There isn’t really much that I have to say about the Last of Us Part 2. It will always be the first fully blind-accessible AAA video game, and is chalk full of accessibility features for all sorts of disabilities. That legacy of accessibility was continued with the Last of Us Part 1, which added even more accessibility features such as audio description and speech to vibration. Now, at last, the Last of Us Part 2 Remastered has arrived, closing the circle and bringing both games into parody with each other in terms of accessibility. Not only that, though, The Last of Us part 2 remastered gives us new ways to play. I’m still incredibly proud to be a part of this franchise as one of the many architects of its accessibility, and I am equally honored to provide you this accessibility review. As always, thanks go out to Playstation for providing me with the code used for this review.
For starters, Playstation gave us a month with this game. This is something that surprised me a little, but that I ultimately really appreciated. It gave me time to really sit with it, and ensured that I could try everything I wanted to try. As a result, I played the entire game through not once, but twice for this review to check on a few very tiny, but very specific things for my audience. You can be assured this review is thorough.
To that end, I’m going to start with a feature some of you may want to use, game importing. You can import your saves from the original game directly into this one, and yes, the process is fully accessible. Not only that, it’s shockingly easy. As long as your TLOU2 PS4 saves are in the cloud, which you can ensure before you launch the game, then the entire process takes place within the game. Just click story, and instead of clicking new game, go down to import game. Your PS4 cloud saves will be checked, and you will be presented with all of them in the same format you’d see if you were loading a local game. Save number, location, playtime, number of collectables, last saved date and so on. Just click on the one you wish to import, say yes at the confirmation prompt, and it will immediately load right up. Best of all, any trophies earned on that save will automatically populate in this new edition.
Another minor but important shout, the TTS voice used has been updated to be the same one used in The Last of Us Part 1. Some of you may like that, some may not, but from my perspective, I just had to shout this out because of what it means. It means they rerecorded… everything. That’s appreciated effort if you ask me. Everything from TLOU2 rerecorded in the newer voice, not to mention all the new stuff they had to record… I just want to give the team a shoutout for that.
At last, let’s talk about the accessibility in the main game. It’s all there, of course. The game is just as playable as it was in 2020, which is both wonderful, and possibly slightly disappointing for some. This is one of the reasons I played through it twice. I needed to determine whether certain issues were fixed, some of which relate to playing a second playthrough, and what I found was that none of them were. The specific blind accessibility issues that existed in the 2020 game still exist in the remaster. Downtown Seattle is still as difficult to complete as ever, as no modification was made to navigation of that area. This was especially disappointing to me because of something we’ll talk about a bit later. However, believe it or not, the problems in Downtown Seattle are smaller than the other issue that existed then and still exists today. I shall explain.
If you do a New Game Plus run of The Last of Us 2, it makes perfect sense for you to turn on the Collectable Tracker, which for the sighted helps track collectables you don’t yet have, and for the blind removes collectables you do have from the item scan so you won’t waste time going after things you no longer need. It’s overall a great feature, and does save a lot of time, but it has a pretty serious problem. There are some specific collectables, (the gate codes note, the first coin, the downtown seattle map to name a few), which are required each playthrough whether you have them or not, because you need them to progress the story. However, these collectables too are excluded from your item scan. And, in the cases where the default nav assist leads you to them anyway, they remain unprompted so you still may not realize you have to press triangle at this mysterious point where you’re stuck because you need to pick something up. You’ll get through this if you’re familiar enough with the game to remember things like how the note and map I just mentioned are both in cabinets in the first couple buildings you enter when exploring Seattle, for example, but it’s still a pretty big problem, as it can get players who do not know these things stuck. I am thankful that I have played this game so many times over the original and remaster that I am ridiculously familiar with it at this point, but still I had to acknowledge that. Otherwise, though, you can fully expect all the accessibility you’re used to, meaning the game is absolutely completable without sighted assistance.
