Shamblers are an alternate fourth stage of the infected that are introduced in The Last of Us Part II, encountered in Seattle and Santa Barbara. They are believed to have developed from exposure to high amounts of water, compared to the typical dry environments bloaters develop in after infection from the Cordyceps brain infection.
Events of The Last of Us Part II
The existence of shamblers was first hinted at by rumors spread among members of the Washington Liberation Front about a variant of bloater that had mutated due to the heavy rainfall and humidity in Seattle.[fn 1] These rumors turned out to be true, as a WLF soldier discovered while on patrol in Seattle. The soldier was ambushed by a shambler which they killed but its acid pustules exploded and burned them.
During Ellie and Dina's journey throughout Seattle, the two retreated into an abandoned subway where they encountered a group of infected, including several clickers and shamblers. The WLF followed, resulting in a three-way battle between Ellie and Dina, the WLF and the infected, in which Ellie and Dina fled and the WLF were left to fight the infected. During the battle, two members of the WLF were chased off by a shambler, one was wounded by the shamblers' acid. Another WLF soldier tried to defend him from a shambler using his handgun, but it was able to get close and kill them.
By unknown means, shamblers also inhabited Santa Barbara, a hot climate rather than wet one. Ellie encounters them while searching for Abby Anderson in the summer of 2039. They live in abandoned houses along with stalkers that the Rattlers do not control.
Shamblers are horrifying, walking pustule-clusters that spray gaseous acid when they get near the player and take massive damage before dying. They move slowly, but are capable of shifting into a sprint if noise alerts them. When feeling threatened, they instinctively fire bursts of their acidic spores from their body. The fungal growth is so immense that spores cover their entire body, leading to oversized heads and torsos with dozens of puss spores around them. In addition to this, their mouths have been stuck gaping wide by the fungus, preventing them from being able to bite. However, the growth has not consumed their arms and their eyes are still partially visible. Once defeated, these festering threats explode with violent force, emitting a cloud of spores that deal heavy damage to the player.
It is suggested that shamblers were in the process of mutating into bloaters, but heavy exposure to water from the constant rain in Seattle caused them to change into shamblers instead. However, they are encountered in areas away from water such as in the suburbs of the city and the forest areas. Indeed, there are also several shamblers that Ellie encounters in Santa Barbara.
Like all infected, shamblers suffer high damage from fire attacks and explosive weapons. While resembling bloaters in size and appearance, they appear to lack their immense strength, as Ellie and Abby are able to wrestle them off of themselves if grabbed. However, their movement is just as sluggish if not more so, with most survivors able to outrun them if attacked, though they can climb up and over obstacles. They are also shown to be far more numerous than bloaters, occasionally appearing in packs.
The ideal way to take down shamblers is by using flamethrower bursts and throwing Molotov cocktails to deal intense fire damage. Players can also use trap mines (as Ellie) and pipe bombs (as Abby) to defeat them. Further, like most infected, the shambler groups can be drawn together by throwing a brick into an open area to lure them together for maximum damage without alerting them to one's position. Shamblers lack the fungal plates found on other infected such as bloaters and clickers, which makes them vulnerable to precision damage.
- In an interview with Neil Druckmann on The Last of Us Part II, it is hinted that the environment itself plays a role in the various states of the infected's lives. When discussing the shambler, the team wanted to include a new enemy type that suited the lore of the world of The Last of Us; Druckmann remarked "In the first game, there is all this documentation about the different stages [of the infection], now we have to justify why there are different stages. Why are there mutations of these things? Without getting into it here, there is something about the environment and how much time has passed that has allowed these mutations to occur."