Grounded and Grounded NG+ [Spoilers]

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Posted by Sweep (10595 posts) -

Last weekend I finished my second Grounded run on New Game +

My 5th completion of The Last Of Us campaign and, probably, my fastest - clocking in at around 8 hours in total. Grounded, for those that don't know, is the most punishing difficulty available, released separately from the "Survivor" difficulty in the original game but thrown in with the Remastered edition for the PS4. Where survivor removed the "Listen" functionality, which grants Joel the Naughty Dog equivalent of Detective Vision, Grounded takes it a step further by completely removing the HUD and UI. You are not told how many bullets are in your guns, you are not given button prompts in combat (Aside from story-specific QTE's) and you are never told how much health you have left. Your screen is blissfully uncluttered. On top of this the availability of ammo and materials are further reduced down to the bare minimum, and Joel is painfully fragile - Before upgrading your health it's possible to be killed my a single bullet, or a single hit from an enemy. As a result you're further encouraged to stick to the shadows, frequently avoiding combat altogether in favour of running or sneaking straight through entire levels without firing a shot.

This was the first time I'd messed around with the photo mode, and it's surprisingly versatile.
This was the first time I'd messed around with the photo mode, and it's surprisingly versatile.

It's a much different style of play that I grew to appreciate. As ammo is short - and I'm talking non existent - bricks and bottles became my weapons of choice - in the few chunks of the game where you are forced into combat, a thrown brick will stun an enemy, allowing you to grapple and instantly murder them. Similarly a melee attack whilst holding a brick or bottle will finish an enemy much faster - the most potent combo is to throw a brick at an enemy and then run at him with a melee weapon of your own - one swing will earn you an instakill. This is both the fastest way of dispatching an enemy, and also preservers the amount of hits you can make with your melee weapon.

Here's a screenshot from my first grounded playthrough, about halfway through the game. This was a fairly standard situation to be in.
Here's a screenshot from my first grounded playthrough, about halfway through the game. This was a fairly standard situation to be in.

Without the listen mode

which is removed in both Survivor and Grounded difficulties, a solid familiarity with the level design is pretty important. Combat is always risky, so if you can make a beeline straight for your destination without engaging anyone then that's obviously going to be advantageous. Similarly there are several sections of the game where, if you dash before the game is ready, you can clear chunks of the level before enemies have established their patrol routes. One example of this is at the hydro-electric plant, where you're ambushed by hunters. Once you've cleared the first room and head upstairs to the office, it's possible to ignore the 3 hunters in that room, jump through the window and dash to the end of the walkway. A few seconds later and all 9 of the enemies that are supposed to populate that level will spawn and bottleneck through the locked door at the end, meaning you can fry them all with a single molotov. I'm not a huge fan of cheesing the game like that, but I did it "properly" the first run through and it took me fucking hours. Knowing the key beats in the campaign are vital so you can make sure you have the appropriate weapons available. I had to fight the school bloater on my first grounded run with no health or molotovs and, thanks to the awkward checkpointing, that was a fucking nightmare.

Any second now...
Any second now...

The checkpoints are frequently unforgiving, and I'm not entirely sure if it's by design or not, because I don't remember them being so savage on any of the easier difficulties. The hospital at the end of the game, for example, has zero checkpoints. You need to make it up through both floors, including the second floor where every enemy carries an assault rifle, without being seen or dying. Perhaps more frustrating are the sections where you play as Ellie - that snowy town needs to be cleared in a single run, and she's even more fragile than Joel is, not to mention that whole place is a fucking maze. The weapons Ellie picks up are devoid of any previous upgrades, so say goodbye to your rifle scope. The defence sequence at the Lumber Mill is perhaps the hardest section of the entire campaign, Ellie being killed in a single hit and only having a Bow and Rifle (with a painfully slow reload speed) to do any real damage. My strategy at this point was to reserve any rifle ammo for clickers, and for the other infected I would run around David in circles and wait for his AI to either punch the infected to death or grapple them so I could rush in and shiv them - the infinite knives that Ellie holds are her one saving grace, and the "Throw a bottle then stab them" approach is pretty much the only way you're getting through this chunk of the game. And make sure you've got a Molly, because there's that fucking bloater at the end. Remember kids, no checkpoints! Yeah. It's a fucker.


