The Longing is an experimental indie game that describes itself as “anti-action.” Although it may be slow and a little depressing at times, it is ultimately a chill and rewarding experience.
Time is a precious resource, but what would you do if you had too much of it? What would you do if you had to spend 400 days underground, with nothing but a couple of books and your deepest, darkest thoughts?
The Longing, a new experimental indie game, gives you a chance to find out. A chance to either embrace boredom or try and fight it at all costs.
Alone in the Dark
The Longing is loosely based on the legend of Barbarossa, The King in the Mountain, who slumbers under a hill in Germany. You play as a Shade – a small pathetic creature summoned by The King with only one purpose: wake him up from his little power nap when the time comes.
Problem is, his nap is going to take 400 days – in real-time. In the meantime, you are alone, deep underground with nothing but time on your hands.
And that’s it, that is The Longing. You have 400 days – do with them as you please. Well, there’s more to it than that, but this is the basic premise.
And I have to say it’s a liberating premise. While you aren’t free to “do whatever you want,” you are free to do things at your own pace. It’s really up to you to decide how to play the game. You can stay in your little lair and read actual books – you can read the entirety of Moby Dick and Thus Spoke Zarathustra, among others, in full. Or, you can go out and explore the underground kingdom. Who knows, perhaps you’ll even find a way out.
What you decide to do might also depend on the Shade. Even though you control them, you aren’t really playing as this small, meek creature so much as you’re there to keep them company. The Shade gets very lonely as it wanders the empty underground halls, and will often let you know just how alone they feel. It’s impossible not to be moved as they blurt out depressing, but often oddly profound lines about loneliness and the conflict between duty and self-fulfillment.
It’s this conflict, and how you perceive it, that eventually dictates the goals you set for yourself.
To say The Longing is slow is the mother of all understatements. Everything in the game takes time, from drawing a nice picture that adds some color to your home, to growing mushrooms or even opening a door. But you really don’t have to sit and wait for things to happen.
At its core, The Longing is an idle game. Time will continue marching forward even when you’re not playing, so you can trigger an event that takes, let’s say two hours, and come back later. There’s also a handy system that lets you “bookmark” a location so you can tell the Shade to (very slowly) walk back there while you go do something else.
And you should definitely go do something else. The Longing is designed to be played in very short bursts with long breaks in between sessions. Unsurprisingly, the game doesn’t have 400-days worth of content. If you play it like a typical adventure game, you’ll see almost everything within the first week or so – emphasis on the “almost.”
Some areas are locked behind “time gates” – events that can take anywhere between a week or a full month to resolve. For example, there’s one area you can only reach by jumping down on a bed of moss, but it takes about two weeks for the moss to grow thick enough to break your fall. There are a few of these time gates scattered around the kingdom, so you will reach a point where all you can do is wait.
All the Time in the World
There’s something very zen about The Longing. The sounds of the Shade’s feet slapping against the stone floor, the dripping of water, the crumbling of rock walls – all accompanied by ethereal synth music – is strangely relaxing.
However, I discovered that I’m incapable of enjoying the peace and quiet because of one specific reason – the ticking clock.
400 days is a long time, but the ever-present timer, ceaselessly counting down, made me constantly aware that I have a limited time with the game. If I want to see everything and do everything I can – I better hurry. That is, of course, insane, but I couldn’t help myself.
You do have all the time in the world to play The Longing. If you’re just curious and persistent enough, you can even find ways to make time go faster or even stop it altogether. I did encounter (completely by accident) an event tied to the specific time of day I was playing, which kinda betrays the vibe the game is going for. But other than that, and if you manage to remain chill about the ticking clock, you’re in for a relaxing, almost zen experience.
The Longing is an experiment in boredom. Even the developers call it an “anti-action” game. But that doesn’t mean it’s a boring game.
Slowly discovering the underground kingdom is always rewarding, and so is pretty much anything else you decide to do. I spent literal hours expanding and decorating the Shade’s home, turning it from a dank hole-in-the-wall to a spacious lair with its own mushroom garden and en suite bathroom. It was still pretty dank, though…
I loved my time with my little Shade, and I bet you will too if you’re looking for a relaxing, slightly meditative experience. The Longing might be an experiment, but it’s an experiment I urge you to participate in.
Developer: Studio Seufz
Publisher: Application Systems
Release Date: Mar. 5, 2020
Genre: Idle Game, Adventure
Available on: PC
Reviewed on: PC
Our The Longing review copy was provided by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.