Player Skills Analysis: The Last of Us

In Game Design, it's interesting how a game is essentially a series of challenges that we throw at the player, and then ask them to overcome them. How do we know something is rewarding? We can’t make it too easy without boring the player, or too hard without frustrating them. It all boils down to what we’re testing the players on, and how often. During this case study, I will take a look at the gameplay loops of some popular games and identify the different Player Skills that they test.

In 2018, Ubisoft Director Laurent Malville attended Sheridan College to give a masterclass on Game Design. During this talk, he spoke about multiple things, and one of the most fascinating was regarding Player Skills.

Player Skills are essentially the different areas of cognitive function that Game Designers can challenge. As designers, if we only provide challenge for a single player skill, players will end up getting used to using only one cognitive function and it loses its engagement. This is why it's important know what the different types of Player Skills are; so we make sure that we don’t just end up using a single one.

The different Player Skills are divided into 2 categories, Physical and Mental:

Physical Skills

  • Timing - Accurately providing input to a timed event

  • Reflexes - Accurately providing input to an unanticipated event

  • Measurement - Accurately judging the game space

  • Precision - Accurately providing input via motor control

Mental Skills

  • Management - Organizing scarce resources

  • Strategy - Decisions and plans made on limited knowledge

  • Tactical - Adapting to situations and quick decisions

  • Cleverness - Gathering enough information to solve a problem

A video format is best for breaking down the amount of skills being tested, so watch the footage below to get an understanding of exactly how frequently it happens.

The final tally of skills tested are:

Physical Skills - 41

  • Timing - 9

  • Reflexes - 19

  • Measurement - 8

  • Precision - 5

Mental Skills - 77

  • Management - 16

  • Strategy - 15

  • Tactical - 33

  • Cleverness - 13

Total - 118

Some interesting observations:

  • A little more than 1 skill is tested per second

  • Mental Skills almost double Physical Skills

  • Highest Physical skill is Reflexes due to button prompts and sound cues

  • Highest Mental Skill is Tactical due to the many decisions made through gameplay

  • Mental Skills and Physical Skills have a direct relationship

  • Reflexes and Tactical have a direct relationship

  • Strategy and Cleverness have a direct relationship


  • Testing skills in isolation never happens

  • Test Skills that support your pillars. It makes sense for The Last of Us to have Tactical and Reflexes rate the highest

  • Some skills are suited to being tested together (Reflexes & Tactical for example)

  • Real time combat games tend to test much more frequently

This analysis will be performed on other games in the future.