There are a couple small additions that I want to recognize though, and it’s thanks to the PS5’s Dualsense haptics that they exist. First, and most important in my opinion, is brand new, haptic notifications for being near a tripwire connected to an explosive. This did not exist in the previous version of the game, and come to think of it, is not in The Last of Us Part 1, making my statement of parody earlier just a little bit false. However, it is even more important in this game, for reasons I will once again explain later. For now, I will say that you are notified via a light haptic pulse that you are near a trip wire. The pulse also does come from the direction of the wire, meaning that if the wire is on your right, you will feel the pulse on the right side of your controller. However, I want to stress that it is a LIGHT pulse. I believe this is done intentionally. I spoke to my fiance about this, and she said the wires, though visible to the sighted if they’re looking for them, are hard to see by design. This is effectively our version of that. We are told they’re there if we’re near one, but it’s still very possible to miss that notification. I have always stressed that we need the opportunity to fail in the same ways as the sighted if we’re striving for an equal experience, and this achieves that. The wires are hard to see, and these pulses can be missed, but if you catch them, you can act accordingly.
The second addition is a subtle, yet powerful haptic addition to the rope swinging mini game. Now, as you swing, you can feel your building momentum. For some reason, this was the last piece of the puzzle for me. I used to struggle with this mini game even after it was patched in the original version, but now, just because I have a sense for my building momentum with stronger and stronger haptic whooshes, I finally connect with it. It feels trivial to me now. In both my playthroughs, I never got stuck swinging for several minutes. I think I only fell short once. It’s a small, but wonderful extra bit of accessibility.
Before we move onto some all new content, I want to take a second to talk about the game’s audio description feature. Don’t get me wrong here, it is good. It was good in Part 1, and is still good in part 2. In fact, the game’s particular magical blend of in-engine and cinematics, which often flow seamlessly, has definitely created moments where audio description exists where it couldn’t have before. For example, there are a couple button-mashing quicktime moments that are audio described. Not all of them are, probably for various technical reasons, but I’m just saying the potential was realized slightly better here because of the changes to the way part 2 works. However, these same changes also show the serious flaw in Naughty Dog’s current system for audio description, and that the tech really needs to be built out more. The lack of description for in-engine events ends up hurting this game a bit because, without spoilers, I will tell you that the very last scene of the game, the one that leads into the credits, is not audio described, simply because it’s all done in-engine. However, the game itself makes an argument against that needing to be the case with one of its own features, the commentary.
Commentary is all new for the Last of Us Part 2, and personally, I love it. It is so informative, and so interesting, and is presented by most of the main cast, as well as Neil and Haley, the co-writers. IT’s really well done, and at points they even talk about some things that may surprise you. I highly recommend doing at least one run of the game with commentary active. However, getting back to my previous point, there is a weird disconnect between what can have commentary over it and what can have audio description. For the most part, they match exactly… until the end of the game. There is commentary over that final scene that leads into the credits, and in fact commentary is continued for several minutes, yes several minutes, deep into the credits. So the question becomes, what differentiating factor lead to no audio description at least in that last scene? It’s an odd thing to be sure, but nevertheless my point still stands. The future of audio description in games takes things beyond where the Last of Us 2 remastered has gone, though it is good for what it is.
Alright, let’s get into the stuff you all really want to hear about, the new content. First, let’s talk about the lost levels. I’m happy to say that these are, in essence, accessible. Accessibility markers were clearly added to them, and I was able to complete… well… 2 of them. You can enjoy at least 2 out of the 3 with audio commentary, which function as scannable items that you press triangle on to play. There is, unfortunately, an accessibility issue with the sewers level, and it’s fairly close to the beginning of the level. I will explain here, but if you don’t want to be spoiled on anything contained within the lost levels, you may want to skip a paragraph or 2.
In the sewers level, they were experimenting with the idea of making water current a game mechanic. This is somewhat preserved when you’re trying to avoid the waves on the way to the Aquarium, but this was taking that idea much further. In this level, current affects your ability to traverse. Strong currents can actually be impassable, so you have to find the right entry point into the water to get to where you need to go next. This is where the accessibility issue comes in. Nav assist leads you into the stream, but not at the right spot, so you just get shoved back by the current. Nav assist then leads you back up to the jump point, then back into the stream… at the same spot. I tried for quite a while to pass this one, but couldn’t figure out a solution. I won’t say there isn’t one, I know people figure out crazy workarounds all the time, but accessibility seems unoptimized for this level in particular.
