The Last of Us and why I played it on easy (blog post)

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Posted by sagesebas (2465 posts) -

Writing about games and expressing my thoughts on them is something I've wanted to do for awhile. I'm going to use this and a blog I made to improve my writing and share my opinions on games I'm playing. Please be nice. I loved The Last of Us and cherished my time with it, I really don't want to start any negative arguments and tried not to make any inflammitory statements in my post. Hope you enjoy! Constructive, nice criticism is very welcome.

The Last of Us is a game that has stuck with me for quite some time after beating it. As all know it is a bleak look at a post-apocalyptic future that doesn't hold back the horrors of what life would be like in this situation. It treats the characters of Joel and Ellie with a respect that most videogames don't offer its lead characters and is a completely honest and unflinching game unlike anything I have ever played. I fell in love with Joel and Ellie, their emotions, their plight became my emotions and my plight. I have never felt so connected and in turn related so much to characters in a game. It's not that I’ve ever been close to being in such a traumatic situation as theirs but that I could relate in a human way to the pain and emotions they were feeling. The characters and story spoke to very real fears that I and many other human beings have. Fears like isolation, hopelessness and most of all the fear of death. All of these reasons are why I am so bothered by the fact that I felt I cheated my self out of the game side of the experience. I played the game on medium about half way through brought it down to easy and very shortly after that turned on lock on aiming. My need and want to see the next story moment aggressively beat out my desire to have a satisfying gameplay experience.

It's not that I didn't enjoy the combat, in many ways it was satisfying when I felt like I was in control of the situation. I had my gripes with it, the one hit kills from clickers were frustrating. I'm not particularly fond of stealth and the fact that it was front loaded so much in the first half of the game didn't help. But once I got more weapons and projectiles the combat opened up in a much more appealing way. Sure it still wasn't my favorite thing about the game but it wasn't bad. On the other hand though having my progress stopped in that game by having to repeatedly retry sections completely killed the momentum I was feeling on the story side.

I'm super jealous of all the stories I heard of people playing the entire game on hard. Having to use all your senses to survive, methodically plotting your way through enemy encounters. Using stealth and cunning to get the upper hand. It sounds super awesome and I did absolutely none of it. I was sloppy in the way I feel like I am in all games that involve stealth. More so than any pride associated with playing the game on an elevated difficulty, I feel guilty that I played the game on easy because I feel like the game on hard is the most mechanically analogous to the actual situation of trying to stay alive. At a certain point though I stopped having fun replaying sections, dieing in the game brought everything to a screeching halt. I wasn't playing the game for the pure fun of playing the game but rather to see the story continue. Which isn't to say that juggling a story of this magnitude with gameplay isn't extremely difficult. Having such a grounded, human story and having to add “game mechanics” to it must have been a constant struggle to balance out correctly. I certainly don't envy the trouble they must have gone through to craft such a fantastic game given the circumstances. At every step of the way it seems like they were absolutely pushing the boundaries of what you can do with story in such a traditional style game. Looking back on recent memory the games with really stand out stories have been very mechanics low and are not typically action games. Gone Home and Portal 2 both come to mind as having some of the best stories in the last five years yet relatively speaking they are aren’t heavy on the gameplay side of things.

When I look back on The Last of Us I will have very fond memories. I will remember the final moments and how heartbreaking and beautiful they were. I will remember how Ellie switched from one moment a playful, funny, sarcastic teenager to a survivor slitting throats and doing anything not to die. I'll remember racing through the hospital trying to save my girl. I probably wont remember how I retried certain sections numerous times and got bit by a clicker to many times to count. I wont look too fondly on the fact that I got so tired with the combat that I turned the game into basically a shooting gallery and to be honest I'm not sure if that’s my fault or the game's.

link to my blog

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#1 Posted by csl316 (14959 posts) -

Playing on easy is just fine if you're playing it for the story. I can understand how much of a pain in the ass a narrative roadblock can be. Mass Effect 2 on insane had a whole bunch of these.

I played the game on hard, and this brought on a lot of benefits to the experience. The tension, the satisfaction of barely pulling through, the need to explore the environment for supplies (which made you more immersed in the world, despite the tedium). I'm glad I stuck with it despite my shock of immediately getting gunned down in the first encounter. I don't feel they just added game mechanics, because they had an understanding for what the combat in the game should be. I think the original concept pre-vis probably played a lot into where they would take the story.

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I listened to the whole talk, but I forget if the gameplay or story came first in the production.

Anyway, my personal preference is hard games, unless the mechanics suck. I thought The Last of Us had great mechanics that fit perfectly into the brutal, uncomfortable world that they built. I thought of replaying it on easy, but I've only completed the game once and probably won't go back anytime soon.

Never played on Survivor or Grounded, though. That just sounds like 20 hours of roadblocks.

