Naturally, Ellie controls differently than Joel, the protagonist of the first game. She's faster and more agile, which saved me a number of times. Ellie can jump, crawl on the ground and dodge incoming attacks, and the latter completely changes how you approach melee combat. She's not an overpowering force, but dodging and slashing with her signature knife can be surprisingly effective if you're low on ammo.
Gunplay has also been refined, and it's easier to know when enemies are down for the count, thanks to a simple red X that flashes when your shots are fatal. The weapons at my disposal were familiar, but could be modified in some new ways. For example, you can craft a silencer for your pistol, which provides another ranged stealth weapon beyond the traditional bow. You can also craft arrows on the fly, provided you have the right supplies, and there are fresh bombs and traps at your disposal as well. I'm so used to playing the game without these mods that I had to stop and remember I had new tricks up my sleeve to get out of a jam.
Beyond the expanded crafting system, there are skill trees that make Ellie more resilient and deadly. The original game had a very limited set of a half-dozen skills that could be upgraded, while Part II has three RPG-style "tracks." I didn't get to fully dive into what skills were in each, but some were focused on health while others improved your weapons and crafting skills. For example, one upgrade made the silencers you craft more durable. Similarly, modifying weapons at a crafting station feels more realistic and thought out than it did in the original. The explanations of upgrade benefits are intuitive and helpful, though it's still a little wonky that you can just find generic "parts" around the world to craft these upgrades.
That's a recurring theme: The game feels true to the original, for better or worse, but everything is just executed better. That's table stakes when you're improving on a game that came out more than six years ago, but it largely feels like Naughty Dog kept what worked and fixed a lot of what didn't.
Unsurprisingly, the world Naughty Dog has crafted here looks fantastic. From character animations and facial expressions to the lush, beautiful outdoors and highly detailed interior of destroyed buildings, everything about this world exudes polish. The sparse music accompaniment from Academy Award-winning composer Gustavo Santaolalla adds to both the open-ended exploration and tense combat sequences, though the demo was free of any strong, identifiable new themes. All that atmosphere made me want to jump back in and play the demos again, because there are so many little things to marvel at that make this world come alive.