Patience And Time
HIGH Fascinating concept. Making progress is rewarding.
LOW Basic functions aren’t explained.
WTF The mushroom dreams…
In The Longing, the king of the underworld is exhausted, and must slumber for 400 days to gather his strength.
As there are no alarm clocks below ground, the king creates a shade for the sole purpose of waking him up at the end of his extended nap. What this slight, beaky goblin with spindly limbs and a few crooked teeth does between the time of its creation and the time of its appointed duty is entirely up to the player, but mostly? They’re just killing time.
The Longing’s concept of ‘waiting’ as a primary play mechanic is an interesting prospect, and it’s made even more interesting by the fact that those 400 days are measured in real time – actual, real-world days.
Also unusual? The shade’s snail-like walking speed can only be described as ‘torturous’ and it has no map to consult if it loses its way in the mazelike halls of the underground. It also has no way of interacting with its 2D world other than the most basic actions, like picking things up off the ground or opening doors. There are no physics, no real inventory, no combat or crafting… The king didn’t create a world full of distraction and whimsy to keep the shade occupied, and first impressions are that these 400 days are going to be impossibly boring.
On every level and in every aspect, The Longing is a challenging experience. It’s glacial, frustrating, and oblique. It’s not clear what there is to do or where to go, and the narrative is as hesitant to accommodate players as the rest.
While this might sound like a miserable experience, I found The Longing to be something that I couldn’t stay away from. While I only played it for a few minutes each day, I always came back to see what more I could unravel.
Early on, I came to a cliff that had a valuable item at the bottom. I knew I couldn’t survive the drop, but I noticed there was a small patch of moss growing beneath. “That moss might be big enough to cushion my fall in two weeks” is what the shade said when I spotted it, and when I came back in fourteen real-time days, I landed softly.
Other areas demanded a similar level of patience — a pool that’s too shallow to swim across will eventually be filled by a slow trickle coming from above, one drop at a time. A stalactite will fall and the crumbled stone will create a chasm-spanning bridge at some point in the future, once gravity wins that struggle.
The waiting required to get anything done in The Longing almost sounds like a sick joke, but the knowledge that things will happen over time – and time is the only thing the shade has – gives an inevitable sort of reassurance that feels unlike any other game I can think of. However, it’s important to call out the fact that there are some allowances that make playing The Longing possible without incurring insanity.
The most relevant is that the game can be closed at any time and the shade will either wait in place or continue any simple task that the player assigns it. For example, at one point I wanted to use a pickax to dig a tunnel that might lead to a new area, but the shade warned me that it would take a long time.
Instead of staring at the screen and watching its toil, I started the digging, closed the game, and came back the next day to find a completed passage. In this way the player can sustain incremental progress without actually being present, and it’s a smart addition since The Longing would be unbearable without it.
At this point, readers might be wondering what the use of all this is, since waiting isn’t a high-value selling point. To this I’ll say that when the shade finally finds a special item or discovers a new area after a long span of tedium, it feels amazing.
For example, I had a few sheets of paper but nothing to do with them. After a week or two of exploration, I came across a piece of colored chalk that the shade could use to scribble, and it was like a gift from the heavens. In this underground world, it is absolutely the little things that matter, and even tiny wins feel huge.
After time spent poking in dark corners, finding items and discovering new things, unexpected layers of The Longing are revealed. Some were quite satisfying, and others, not so much.
I won’t spoil anything here, but The Longing hints at things which are possible if players are diligent enough (or if they do a quick google search…) but I found that the deepest secrets were disappointing – not only were they extremely unintuitive, they didn’t feel organically integrated into the shade’s story. Rather, they felt like they were added simply so the game could say that it had secrets.
It’s also disappointing to find that even when striving for every possible objective, there’s just not enough to do – by the time I had done nearly everything, I still had more than 300 days left to wait. At this point I simply put the game aside and checked on it periodically, but it would have been great to have more things to work towards that took the extremely long-term nature of the experience into account. The Longing ran out of content way, way too soon and there’s a huge difference between the sweet anticipation of waiting for a special thing to happen and simply waiting for the clock to run out.
I’ll also say that The Longing isn’t clear about basic functions like how the right stick works, or how the shade can ‘remember’ specific locations that it might want to return to later. There’s also an in-game ‘quest log’ of sorts that players might not realize is there, and it can be tough remembering what to do without it, since it’s common to forget what’s going on after spending some time away. And, even when a clue is remembered, the shade moves so slowly that it’s nearly impossible to check something or try something iteratively without huge spans of wait time between attempts.
At this point it probably sounds like playing The Longing was torture, but that’s really not the case. Being forced to exercise patience was enigmatically compelling, and I was determined to endure and see the shade through to the end. The lonely, meditative mood of the underworld is excellent, the sense of accomplishment when something is achieved is immense, and the very concept is unlike anything else that comes to mind.
For these reasons alone, this title is recommended to players looking for extreme experiences on the edge of game design, but they should leave expectations at the door and be ready to let the shade complete its work, all in its own sweet time.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Studio Seufz and published by Ashgames. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 3.5 months of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Alcohol and Tobacco Reference, Mild Blood, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, and Violent References. These descriptors may seem shocking for an E-rated title, but the game itself is utterly harmless (and honestly, no child is going to have the wherewithal to get through it anyway!) The rel reason for the warnings is that the game includes several public domain books (yes, COMPLETE books) such as Moby Dick, The Secret Garden, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, and more.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and thought I was doing fine until I looked at a walkthrough and discovered that some secrets are based solely on audio with no visual cue. It’s possible to finish the game normally with no sound, but players who can’t hear will miss out on some hidden things. Text is not resizable or able to be altered in any way — see examples above. Not fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram.
Brad still loves Transformers, he's on Marvel Puzzle Quest when nobody's looking, and his favorite game of all time is a toss-up between the first Mass Effect and The Witcher 3. You can catch his written work here at GameCritics and you can hear him weekly on the @SoVideogames Podcast. Follow Brad on Twitter and Instagram at @BradGallaway, or contact him via email:
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