With most single-player, AAA games going for the open world experience is nothing new as of late, it's surprising to see a highly anticipated game like The Last of Us Part 2 decide to ditch the trend. Titles like God of War are breaking the mold of their previous games, adding some level of openness as you traverse through the interconnected world, but The Last of Us Part 2 has a great answer to why they won't be following the trend.
Naughty Dog has made the decision to make their story-driven series follow a similar style as their previous titles, opting for sprawling, but separate, areas for the player to traverse through as they fight raiders, and the undead horde. The reasoning for The Last of Us Part 2 is similar to why previous titles by the developers, like the Uncharted series, have been slowly toeing the line with openness without going full sandbox.
According to creative director Neil Druckmann, the main reason is that it simply wouldn't work for the narrative to give the players the freedom that comes with an open world. The main point in question is tension, which is one of the most important aspects to account for in a horror experience like The Last of Us Part 2. Having an open world and a list of quests to do makes pivotal moments in the narrative feel less tense, because as much as the game wants the player to feel as though they need to proceed with the story to save a life or catch the villain, when a player can simply walk away and do a side quest, the tension all but leaves entirely.
Anyone who has played a sandbox game like Skyrim knows exactly how it feels to be told that their attention is needed immediately to save the world from Alduin, just to spend the next ten hours working on the Thieves' Guild questline. For a game as cinematic and tense as The Last of Us, opening up the world to allow for greater exploration would also rob the player of the tense environments that fans remember from the series, such as the fight against David or getting medicine for Joel.
While it is a little disappointing to see that The Last of Us Part 2 won't be another open world romp through zombie-infested mayhem, Naughty Dog sure does make a good point when it comes to tension. With or without a sandbox map, controlling Ellie through a post-apocalyptic America again is sure to be one of the best gaming experiences of 2020.
The Last of Us Part 2 releases on February 21, 2020 exclusively for PS4