There isn’t much downtime in The Last of Us Part II. As Ellie, driven by loss and trauma, players will spend hours shooting, stabbing, and strangling their way to vengeance. Ellie is a swift and capable killer in a game that rarely has a feel-good moment to spare. It’s a breath of fresh air, then, to have some downtime for one of the game’s more calming aspects of play expressed through Ellie practicing guitar.
Scattered throughout The Last of Us Part II are cast-off instruments for Ellie to take a break with. Naughty Dog has finally discovered the best use for the PlayStation 4 controller’s touchpad: swipe for a satisfying strum. By using the controller’s joysticks, swapping between notes, and brushing the touchpad, you’re free to play anything you want (with some musical knowledge, of course) for as long as you like.
My guitar skills, much like all of my other musical talents, are terrible. Hand me a real-life instrument and you’ll probably think I’m committing a crime with it. But The Last of Us Part II’s controls make it easy to play around with notes on your own. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you could even try to look up sheet music to play. (This did not make my music any better.) I found myself distracted from my main mission and wasting real-life daylight hours to experiment.
Ellie’s connection to music has been front and center of many teasers for the game, whether she’s crooning about killing her enemies or performing a cover of New Order’s “True Faith.” Playing the guitar is a direct connection to Joel, her surrogate father, who taught her in the first place. Before you get the chance to make your own music, the game will walk you through a few easy notes to lead into songs that hold significance to Ellie. Often they’ll invoke stories or flashbacks between those closest to her.
In a game overflowing with horror, Ellie’s guitar playing offers a simple way to give players something sentimental to appreciate. The game has only a few other distractions like this: a snowball fight that quietly teaches you how to hide and attack, a friendly contest that prepares you to attack with a bow, and a chance to play fetch with a dog instead of attacking it. Each moment is ultimately preparing you for some devastating realization later on. The peace won’t last. It’s still nice to briefly get lost in something pleasant before you head off to murder yet another person.