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#2 Edited by bceagles128 (788 posts) -

I played on Normal on my first playthrough (Ps3) and then on Survivor my second playthrough (Ps4). While I loved the story the first time, the second one felt more immersive. There were way too many times playing on Normal that I thought to myself, well "I might as well brute force it because I have a shitload of items already and I might as well use them." But on Survivor, I actually went out of my way to not engage, which is exactly what I would do in the real world. There were only like two parts of the game that I found frustrating and they were both forced combat sections: (1) the Sniper and (2) The fight against the clickers alongside David

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#3 Posted by sagesebas (2465 posts) -
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#4 Edited by bceagles128 (788 posts) -

@sagesebas: To the extent you could, sure. When I played on normal, I would sneak around, kill everyone, and then search the entire area for supplies. that allowed me to max of Joel's upgrades, obtain all the guns, and get access to almost all of the optional Ellie conversations. When I played on survivor though, my focus was on getting from point A to point B without getting killed and by using the fewest amount of resources possible in the process. That often meant sneaking by groups of guys entirely. For example. I snuck through most of Pittsburgh, the Sewers Stalkers encounter, the Lakeside Resort Ellie sections (except the forced combat), and the Bus Depot without alerting anyone. I only killed people when absolutely necessary to get past them. Likewise, for the University of Colorado part, I didn't kill any of the Clickers or the Bloater, nor did I kill the clickers in the T terminals in Boston. I did have to kill the people in the Hospital because I couldn't get past them otherwise. Overall, it was a completely different gameplay experience though, and it honestly felt like it mirrored the way that the devs spoke about the gameplay during the dev cycle.

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#5 Posted by stinger061 (473 posts) -

I feel like one of the best things a developer can do in regards to people enjoying their game is to offer mid-game difficulty switching. It allows everyone to enjoy the game at the level they like without having to restart if they get halfway through only to realise the back half of the game is too difficult/not enjoyable on a higher difficulty level

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#6 Posted by sagesebas (2465 posts) -

@bceagles128: I wish I had your patience I wonder if another play through I'd be more capable on a higher difficulty

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#7 Posted by bceagles128 (788 posts) -

I think the best part about Survivor was the no "listening" mode. I found it terrifying being in some of those environments (looking at you, Hotel Basement) and having no idea where the enemies are. The tension was unpleasant, but that's kind of the point, as it contributes to the underpowered feeling that the game is going for. You have to creep around and use the third person camera to peak around corners.

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#8 Posted by NTM (11747 posts) -

Eh, I always play on easy first, and then move onto the hardest. I never play on between settings; I never liked them. I beat The Last of Us a couple of times on easy, once on the original PS3, and then again on PS4, but then went to the hardest and beat it twice on survival (PS3) and twice on grounded (PS4). Either way, the game is still great to play, and for me it didn't take away anything by playing on easy. Sometimes playing a game on harder difficulties after easy, can really bring the best out of a game, or just simply make me realize how much I enjoy the game; F.E.A.R. did it, and God of War 2 did it for me. The added concentration really helps the immersion factor with a lot of games I think, but few times does it make it a much better experience if the game is already great from the get-go. Sometimes games aren't even great enough to warrant playing through again on hard, or the motivation is lost as I play on hard since I don't enjoy it enough. I don't think it matters that you played on easy. With most, if not every game actually, like The Last of Us, you can easily get through it no matter what difficulty setting, it just takes learning how to go about the situations the best you can.

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#9 Edited by Justin258 (15644 posts) -

I played The Last of Us on Hard the first time and I liked it a whole hell of a lot less than when I played it on Normal several months later.

I just don't think the gameplay is anywhere near good enough to hold up that whole "survival" aspect that people suggest the hard mode for. The stealth AI is pretty dumb, so you can often hide in a room, wait for a guy to walk in, kill him, and then wait for the next guy. Stealthing around Clickers and other infected is at best boring and at worst an exercise in frustration. When everybody's on alert and it becomes an action game, the game gets too stingy with ammo. The response to this should be "well, be careful and aim for headshots!", except the PS3's analog sticks were never that good for aiming and The Last of Us's console aiming code really isn't all that great anyway. Sometimes, getting headshots was maddening. This wouldn't have been as much of a problem if shooting enemies in the torso was more than an annoyance to them.

I played it on Normal. On that difficulty, ammo is scarce enough that the whole "survival" aspect is still intact, but the gameplay's frustrations don't rear their ugly heads anywhere near as often. Stealth is still boring, but it doesn't dip into frustration anywhere near as often. I wound up enjoying it a lot more and I'll play The Last of Us Remastered on Normal if I ever get a PS4.

Some people really enjoyed The Last of Us's gameplay, and I'm fine with that, but I just can't recommend going into that game on Hard the first time through. Maybe if you're the kind of person who played Uncharted 2 and 3 on their hardest difficulties and have fond memories of that, I'd say go for it, but in any other case I'd suggest playing on Normal.

EDIT: As a final note, I do suggest that people play The Last of Us. I think its story is one of the best I've seen in video games and it's one that I really enjoyed both times and its gameplay isn't particularly bad, certainly not bad enough to suggest not playing it at all. As I said, I really did enjoy the gameplay on Normal.

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