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Horizon Forbidden West Already Sounds Too Long

Horizon Zero Dawn is a fantastic game. History seems to have re-evaluated the game, looking on one of the PS4's first big hits less kindly as the likes of God of War, Spider-Man, and The Last of Us Part 2 followed it, but it remains one of my favourites of the last generation, and its sequel my most anticipated game of the year. I've just found out it takes "several hundred hours" to 100 percent the game, so I guess that's a thing I'm never doing.

I'm not just writing this to complain. I'm not too naive to my own position to see how entitled it is to whine that a triple-A game that I'm getting for free is too long, and inconveniences my plans to play all the other triple-A games I'll get for free. Critics and players experience games differently, and if Horizon is the big game you're splurging for in February, then "several hundred hours" of fun probably sounds better to you than it does to me – and that's to say nothing of our guides team, who will need to trawl every inch of the game for all the collectible wotsits.

But is it really several hundred hours of fun? Does anyone expect that Horizon, a series whose previous entry took around 23 hours to beat the story and around 45 hours to also up the side quests et cetera, to provide "several hundred hours" of fun? Even to 100 percent the original and its DLC, you'd need a little under 80 hours, and fun went out the window with around 35 hours left on the clock. Several. Hundred. Hours. To watch the entire MCU, you're looking at around 60 hours. To watch every MCU movie three times each, you're at 180, still a bit short of "several hundred." This is, quite simply, too long.

It's part of this bizarre new marketing technique games have where longer is always better. Dying Light 2's claim that it would take 500 hours to complete was supposed to enrapture players, to show off just how much raw, juicy content is packed into Techland's zombie title. Instead, it drew a sigh and an eyeroll. No one wants to play Dying Light for 500 hours. No one wants to play Horizon Forbidden West for several hundred hours. That is just too many hours.

I don't mind games being meaty. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart being short enough that I could beat it twice in the review period last year was a relief, but for a player, I understand that for $70, they might want to be entertained for more than 15 hours. But there's a huge difference between 15 and 500. Someone smarter than me can do the maths, but it seems like 500 – 15 = still way too big a number of hours for a video game to be.

If you're playing Horizon Forbidden West for several hundred hours, the idea of fun will have slipped away and been replaced by the ceaseless desire to complete the game just for the sake of it. Games can achieve that in a much shorter space and still feel rewarding though. Ghost of Tsushima took me 65 hours to Platinum, and by the end, I was just playing it to get to 100 percent – but there was enough of me that still wanted to play, because I knew it would be over soon. I couldn't have kept going for another hundred hours, and if I'd tried I'd just end up hating Ghost of Tsushima. Instead, I can look back on it with a fond sense of achievement.

The argument is that if I don't want to play it for several hundred hours, I don't need to. But the bigger problem is that game design is moving in this direction. It's not just that I can put the game down, it's that maps are getting bigger, collectibles are getting more numerous, games are taking more time and money and crunch to make, and they're not even getting any better to show for it. 30 hours for the story, 60 hours to see everything that matters, 80 hours to collect all the broken cups. Job done. No several hundred hours, no 500 hour games, no bragging that you have more words than Anna Karenina (a book that is famously too long!), just a nice video game that I can play and enjoy. Make that. Thanks.

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