The other levels are functionally just fine when it comes to accessibility, but I will say the same thing Neil does as he introduces each one. Remember that they are unfinished, and intentionally left that way in order to give you an idea of what early game development looks like. This means there is lots of missing audio, apparently missing animations for the sighted folks among you, and so on. You just cannot go into these levels expecting full, huge swaths of new content. They are interesting, don’t misunderstand, especially with the addition of the commentary chunks. You can learn a lot about what some of the early ideas for the game were. I just want to manage your expectations here. This is neat, and it’s even fun, but it is only what it is.
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. Let’s talk about No Return. No Return is a new Roguelike mode in the Last of Us part 2. You start a run, choose one of multiple playable characters including characters you can’t play as in the original game, and then take on a randomly generated series of encounters, all leading to a boss encounter at the end. You can unlock things in this mode, like skins for each character, additional allies, and even new encounter types and additions to your No Return runs, by completing various challenges as you play, and can even take on the leader boards by completing the daily run each day, though access to the daily run is something you must first unlock by playing. No Return even adds its own trophies to the game, heightening the incentive to play. But is it accessible? How does it work? It’s finally time to talk about that.
Firstly, yes, No Return is fully accessible to the blind. Everything is narrated properly, your nav assist and scans work, all of it. The unfortunate exception to narration is the leaderboard, which does not present you with player names, simply because of the nature of TLOU2’s text to speech, which consists entirely of prerecorded files. That said, you can look at the leaderboard, and know your position on it, you just cannot guarantee any of your friends are also on it. What is narrated when you browse the leaderboard are the position, length of time of the run, and the score.
Let’s talk about an average run of No Return while highlighting aspects of its accessibility. You begin by choosing a character. When you highlight each available character, you are told what their starting inventory is, and what their traits are. Traits are characteristics specific to each character that will affect your run in some way. Abby, for instance, has a trait that gives her health upon melee kill, and starts with a melee-focused upgrade branch. Once you’ve chosen your character and difficulty, your run begins.
When you start, you will be in your hideout. This is the theater for Ellie-aligned characters, and the Aquarium for Abby-aligned characters. From here, there are multiple things you can do. The encounter rewards chest will be where you collect the rewards you get for completing each encounter on the run, such as currency, parts, and supplements. The merchant will let you spend currency to purchase everything from ammo, to new weapons, to specific crafting recipes and so on. The workbench allows you to upgrade your weapons, just like any workbench in the main game. And the planning board is where you choose your next encounter, and therefore your path through the run. And this is where we get to one of No Return’s most innovative accessibility features.
Nav assist in No Return works just a little differently than it does in the main game. Starting in your hideout, you can swipe down on the touchpad to switch your nav assist target to any of the things I mentioned above, leaving you full freedom of choice as to what you want to interact with. It’s wonderful, and it doesn’t just apply to the hideout, which I will discuss shortly. However, it is also the source of my disappointment in the lack of improvement on the downtown Seattle section of the main game. If this way of thinking could be applied to that section, plus used throughout the game for safes, workbenches, story-specific interactables and so on, nav assist in the main game would just be better. Unfortunately, this is not the case, which is a little sad, but we’re talking about No Return so let’s move on.
We need to talk a bit about the planning board. It is narrated, of course, but if you ask me, its layout is a bit confusing for new players, so I’m going to explain it here and hope people read this before playing. When you click on the planning board, you are placed on the first encounter that is currently available to you, which is good. However, at some points, you have 2 encounters available, allowing you to diverge onto another path if you so choose, and you aren’t really informed of this. Furthermore, there is no differentiation between each level of the map as there is in games like Slay the Spire. I understand those are floors of a tower whereas these are just different locations, but a numbering system like that would still have been helpful in identifying where a blind player was, and could go based on their current position. Luckily, the basic structure of the map always remains the same, so I can help out here as I have figured it out. Please read carefully if you’re a blind player.
