You can reach the end of The Longing by just waiting. You play as a creature called a Shade—a small, wide-eyed creature who is servant to the king of a barren underground kingdom. His royal majesty has decided to go into a long slumber and has demanded that you wake him up when the time is right. Being reduced to a personal alarm clock is one thing, but the real kicker is that he has asked to be woken up in 400 real-time days. It's going to be a long wait.
The Longing is an idle puzzle game that takes over a year to complete. There's a timer at the top of the screen counting down the days, hours, minutes, and seconds. If you're away from your computer the timer will keep counting down. When you are playing, you're left to your own devices, free to wander the game's dark, damp caves with your little Shade buddy. Or you could stay in the Shade's desolate room with 1,282 pages of Moby Dick for company.
As I begin to guide the Shade, it becomes painfully obvious how slowly the little guy moves. I mean, I guess from its perspective why would it move quickly? It has all the time in the world. The Longing is intentionally slow, but as I began exploring I found out that it's more than just an idle walking game.
As you leave the chamber of the slumbering King, the world of the underground kingdom is a collection of dark caverns. Many of the caves have multiple doors, extended stairways or long corridors and, with the pace that the Shade walks, a lot of your time will be slowly travelling these seemingly endless caverns. Occasionally you'll wander into grander rooms, like a crystal hallway or a room that's stacked floor to ceiling with gold, but they are merely the lost history of this desolate kingdom.
There are no day or night cycles in The Longing, so the only indication of time passing is the countdown timer at the top of the screen. Rocks will occasionally fall down and there are some weird noises underneath the game's dark synth soundtrack that would normally make my hair stand on end. But because I know I'm completely isolated, and that it's an idle game, it has this weirdly calm but lonely vibe.
As you explore the caverns there are obstacles that need to be overcome, some of which are puzzles and others just require you to wait. It could be the case of waiting two minutes for a door to open, two days for a spider to complete its web, or a whole month for mushrooms to grow. You can always quit the game and then return, or just wait alongside the Shade as it waits patiently. If you leave the Shade idle for long enough it will sit on the ground and eventually lie down.
If you grow tired of just holding down the mouse button and waiting for your little friend to slowly move across the screen then you can command the Shade to wander aimlessly, a feature that I have used many, many times. After selecting this, the Shade will begin to walk on its own without you guiding it. When I select this, I'll leave the window up on one of my monitors as the little dude does its thing. Although one time I swear I only looked away for a few minutes when it walked into some strange part of the cave I had never seen before, leaving me completely clueless as to how it got there.
The Shade will comment occasionally, at first on its surroundings—how lonely it is and how much time it has to wait. But it slowly starts to question its daunting task, wondering if it's even worth it. There's something so empathetic about the Shade that really plucks at my heartstrings. I want to take care of it, find it books to read, colours for it to draw with, and objects to make its home cosier.
After the Shade muses about whether there's a world beyond this cave, I begin to wonder too. I want to help him escape which means searching every inch of this enormous cavern and the inevitable waiting on its idle puzzles. There have been times where I'm tempted to change date and time on my computer but I feel like there will be consequences and I don't want to take that chance. I'll help the Shade find an escape route or find out what happens when we wake the king up after 400 days, whatever comes first.