There, that’s enough for now. I’ve managed to squeeze in a good 15-20 hours of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain for review, after what proved a very busy Freshers’ Week. I’ve launched myself deep into the story, mastered the game’s mechanics and feel satisfied that I can move on to the many fantastic games on the horizon.
Except, I used to be able to say this about many games, but nowadays, this is just a fantasy in today’s climate. More missions and side ops keep popping up on my iDroid, I’m unlocking even more guns and weaponry that constantly evolve my experience, and Mother Base floats atop the Seychelles in all its irritatingly unfinished glory. Despite the time I’ve put into the game, I feel as if I’ve barely scratched the surface – a painfully familiar feeling as we rumble on towards the November release date bottleneck. This is made worse when the critically acclaimed Batman: Arkham Knight and Bloodborne lay despairing and unused in their cases.
This is a serious problem for gamers like myself, especially with behemoths like the 400+ hour Fallout 4 releasing imminently: We’re missing out on loads of potentially excellent games. When we lose ourselves in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Boston, or get all stabby in the mean streets of Victorian London, then we might be forced to overlook promising indies like Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Shovel Knight. Consequently, we play ourselves out of a wider and more nuanced gaming conversation that only focuses on AAA, big budget releases, and that’s an important issue.
But, this begs a complex question: Are video games too long? The thing is, there isn’t an objective figure constituting the number of hours that makes a game too long, it depends completely on the game, the detail of its mechanics and the imagination instilled into its storytelling. A game of watching paint dry or, equally, Candy Crush Saga, would prove too long after about ten minutes. But, at the same time, a rich, dense game that continues to freshen up its experience might not even be long enough after the 200 hour point.
A game of watching paint dry or, equally, Candy Crush Saga, would prove too long after about ten minutes.
The game that I have in mind is CD Projekt Red’s latest Witcher instalment, a game that consumed more of my summer than I care to admit. The deeply satisfying yarn the reputable Polish team span immersed me absolutely in the heart of the Nilfgaardian Empire. The characterisation was complex, the individual stories I lost myself in were steeped in all shades of grey and the world was full to bursting with detail and beauty that kept pulling me hopelessly back in. And, this didn’t change beyond 100 hours: the narrative and gameplay kept evolving and surprising me, keeping things feeling new all the time.
This, for me, is an example of a game that merits the long hours required. To obtain the full experience, you must play for at least 30 hours: The Witcher 3 gets better the more you play as you wade deeper into its mechanics and reap the rewards as the game changes and reinvents itself.
But, this isn’t the case with all games coming out at the moment; Some games are artificially drawn out, asking you to repeat the same tired tasks to give you the illusion that your money has been well spent. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag‘s Caribbean world looked spectacular and building up your very own pirate ship was enthralling. But, the main missions were stale, repetitive and when you arrived at destinations, the ways in which you could interact with the world were very limited.
Also, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor had its own stellar features, namely its Nemesis system – where, briefly put, your enemies could remember if they’d fled from a fight with you, or had struck you down before – was innovative and arguably engineered the first new-gen game of this console cycle. But, after 20 hours, the game struggled to put forward new ideas, and it became a chore to totally finish if you are a compulsive completionist (much like myself).
So, why then, is the video games market saturated with such bloated titles? Well, it’s down to the cost of games and the demand of gamers. When a game costs around £40-50, our favourite pastime can add a fair amount of stress to our wallets, so we will always be looking for the best bang for our hard-earned buck. Which means that, when a new game is released, one of the first questions we all ask is ‘How life consuming is it’? Then – most recently proved by CD Projekt Red’s announcement that the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 will be even longer than The Witcher 3 (*shudders*) – developers will deliver on what we ask for.
This is by no means an issue for everybody, there are plenty of you out there that know when to put a game down and move on. So, I’m talking to the guys who simply have to see and do everything here. The next time you’re seeking out that last collectible or finishing off the last of many side missions, think to yourself ‘Am I still enjoying the experience, is the game still new?’ If the answer to these questions is no, then you should really be assessing whether the extra time fully completing a game might be better spent on an entirely new gaming concept. As Keza MacDonald, Editor of Kotaku, argues, “instead of thinking ‘what am I getting for my money?’, I think ‘what am I getting for my time?’”.
Think to yourself ‘Am I still enjoying the experience, is the game still new?’
As a whole community, we must stop holding game length in such high regard, and focus on the quality of the game’s mechanics and how this interacts with a well-constructed narrative. Yes, some games merit longer amounts of time to finish than others, but others don’t, and we need to know when to put the game down. If we don’t, we run the risk of narrowing our gaming horizons and losing precious time that could be otherwise be spent in other industry spaces, that might just be the most interesting, innovative and entertaining areas of the video games medium.