When you start your run, you will only have 1 available encounter. It’s still worth listening to the narration for it, as it will inform you of the rewards and any mods, positive or negative, that may be active, but it will be the only one available. Once that one is complete, you will have 2 available encounters. To move between them so you can make your choice, use up and down. You will start on the top choice, so move down to the second one to read that. If you attempt to move up or down beyond those 2 choices, you will move to a different level of the map, but again you won’t be informed which level. From what I can tell, moving up past the top choice is the equivalent of moving right on that same choice. The levels of the map are horizontal, while your choices are vertical, so if you want to look at what awaits you if you take your current path, move right. For example, let’s say you’re at this second encounter, so you have 2 choices. You are automatically on the first. You listen, and you like what you hear, but before deciding you want to see what’s next if you make this choice. Move right to hear what would await you on the next level. Still unsure, you would then move back left to your current level, then down to the second choice there. If you want to hear what would await you if you made that second choice, move right at that point to hear that. Also, keep in mind that, as I said above, the overall structure doesn’t change. It will always, always work like this. 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 1, that last 1 being the boss of the run. So in the sections where you have 2 choices, the thing directly to the right of each of those choices is what you absolutely have to do if you take that path.
Another key thing to note is the difference between the words “locked,” and “unavailable.” If the screen reader says “locked,” that node is on a level of the map you haven’t yet reached. If instead it says “unavailable,” that refers to a node being unavailable to you based on the choices you’ve made. If you chose the second option, completed it, landed on the next encounter on that path, then went up to see what was above it, that would be unavailable to you because it would be the next node on the path you didn’t take. I really hope all that is clear. I’ll be streaming this plenty, so I’ll explain it live as well.
One final triumph of the navigational assist in No Return is during the encounters themselves. This is where the potential of nav assist like this is fully realized. There are chests called Supply Caches which drop under different circumstances depending on the type of encounter you’re in, and if one spawns, you can set your nav assist to it with a downward swipe, and off you go. There are certain encounter types where it benefits you to remain close to your ally, and you can set the nav assist to Ally to get back to them, no matter where they are. There are more things like this, but you get the idea. I do have to talk about one more of them, though, because I believe it may be the most brilliant. There is a setting for nav assist called “combat.” Now, you may be thinking, “That sounds scary. Wouldn’t this take me directly into the arms of my enemy?” The answer is no. What combat does is take you to the outer scan range of the nearest enemy. It takes you to the spot where doing an enemy scan would detect an enemy. This is already helpful because some of the maps are quite large, and when you have few enemies left it means you can still easily locate them, but get this, it also works during combat. This is why I think it’s brilliant. If you’re surrounded by enemies, using combat will still attempt to take you to the outer scan range of those enemies. Always the outer range. This means you can use combat to get just a little bit of distance if you need it. Now if you ask me, THAT is cool. Oh and yes, don’t worry, for certain specific boss encounters, nav assist will still help you run away from them in order to gain some distance.
Remember earlier when I talked about the tripwire haptic notification? Well, this is what I meant by it being more important in this game than part 1. You see, one of the negative mods you might have in a No Return encounter is tripwires. This means tripwires will be placed at random all over the map. It’s scary, and getting that little pulse all of a sudden increases the terror, but that’s kind of the point. Scary though it may be, it is accessible thanks to this new addition.
Lastly for No Return, I’ll give a brief mention to custom runs, which can be unlocked and which are also fully accessible and fully configurable. These possess some nice options, including turning off specific mods that would be inaccessible to you, turning off dogs for WLF encounters, and so on. As a minor criticism, though, while it is nice of them to allow you to turn off dogs in custom runs if you don’t wish to hurt them, custom runs do, again, have to be unlocked, and you cannot turn off dogs in a standard run. Dogs are also included in the enemy counter for an encounter, so if it says there are 5 enemies, and 1 of them is a dog, then you have no choice. Just keep that in mind if you wish to head into No Return.
I won’t say much about Guitar Freeplay as I didn’t do a lot with it, but I did play it, and I can assure you it’s also fully accessible. All character, instrument, and location choices are narrated as you’d expect. So, if you’re into playing a touchpad guitar, you absolutely can.
I believe that’s everything. The Last of Us 2 remastered is, without a doubt, the definitive way to play this fantastic game, especially if you’re blind. The audio descriptions and the commentary give the main game new life, and no return is truly a blast. There’s also an included trailer for the upcoming Grounded 2: Making of the Last of Us Part 2, and you can even listen to the Last of Us Podcast right from within the game. The Lost Levels are interesting and informative too, giving you a taste of things that were planned but didn’t make the final cut for whatever reason. Despite a few issues, this is a truly fantastic package. Thanks for reading, and of course, endure and survive.