Naughty Dog was pretty tight-lipped with regards to the new Grounded difficulty level for the single-player campaign in The Last of Us. Aside from a comment stating that the enemy AIs would be smarter and more aggressive, not much else was said about exactly what this new difficulty would entail. Well, I bought the ‘Reclaimed Territories’ DLC drop last week and the first thing I did was dive into a new game on Grounded difficulty. Just in case you’re still on the fence about checking out the new difficulty level, here are a few details on what it includes.
There are two major changes in Grounded difficulty. The first, and probably the most obvious one is the disappearance of the HUD display. That’s right. No more health meter and ammo counter on your screen. You’ll be going through the entire single-player campaign blind with little indication of how you’re doing on health. You’ll still be able to tell when Joel is low on health based on the way he walks, but you’ll need to rely heavily on your own judgment to decide whether it’s worth using that health kit now or saving it for later.
The disappearance of the HUD display also means that you can’t see how much ammo you have left on your screen. You can still press left and right on the D-Pad to change your weapons and that’ll let you know your total ammo count for a particular weapon. However, you won’t be able to tell how many bullets are left on your current clip. This forces you to mentally keep track of how many bullets you’ve got left in your revolver so you know when to reload. This can be a problem especially when you’re caught up in the heat of an intense firefight. Nothing’s worse than hearing your gun click empty when a horde of infected are heading your way.
The second change in Grounded difficulty is the behavioral pattern of the enemy AIs. More specifically, I mean the behavioral pattern of those damn clickers. Even on survivor difficulty, I had absolutely no problem when it came to fighting clickers. The trick was just to move extremely slowly and they wouldn’t notice even if you shuffled right past them. Well, I’m sorry to say that the clickers have become much more of a threat now.
Even if you move really slowly around them, the clickers will sometimes be able to pick up on the sounds of your slight movements, especially when they’re clicking. They may not notice you right away but if you arouse their suspicion, they’ll start heading in your direction to see what’s up. Basically, clickers have heightened sensitivity now. To quote Tess: “If you hear one clicking, you gotta hide. That’s how they spot you.”
Aside from these two changes, the rest of the difficulty mode is pretty standard stuff: severe scarcity of ammo and supplies, and high damage output from enemies. And I do mean high. If a soldier shoots you twice, you’re done. If a runner gets the jump on you, you’re done. Grounded mode is harsh and unforgiving, even more so than Survivor mode.
But never fear! There are things you can do to make your experience a little more bearable. Listed below are some tips for surviving Grounded difficulty. You may already know of some of them from your own research on how to beat Survivor difficulty but hey, a quick recap can’t hurt, right?
1. Bricks and bottles
These are your best friends. A word of advice, though: save the bottles for distractions, and the bricks for weapons. More than likely, you won’t have a shiv handy for a clicker encounter. If you absolutely need to take out a clicker, sneak up on them with a brick and mash the square button to hit them three times in the head. But be warned: this isn’t a stealth kill. If you take out a clicker with a brick, nearby enemies will be alerted by the noise. And if there’s another clicker nearby… Well, you get the picture. The brick trick is handy for all types of enemies, especially if you don’t have a melee weapon or if you’re out of ammo, which happens a lot by the way.
2. Save the shivs
Don’t waste a shiv on a clicker unless you absolutely have to. Supplies are scarce and you’ll need shivs to open up those special locked doors that contain ammo and resources. Opening these shiv doors could mean the difference between life and death in The Last of Us.
3. Human shields
This only works when you’re dealing with hunters and soldiers. If you’re caught in a firefight, quickly subdue the nearest enemy and use him as a human shield. Your surrounding enemies will stop firing at you, giving you a chance to take a few of them out with your handgun. Be careful, though, because you’ll only have a few seconds before your human shield breaks out of your control and attacks you instead. Neutralize him before he gets the chance to turn the tables on you.
4. Use your allies
Tess, Bill, and Henry are invincible. When you run into a horde of enemies, try to let your allies take them out so you can save your ammo. Even Ellie is invaluable as an ally. I got jumped by a hunter in Pittsburgh and I was pretty sure he was gonna choke Joel to death, but then Ellie came up from behind and stabbed him in the back. It doesn’t work all the time, but keep your allies close so that they can save your ass.
5. Go slow, and trust the bow
Don’t take risks. If it looks like a runner is going to spot you before you can grab it, don’t make the move, and just wait. Sometimes it’s better to use the bow and shoot an enemy from afar instead of sneaking up on them. Sneaking towards your enemies means you have a higher chance of getting spotted by other enemies. And in The Last of Us, getting spotted means that things will get real ugly real fast. Stealth and patience are the keys to surviving Grounded difficulty, and the bow will help you get through a lot of sticky situations. Get used to the bow.
So these are my suggestions for anyone who might be thinking of starting the game over on Grounded difficulty. Make no mistake, though; even the most experienced The Last of Us veterans will have difficulty with this new game mode. No matter how well you think you know the levels, or how well-prepared you think you are, there’s still a certain element of luck required to get through the campaign on Grounded difficulty.
It’s tough, it’s brutal, and it might make you cry. If you thought Survivor difficulty was tough, wait till you check out Grounded. The difficulty jump from Survivor to Grounded is a pretty high one and it’s reserved for only the most determined and masochistic players. But I have to say, not being able to check your health and ammo on the screen is simply exhilarating. Grounded difficulty turns The Last of Us into the proper post-apocalyptic survival horror journey it was meant to be. I say, give it a try, and you just might find a sick kind of joy in all your pain and suffering.
There were countless times when I thought I wouldn’t be able to beat the campaign on this difficulty. I’ve thrown the controller down on the floor so many times, yelling at my television in frustration, so you can imagine the sense of relief and accomplishment I felt when I finally beat the game. I guess the best advice I can give to anyone who’s absolutely determined to conquer this beastly difficulty is this: “Endure and survive.”
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