Among the great and terrible discourses that plague modern games, few are as horrific and all-consuming as “Are video games these days too long?” (Only its older siblings, “Are video games these days too hard?” And “Do video games cost too much these days?” Can really be compared.)
The Game Length Thing got its latest endless re-trial a few days ago when developer Techland announced that their new zombie parkour game, Dying light 2, would take about 500 hours to complete. (It’s only three weeks, for those of you with a math or calendar aversion.) Techland clarified later which the players only need 20 hours to complete the game’s main story, but at the time, the sharp knives were out on the net, and the screams from “It’s murder!” and “No, that’s ideal!” had already begun.
The pace of video games is a strange thing; as I have noticed more than once for my colleagues – often desperate and from the depths of a multi-day revue fugue – there is really no modern media form that can match a modern video game in the long run. Twenty hours of gameplay is not even, like, one lot for a medium that has produced things like Atlus’ Person series or The Witcher 3. By comparison, if one of my colleagues in our film section was assigned something that took 20 hours of active engagement to experience, it would usually come with adjectives like “experimental” or “out there” or “very ruthless towards my daily life.”
The questions raised by Dying light 2 message, so trawl a wide swath of undercurrents currently lurking in the veins of body gaming. For example, there is the perception that anyone who complains that games are too long is just a gaming journalist who is annoyed that it is more work for them. (See, uh, most of the above paragraphs.)
But the bit of anger runs on the false assumption that reviewers are in any way obligated to “complete” a game in order to review it. Make an effort in good faith, yes. Clarify how much of the game you experienced, and of course any major holes you may have hit. But games – especially modern games – are almost never built for even unpaid, regular gamers to complete them. And one insist upon completion by the reviewer, ignores the fact that the experience of the first 10 hours of a game is as, if not more, important to its overall impression as the last 10.
That genuine The problem with a game that promises 500 hours of content, then, is that it is virtually impossible for much of this content not to be repeated, padded, or automatically generated. This is not necessarily a bad thing – if just playing a game is fun enough, you do not necessarily need a series of handmade quests to make it sing. (Play means something! Just as much as writing and individual quests or level designs, play means something.) But if you’ve never looked at a giant card filled with icons in an open-world game and whispered a discouraged “Oh my God, that is a lot of little tower to climb, ”then you are a more dedicated gamer than myself.
Most of these 500-hour little corticons are, of course, optional; games are more than most other media pretty much “done” when we say we’m done and it sounds like Dying light requires only a sparse 80 hours to get all its sidequest and story content. But the decision by Techland or other developers to create 500 hours of content in the first place can have all sorts of contagious effects on the design of the game that hosts it. At its best, a wealth of optional material can keep players engaged long after they may have relinquished the title. (An interesting counterpoint to the current trend of endlessly patching up more material for a game in the weeks and months after release.) At its worst, however, the bolus of gameplay can have a diluting effect: The high parts of the game drown out . in hundreds of procedurally generated download quests, development resources turned to increasing The Big Number instead of tuning systems or existing quest designs.
(All of this also completely eliminates the problems of crunch and other work problems in the industry; “500 hours” of content, even simple or repetitive content, does not do itself.)
Regardless of all this debate, Dying light 2 will probably be quite fun. (That first game was; it is very hard to beat a good grip hook for video games, zombies or not.) The question then is whether it will be strenuous-or potentially stretched too thin.