Recently released idle/adventure game, THE LONGING, throws players into a lonely cave system where they await the passage of 400 days. That’s 400 real-world days. That’s 9,600 hours worth of game. That’s 576,000 minutes of wandering around the dimly lit underground passage you now call home.
I know this, because I’m currently more than 50 days into the 400 day experience. You can call this a journal of my time with the game thus far, or a documentation into my slow descent into isolated madness. Regardless, I don’t intend to give up on THE LONGING until I see everything this game has to offer.
“How can a game possibly take 400 real world days to complete?” I hear you ask. Let me explain. THE LONGING sees you play as a creature known as a ‘Shade’. You’re a being created to complete a simple task. The King needs to regain his power and so he falls into a 400 day slumber, safely locked away in an underground temple. The Shade’s job is to wake the King once his 400 day sleep is over.
The game contains a countdown timer that’s constantly ticking down your 400 day task. You can explore the cave, create a cozy little home for yourself, and ponder the meaning of life.
THE LONGING belongs to the idle genre of video games. That’s because even if you’re not playing the game, progress is still moving along. You can command Shade to walk to a certain area of the cave, close the game, and when you launch it back up you’ll be where you want. Theoretically you could launch the game, immediately close it, and wait 400 days before launching it back up to see what happens at the end. Either way the game requires a lot of waiting. But in THE LONGING, patience is kind of the whole idea.
It’s a wild premise for a game and one that’s immediately intriguing. A strange mix of idle gaming and adventure, where mystery and curiosity keeps you coming back to see what’s new. THE LONGING immediately teaches the player what pace they should be playing this game at. Walk speed is laboriously slow and even just opening a door can take 20 seconds. It would be painful in any other experience, but here it kind of makes sense. Time is not your enemy in THE LONGING, you have it in abundance. Why sprint through a game that can’t be completed for over a year?
I didn’t learn my patience lesson immediately. I thought it had to be a joke. A ruse at the expense of the player. A clever point about the idea of game design and player interaction. I explored the cave looking for another way to complete this game, expecting a new narrative to unravel allowing me to betray the king or escape the cave. It’s possible those options still exist, but 50 days in and I haven’t found them yet.
The cave system is big and can be a tangled mess of corridors, doorways and even other realms of reality. I don’t have a good sense of direction and would get lost constantly. Exploring takes time but you’ll slowly gather resources and find new things as you go. Returning back to Shade’s base and you can see the fruits of your labour. Different colours can be found throughout the cave that can be used to paint pictures and beautify your dingy hovel. Pieces of an instrument can be located and put together to form a functioning musical tool. Crystals can be harvested, books can be found, and resources can be gathered to help you construct simple things like a bed or a fireplace.
Sometimes exploration payed off and sometimes it didn’t. If you go into THE LONGING expecting to find excitement around every corner you’re likely to be disappointed. What you will find are certain areas of the cave that require you to wait. A dip in the cave may mean there’s no way to reach up to the other side and continue journeying in that direction. However a small drip of water that ever-so-slowly fills up that dip could be your salvation. Wait 2 weeks and the water will fill the dip and you can swim up to the other side. These forced time barriers are fairly plentiful throughout the whole game. One might take a few minutes, another may take over a month.
At one moment during my playtime I had an idea. A lightbulb went off in my head as I set the time on my system clock forward, ready to trick the game into believing time has passed. Although the devs were one step ahead of me, and when I launched the game I was met with a knowing message preventing me from continuing with my wrongdoings. I was busted.
THE LONGING doesn’t intend for you to cheat its system or find a way around its design. It feels so alien to play a game like this. A game that isn’t interested in moving at anything other than a snails pace. If I were to describe the game in one word it would be audacious. It takes a lot of chutzpah to ask a player to engage with your game for over a year. To continue searching the labyrinthine corridors for something new. To sit and read thousand word in-world books while you simply wait for time to pass. It’s audacious for sure, but I completely respect the confidence and the refusal to stick to traditional game design.
What will happen in the coming weeks, months, or year with THE LONGING? Only time will tell. Good thing we have all the time in the world.