter @LovelyDegree160.
Photo Credit: Naughty Dog