Following a series of cinematic trailers, Sony debuted the first look at gameplay from The Last of Us Part II during its recent E3 2018 press conference. What Sony and developer Naughty Dog showed is just as gruesome as the previous trailer for the sequel; on top of a man getting eviscerated, we see Ellie perform a number of brutal takedowns and kills. It's definitely a lot to take in all at once, and it's also cinematic--it can be hard to tell what's pure combat and what's a cutscene-like transition.
While at E3 2018, we had a chance to speak to co-directors Anthony Newman and Kurt Margenau about the game. They gave us insight into what exactly we're seeing in the trailer in terms of combat, and as it turns out, much of what looks cinematic--Ellie's perfectly timed dodges and pulling an arrow out of her shoulder--is actually within your control. That looks to be a key component in framing and shaping the intense violence in The Last of Us Part II, as well as something that can add greatly to Ellie as a character.
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"In classic Naughty Dog style, we always try to contextualize animations, so the dodge and shoot play away from the arrow is a different animation from when the blade is about to hit her," Newman said when asked about the variety of movements seen in the new gameplay. "There's an extremely complicated system that goes into making each of her dodges."
"Every strike has its own dodge based on the angle, how high it is, different things [like that]," Margenau added. These dodges in particular make certain combat sequences in the trailer look scripted, but the co-directors say that this movement is mapped to a specific button.
We also asked about what looks like a healing mechanic, when Ellie vaults over a store counter and then pulls an arrow out of her shoulder before continuing. But Newman and Margenau said that this is an entirely new mechanic separate from healing. A lot of it has to do with the new bow-and-arrow enemies, which didn't appear in the original Last of Us, and what happens when one of their arrows becomes lodged somewhere on Ellie's body.
"It's not distinctly a healing animation [in the trailer], it's a particular status effect," Newman said. "You'll notice in the lower right, there's a little arrow icon, and it's like you're afflicted with 'arrow-ness.' It disables your listen mode and it totally screws up your aim, so you have to try and find a safe spot to take the arrow out."
This status is specific to arrows. The co-directors did not give other examples of similar mechanics, but they did talk a bit more about the returning listen mode, which the arrow status impacts. "We're looking at ways to refine it... we're always trying to balance against how much information we give the player in a stealth scenario," Margenau said. "We've got some cool ideas to make it more grounded, more realistic."
All of this points to an involved style of combat with more factors to consider than in the original game, and that in turn says a lot about Ellie. Ellie in The Last of Us is young, naive, and learning how to survive; Ellie in Part II is an experienced killer with a lot of anger behind her strikes. Learning about who she's become is one of the most enticing things about The Last of Us Part II, and combat seems to be a huge part of that.
The Last of Us Part II does not currently have a release date. During our interview, we also learned that Part II will have multiplayer like the original. For more on Sony's press conference, see our roundup of all the biggest news.