How to Survive Grounded Difficulty in The Last of Us

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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.


Well, time to restart the encounter.

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?

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  • swinny

    Damn! I was kinda hoping that this difficulty would give you one life to complete the whole game on, you die once, and your back to the start of the game. I’d of loved that, it’d be so intense.

    • munnyndonuts

      LOL if that was seriously the case, I’d have given up looooooong ago. Grounded does remove a lot of checkpoints though.

      • swinny

        Yeah, I completed Hardcore mode in Dead Space 2 and 3, DS2 gives you 3 saves, no lives, DS3 gives you one life and if you die- that’s it! I got all the way to chapter 19 in that game 3 times in a row and got insta-killed! lol Its so intense though, I was kinda hoping TLOU would do something similar because some of my best memories from last-gen are from playing Hardcore mode in Dead Space!

        • munnyndonuts

          Well, you’ll be right at home with Grounded difficulty then! I like to think that I know this game pretty damn well, considering that I’ve played it about 10 times and twice on Survivor difficulty. But I’ve died at least 30 times on Grounded due to the sheer amount of damage the enemies do to you. It borders on being just a tad unfair really, haha!

        • Hugo Stiglitz

          Killzone Shadow Fall has something similar. On elite mode you get 3 lives for the whole playthrough and the only saves/checkpoints are the starts of each chapter. You can spend over an hour on the chapter and then have to start over.

    • Brutalbarracuda

      Would be impossible to finish without dying once on grounded mode.

      • Pete

        Yep thats why i reckon others won’t admit at times they had to change the difficulty level.

        • Tony Naive Westenra

          Would you still get the grounded acomplishment if u changed the difficulty once in the game?

          • Pete

            I will give grounded another go, but you really can’t waste ammo and will have to do more sneaking past enemies, getting past the high school is really tricky and i had to drop back to normal to build up my ammo and molotov’s, also you can’t save at any specific point on grounded ,you just have to let the game do that, as far as getting the accomplishment i really don’t know as i gave up and went back to normal, chicken i know, but i do like taking on the enemy and on grounded you just can’t go front on like that.

          • Pete

            One tip, hold onto your arrows, collect them as you will really need them later in the game when Joel and Ellie become separated and its Joel and Sam, you’ll see what i mean when you get there.

          • kd

            I don’t think so! My very first time playing, I changed the difficulty down during a fight then put it back up when I made it through. But when I completed the game, it gave only the trophy for completing the lower difficulty! I was so mad!! I had to replay the whole game on normal to get the trophy…ha, learned my lesson to never change the difficulty though

    • Hugo Stiglitz

      That’s what I thought it was at first which is why I never considered attempting it.

      I’m glad it’s not because honestly, i’m not a fan of the old GTA’s because of the lack of checkpoints, let alone possibly spending 15 hours just to die before the end when the game gets really difficult

    • Justin Tata

      nah.. that would be too crazy and frustrating.. maybe have the restart encounter option go back further to the beginning to the area not just right before you run into an enemy. I don’t like the minimum supplies. They should have worked on the AI and kept supplies. I like the feeling of always having 2 bullets in the chamber of each gun or bow.. makes you use every weapon because of lack of ammo. But they game should provide enough ammo to take out all enemies via weapon vs sneaking passed them. Oh and it’s unrealistic that when you kill someone shooting at you. they should drop more often or at least let them run out of ammo. that could be a good strategy actually.. dip dive and duck and let the AI use up their ammo so you can go in for the kill. That would be AWSOME

  • Brutalbarracuda

    Just done the part where Ellie stays up high and covers you with the rifle. I took everyone, about 15 guys, all with stealth kills, 14 strangles and 1 arrow. Took me like 2 hours and 10 tries but i gotta save them supplies!

    • munnyndonuts

      That’s actually a good tip right there: save your supplies and don’t craft equipment immediately when you have enough; you never know if you’re gonna need a molotov or a health kit more in the next level.

    • Chris Williams

      I did this on my second attempt, by luck I just got to the back of the level and Ellie took out everyone for me!

