I still haven't done it – not even after half a year! We are talking about Naughty Dogs The Last of Us Part 2, without a doubt an unforgettable ride of emotions with sensational storytelling. Just why don't I come to the end? Because the game is really big. Or rather: time consuming.
16 hours have accumulated so far, and according to various YouTube walkthroughs, I have another eight ahead of me. For an action adventure, that doesn't even sound like that dramatic amount of playing time. In principle, I could easily have done The Last of Us Part 2 in one or two weeks. However, despite all its qualities, I didn't want it.
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You have to know: For me, the highly praised predecessor was "too long", although I had put it to the files after about 15 hours. Nevertheless, some passages in the middle part seemed stretched, which is why I might never have finished the game voluntarily without the really well-written story. I was all the more astonished when the first opinions about the successor made the rounds: Naughty Dog had gone one better and apparently exaggerated so much that not only someone like me noticed the stretching of the playing time.
How it could have come to this
I can well remember the 2000s when the move from Playstation 2 / Xbox / Gamecube to Playstation 3 / Xbox 360 / Wii was imminent and games suddenly became shorter. This was particularly noticeable with first-person shooters: While Doom 3, Far Cry and Half-Life 2 (all from 2004) kept us busy for over ten hours, subsequent genre hits like F.E.A.R. (2005) or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2007) in the single digits – at least as far as the story campaign was concerned.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/430x/2021/01/Cyberpunk_2077-pc-games.jpg" alt = "If Cyberpunk 2077 (2020) had only half as many side missions, assignments and crimes, then it would still be an extremely extensive game – and maybe a bug-free one on top of that.
Source: CD Projekt RED / media agency plassma
The trade press reacted accordingly by deducting points. I particularly noticed that on the then very popular website Gamespot.com. After all, their rating system included the "value" factor, which is why great games such as Psychonauts or Shadow of the Colossus (both from 2005) did not achieve 9 out of 10 possible points.
I was also an advocate of the "minimum duration" that a game had to meet within its genre and otherwise judged with devaluations. For this reason, I seriously rated the congenial portal (2007) with an economical 86 points for the website Demonews.de, which has unfortunately since died. In retrospect, I call the puzzle shooter together with the overall package The Orange Box the best game of the year.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/430x/2021/01/Assassins_Creed_Origins-pc-games.jpg" alt = "The game worlds of Assassin's Creed have always been big and full, but since Origins ( 2017) seems to have finally broken out at Ubisoft the megalomania.
Source: Ubisoft / media agency plassma
Two factors made me turn around: On the one hand, I was more and more captivated by ingenious indie productions such as World of Goo (2008), Monument Valley (2014) or Undertale (2015), whose short playtime didn't bother me in any way. On the other hand, many publishers and developers have praised improvement since the increasing criticism of 15 years ago and are now exaggerating it excessively by exceeding each other with maximum hourly values. Nowadays, a long game time seems to be a status symbol – and that in turn spoils me more and more of the fun of triple A titles.
More and more, more and more!
For what felt like five years sequels have had to be one thing above all else: bigger! The game world needs more space, the story needs three times as many plot threads, the percentage of side quests keeps increasing and, above all, the player is condemned to collect all kinds of odds and ends.
Everyone can guess who my criticism relates to most: of course, Ubisoft! Just take a look at the development of the Assassin's Creed saga: What began as a manageable open-world playground with sophisticated missions was literally inflated by countless collectibles, gigantic land masses and hundreds of quests. Assassin's Creed Odyssey (2018) alone comprises almost 70 main missions and over 130 side missions, spread over a huge mainland and a total of 23 smaller islands.
Of course one could argue now: "Well, then just play the story and ignore the side missions!" Well, for one, it's not that easy in my job (especially when writing an all-inclusive guide is on the agenda). On the other hand, I also notice way too many repetitions in the central game, just like in The Last of Us Part 2 mentioned at the beginning.
I am also not concerned with condemning sequels across the board for their long duration. I just want to point out that a long playthrough time does not mean a really substantial volume. Ubisoft recently provided another sad example with Watch Dogs Legion: In my eyes, the two predecessors were two great action adventures that offered me a lot of freedom thanks to their multi-layered game features and, thanks to their intelligent mission design, kept me thinking. Why? Because not every tactic worked always and everywhere.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/430x/2021/01/Portal-pc-games.jpg" alt = "In a nutshell: Portal (2007) only needed a brilliant game idea, a handful clever puzzles and a witty story to completely convince despite the short duration of the game.
Source: Valve / media agency plassma
Watch Dogs Legion, however, has destroyed this plus – the far too easily accessible drones and spider-bots send their regards. This made even one of the most interesting features, namely the ability to recruit any number of hackers with different skills, obsolete. Why? Because you hardly ever needed them.
The problem was exacerbated by procedurally generated in-game content, which in my eyes is still a false savior. In any case, I almost always notice as soon as various design elements are generated by computer and not made by human hands. Of course there are laudable exceptions like Hades that work – but only because the level architecture is less important there. Instead, the action role-playing game shows off countless dialogues and superbly elaborated opponents, which were then created by real graphic artists and designers.
In any case, I see the increased "scope" of Watch Dogs Legion as very critical, because in my opinion it is window dressing. Ultimately, the game doesn't offer "more" than its predecessors or comparable open-world titles. Instead, the same elements are always used and, at best, are arranged in a different order.
Looking at it purely on paper, I would have to praise CD Projekt RED, of all things, because the Poles for Cyberpunk 2077 did indeed write a comparatively lean and, in my opinion, quickly staged story. However, it has rough edges – it feels a bit like something is "missing". At the same time, Night City is crammed with hundreds of side missions, assignments and crimes in which a lot feels double.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/430x/2021/01/Shadow_of_the_Colossus-pc-games.jpg" alt = "For the visionary Shadow of the Colossus (in the picture: the beautiful PS4 remake ) originally twice as many Kolossi were planned, but in the end director Fumito Ueda reduced himself to half and preferred to discard some prototypes that had already been programmed because they didn't work properly.
And that's why the showcase example becomes a tragic antihero, which perfectly underlines my concerns: If Cyberpunk 2077 only had half as much content and if it were more sophisticated, then everyone would be happy about what is offered and no one would complain about too "small" scope.
That is why my appeal should give the developers courage: It doesn't always have to be a "100 plus" hour monster! Better to do it like Jonathan Blow, who developed a small, manageable indie puzzle game with Braid in 2008 and didn't even repeat himself despite brilliant ideas! No kidding, every puzzle in Braid was unique! The net playing time was limited to a manageable five hours, but offered concentrated game fun – and was ultimately more substantial than a typical open world game.
Source: Ubisoft / media agency plassma
Or how about What Remains of Edith Finch (2017)? In my opinion one of the best walking simulators of all time, embedded in an anthology of short stories that were never repeated and, on the contrary, revealed one brilliant idea after another. Sure, after an hour and a half the fun was over. But so the developers could easily live with a fair selling price of 20 euros. And now I prefer to have six such small games instead of two large ones for 60 euros, which, due to the drawn out game design, lose my interest after three hours.
Because of this, I can objectively celebrate The Last of Us Part 2 as a masterpiece. But just like its predecessor, playing sometimes feels more like work than fun. And that can't be in the spirit of the inventor, can it?
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The game worlds of Assassin's Creed have always been big and full, but since Origins (2017) the megalomania seems to have finally broken out at Ubisoft.
(Source: Ubisoft / media agency plassma)
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