The Longing is deliberately slow and tedious, but you can’t stop playing.
The Longing feels like a troll. It’s a game that takes 400 real-world days to finish, and it moves at a pace that could only generously be described as glacial. The first word that ever appears on screen is “Wait!” Simple tasks, like walking up some stairs or opening a door, drag on forever. And yet, here I am, a month after I first started, and I can’t seem to stop playing.
The game puts you in the role of a “shade”, a small creature who lives in service to an ancient king. At the outset of The Longing, the king tells you he must go into a kind of hibernation and leaves you to, well, wait. The towering king sits on a giant throne, occasionally snoring, and you’re left alone in a dark, twisting, subterranean world. You have 400 days until he wakes up. What are you going to do?
The Longing is a game about killing time. There’s no explicit goal other than to wait, as the clock ticks down whether you’re playing or not. The game takes place in the crumbling remnants of a long-forgotten underground kingdom. You have a small room beside the king’s throne — one you can customize by hanging pictures, building a bed, or digging out an extra room — but the rest of the place is one giant maze.
Your main obstacle in exploring is the pace. The shade moves almost comically slow, shuffling along as if it’s not in any rush at all. There’s definitely no run button. Sometimes you’ll come across areas that are inaccessible for weeks. To make things even more challenging, there’s no map, so it’s easy to get lost or struggle to find your way back home.
Moving through The Longing becomes almost meditative. For the most part, nothing happens, but every so often you’ll come across something really cool, like an ancient library where you can raid all of the books, or a waterfall splashing onto crystals. As you explore, the shade will talk to itself in tweet-worthy missives like “this seems like a great place to be lonely” or “I have never understood life”.
In some ways, The Longing almost plays like an idle browser game, something you set in the background and return to when something interesting happens. Those games are often about watching numbers increase over time, but in The Longing, you simply get a quiet space for contemplation. Some aspects can be automated: you can ask the shade to go for a walk or head home without any player input.
Much of the time The Longing is boring, though that’s by design. It makes the moments of discovery all the more thrilling.