By Hannah Gray
Image courtesy of The Longing press kit via IGDB
Game Length: …400 days
Developer: Studio Seufz
The Longing begins in complete darkness – just a hint of what to expect. Then, the sublime hum of the score kicks in with the introductory hammer of a distant keyboard, and text appears: Deep, deep beneath the Earth there lay the realms of an old king. A uniquely stylized cutscene brings us from a blocked well in the middle of the woods down, down, down through winding caverns and hallowed mountain halls. At the bottom, a mighty king of stone sits atop his throne, holding a lump of coal in his hands. After a moment, the lump of coal awakens, their strange yellow eyes blinking to life as they stretch out their gangly limbs. The world-weary king tells his strange servant that he is weak and will rest upon his throne for 400 days to regain his powers. The ashen creature agrees with a blink and the king nods off.
Sure thing, sire. Goodnight, sleep well – see you in 400 days... Now what?
And that’s where the real game begins. The Longing is an idle exploration game that counts down the king’s 400-day slumber in real time. You play as the coal creature – a ‘shade’ – who lurks around the abandoned subterranean palace, searching for ways to fill those long days of solitude. This game is a time waster – literally. You are given no objectives, no guidance, and no map to navigate the splintered nest of corridors and tunnels. Wherever you and the shade go, you go slowly – after all, it’s not like you have anywhere else to be. During your mindless wandering, you will come across blocked passages: when you encounter these, the shade will add ‘one disappointment’ to their inventory. The solutions to puzzles are rarely complex, but they are time consuming. You want to get down to the lower level of this cavern? Get ready to wait two weeks for a bed of moss to grow beneath the ledge you are patiently waiting on, eventually allowing a safe leap into new depths. You, like the poor lonely shade, are in it for the long haul.
But that’s no reason to complain. As well as being the perfect way to take a mindful break from your day, this game is also a complete work of art. You explore finely illustrated caverns, immersed in an entrancing dungeon synth score and elegantly minimal sound design. 400 days gives you plenty of time to uncover all the careful details that the shadowy mountain hides, something that a more open or narrative-driven game would struggle to offer. As empty as the game-world feels, there is always something more to do to pass the time. Some actions – such as lighting a fire or reading scavenged books – literally make the timer tick faster. The books that the shade collects are real world classics, and the game lets you read along with him; there’s no excuses for not reading Moby Dick now, you have all the time in the world. The Longing gives you a real sense of accomplishment when you begin to unravel the complexities of the mountain paths or finally find a piece of flint after weeks of searching. When every movement is slow – when it takes minutes rather than seconds to walk up a humble staircase – even the smallest achievements feel earned.
I have only played through the first hundred or so days but the shade – who I intend to name; they are too sad already not to have their own name – already has a tight hold on my heartstrings. The game has multiple endings, not all of them happy, but there are still 289 days to wait until we find out our fate. The shade and I must enjoy the time that we have, even if we must find that happiness alone.