By contrast, there are big chunks of the game you can simply stealth through in a single run. I cleared the entire Hunter Town, and most of Bills town, without ever getting caught up in a firefight or even being spotted. Any area with clickers you can safely ignore them and, providing you're going as slow as humanly possible, you can brush right past clickers and they won't kick off. If you do make noise you can actually duck back into stealth and escape, though they will converge on your last known location and it will fuck up their patrol patterns, so it's usually easier to take the death at that point. On my first run through I made it all the way to Bills Town without firing a shot or using a health kit. Easy peasy.

One other thing worth noting is that, once Joel's health drops into the red (at the point he's visibly bleeding and holding his arm up to his ribs) the game seems to vacuum him into insta-death animations in situations where you would otherwise be fine. If you're in a fist-fight with an infected or a hunter and you land the first blow, you should be able to maintain that combo until they're finished; If you're already on the verge of death though, the game will snap you out of that combo after the first punch, even if the enemy is stunned, and you will die. It is bullshit of the highest calibre.

Open Mic.
Open Mic.

Ultimately I enjoyed both playthroughs of the game. As you gain familiarity with the core mechanics and how they can be employed and manipulated, you gain a confidence that makes the game much easier. When I started playing I would sit, nervously hiding and trying to learn patrols, repeatedly being killed - but simply throwing up my hands and saying "Fuck it, I'm going for it" and stealthing out straight into the middle of the enemies, worked with surprising frequency. Fortune favours the bold, I guess.

Never had enough Shivs though. That was always a fucker.

Anyway, if you have any questions or you're attempting this yourself and you get stuck, give me a shout. I'm getting pretty close to attempting a speedrun at this point, and I'm but a few trophies away from my platinum.

I guess once that's done I need to find a new hobby...

Thanks for reading,

Love Sweep

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#1 Posted by extintor (1089 posts) -

I think this is the bump I need to go back in and replay this incredible game. I've got to try those Survivor and Grounded modes.

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#2 Edited by CaLe (4799 posts) -

The only game I've ever got a platinum in, and even though I haven't played the multiplayer in several months now I still frequently find myself thinking back to all off the awesome little moments I had with it. I had to stop because I was playing way too much, and I'm an all or nothing type of person so I just cold turkey'd it, but damn if those nights weren't some of the most intense fun I've had in a long time.

The only problem I remember having with trying to get the platinum was when Ellie wouldn't tell her jokes when she was supposed to at a certain part of the game, so I had to re-play a whole section over again. The only gameplay section that I had real difficulty with was when you are playing as Ellie and you're trapped with David in the room where the bloater drops in from the roof. It was Grounded mode and I had no ammo going in, and it must have taken me at least 50 attempts to get it right. That 5 minute section alone was more difficult than anything the Souls series has ever thrown at me.

I must have saved like 20 full multiplayer matches to my PS4 hard drive, and they are full of little moments like this one below. I just wish the editor/exporter tool wasn't so clunky to use, I'd probably make more clips.

Loading Video...
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#3 Posted by Jesus_Phish (3844 posts) -

I should tell my friend about this. He kept moaning about the video game part of TLOU and thus wrote it off as a terrible game. Apparently he just played the wrong mode and what he really wants is in this.

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#4 Edited by poobumbutt (953 posts) -

I beat Survivor mode way back before the HD re-releases were even close to being out and was very happy to have earned all difficulty trophies in the game - thanks to Naughty Dog's reward style of "you beat it on 'survivor', so obviously you could have beat it on 'hard'. Here's both trophies".