  • Darren Parker

    OMG I thought I was the only one who played like this in The Last of Us! Everything you’ve said in this amazing article is how I’ve played the game (4x) on Survivor Mode, and I was literally maxed out w/ upgrades, parts, and ammo lol. But after playing through Grounded, the campaign felt like an entirely new experience. However, I actually LIKE the HUD missing since it feels more realistic to me (even turned off all tutorials, pop-up logo things, melee indicators, etc. since I’ve started playing). Anyways, you did a FANTASTIC job w/ this article! Kudos to you and thanks! People who read this will finally learn how to play the game the way it’s MEANT to be played!! 😀

    • Hugo Stiglitz

      Honestly, after playing it once on Survivor, that’s my difficulty of choice. I beat the Left Behind DLC on survivor too the first time through.

      Once you learn how to handle the difficulty (which is pretty much by being stealthy as often as possible), it’s the best way to play.

  • Steffen

    Ouch. I think I’ll avoid this one. For now.
    Survivor is very difficult as it is, and the 20th restart of a fight is not my idea of fun. It is a slow process, and perhaps I’ll finish it one day ….not soon.
    While I love LoU more than any other game, Dead Space and Gran Turismo included, there are limits to my abilities and my patience.

  • Carlos Modesto Rodriguez

    Eh, helpful guide but I was letdown by Grounded mode. The AI is the biggest disappointment, granted I snuck and stealth killed my way past most of the game but in the instances where I had to fight, really couldn’t discern much of an upgrade in how enemies came at me aside from being a bit more aggressive and accurate with their weapons. I even caught glitches I never saw before, like enemies going in circles or standing still and not noticing me until I planted a pipe upside their heads. Wasn’t a total loss, the extreme scarcity of supplies and enemies killing you more quickly if not instantly killing you made me alter how I played the game for sure (as a vet of Resident Evil games the lack of a HUD wasn’t a factor at all in how I played), and made for a more fun, interesting playthrough. Just wish that enemy AI was as improved as I was led to believe it would be.

    • Pete

      Yeah yeah yeah all you critics should develop your own game if you’re such heroes.

      • Crookid

        Positive only feedback never warrants positive change.

        • Pete

          I admit here that i had to revert to normal in a couple of stages to build up supplies, yeah yeah i know, bit chicken, but i’ve restarted on survivor mode and find that you really have to watch and not use certain supplies, i have been given away by ellie on a couple of occasions, when clickers and infected surround you, there isn’t much hope, i just think that guys like carlos are not being entirely truthful, i game lots both pc and ps3, i would call myself an experienced gamer and i found grounded although i haven’t completed it extremely difficult.

        • Pete

          I’ll add to it that they have literally made it so you can’t use shiv’s on clickers and the reason for my assumption is that if you use all your shiv’s up you can’t open any of the locked doors, so therefore supplies out of these is impossible without reverting to normal and in any real situation you would always be able to get ammo off your enemies.

  • Adam Martin

    The hospital was BRUTAL. I made it to the final corridor, got spotted while strangling a guy, was shot to death, and then: “The smuggler! He’s in here!” I got dropped at the BEGINNING of the hospital!

    • Jeffrey Tijm

      I’ve got the same problem every time I got shot it is so frustrating.

  • Stian Sveinson Ohrvik

    I’ve got to say, this difficulty is the game. It’s everything about the post-apocalyptic mayhem one would expect. It’s unfair, ruthless and so realistic. Only thing that’s off, is the ammo drop-rate from thugs and bandits.

  • Theblitz707

    Nice tips but i have a question. İf i play on easy and collect pills and upgrade my health and other stuff. Will they be still upgraded when i start on grounded difficulty?

    • munnyndonuts

      Unfortunately not! Beating the game on a particular difficulty will only allow you to start new game plus on that same difficulty or lower. Though I believe there’s some sort of trophy glitch that allows you to start new game plus, and then changing the game’s difficulty in the settings menu once you’ve started it.

  • Pete

    Well i’ll be honest here, i had to change the difficultly level when hung upside down in Bill’s trap, i’m not afraid to admit it, also Bill and Ellie aren’t invincible in some scenes, they can die as show by the health circle that pops up above their head, also your companions will sometimes give you away resulting often in your demise, Tess has opened fire on clickers when i’ve been sneaking into a better position and on grounded, thats suicide.

  • kd

    your allies are definitely NOT invincible. Whenever I hide and try to let them take out the enemies, It takes FOREVER for them to kill just one, and then eventually they start to die and I have to save them. lol, this strategy never works for me.