Then they announced Grounded mode, and for some reason, I felt a sense of duty to play it. To finish what I'd started. Like you, I found the style of play it encouraged to be refreshingly challenging. Out of necessity, I found a lot of areas that were combat-skippable altogether, including some infected sections (thank God, there's still a lot about the infected stealth system I don't understand and am frustrated by) and the final area in the hospital.

The only part I found perhaps overboard-difficult was the lumber mill section. Like you said, I would try to save my rifle bullets for clickers, but since I couldn't kite the first four zombies (because eventually others come in from the roof, whether they've been killed or not), I had to spend my arrows/bullets on taking them out. Sometimes I'd be graced with bullets, and that's where I found the difficulty to actually come from. Other sections, I could blame on my own bad stealthing or combat, but this sequence would just sometimes not give me ammo. Additionally, there are only three (four?) bottles/bricks lying around and the enemies always seemed to beeline for Ellie, even if David was closer - somewhat diminishing the "push n' stab" technique. I don't think it's a coincidence that the time I finally won was the time one clicker gave up four bullets near the end of the fight.

As for Biggie, having played Survivor prior, I knew going in what it took to take him down. So, around the beginning of Fall, I crafted The Molotov. The most important item in my game. I never used it (or at least, never dropped below one) or its partner nail bomb. I really, really didn't want to get to the bloater part and have to start over. When he showed up, he probably didn't even know what hit him. Molotov to the face, then while he's stumbling around like a fool, nail bomb below the crotch. Stick a fork in 'em. Now pose like a cool guy -- "Ah! One more infected! Oh, God, oh, man! ...Okay, we're good".

It was akin to beating a Dark Souls boss. Compared to that, the remainder of Winter and Spring was like a wonderful stroll through the park.

Lastly, I don't know if this makes me a horrible person (or makes my avatar persona one), but the very end of the hospital sequence when you're, uh, doing a thing. And there are those three doctors cowering before you... Well, it's the only point in the game when you have complete, utter control over people. So, needless to say, after my survivor/grounded plays, finding unique ways to off them was a lotta fun. The flamethrower made an appearance in my Grounded one. "Catharsis" was a word invented for this very moment.

Now, I'm finally done my mission, and have deleted my game data from my hard drive, with the hope I'll never have to return ("grounded was 2 EZ, make a 1 hit kill mode", says one theoretical fan). Because I really love this game, but I've had enough of it for one lifetime, thanks.

Edit: Oh, and congratulations making the community spotlight, Sweep!

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#5 Edited by Fredchuckdave (10824 posts) -

This is interesting stuff. Going through on Survivor I always figured the Ellie defense sequence would be the hardest part of the game, though using the long hallway liberally helps out considerably. The game is so massive it's hard to really remember all the level design areas unless you keep playing it over and over and this one of the few games where I think the story has too much punch so I don't want to eventually water it down by playing it too much.

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#6 Posted by dudeglove (13734 posts) -

By the end, did you find out that you were the real monster all along?

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#7 Posted by NTM (11740 posts) -

Agreed. I will say though, you don't need, or want to use shivs on enemies, just for the doors. I've beaten The Last of Us six times now (three on last-gen, and three on the current), Grounded New Game Plus was the last time. By now, like you said, you'll know the best way to go about a situation. I didn't think Grounded was much different though. Playing mostly on the survivor and then grounded settings, after my initial easy, I kind of forgot about the listen mode. While some parts are easier to sneak through, some are also easier to just get into an area, and pick guys off as they come, like in the part where Ellie has a rifle and is covering you. As for the end part where you have to rescue Ellie, never try and shoot your way through that part; it works, but it takes more time, and it a lot harder than running and sneaking.

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#8 Posted by dgtlty (1221 posts) -

Nice post, thanks for sharing. Finished my Hard playthrough on PS3 when it came out and recently picked up Remastered so I have been considering Grounded for my next run.

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