Why Longer Games Aren’t Always Better

Less is more

Key Takeaways

  • Video games continue to get bigger and more protracted than ever before.
  • Value for money is high, but do games value your time?
  • Tighter experiences can be more rewarding.
Screenshot from Red Dead Redemption 2
Rockstar Games

More of something is always better, right? It's easy to assume that when it comes to great meals, a great vacation, or spending time with a loved one. However, that rule doesn't always apply when it comes to video games. Sometimes, more can seem intimidating.

That's how I've felt about Red Dead Redemption 2 since its release in October 2018. It's huge—terrifyingly huge. For a while, I thought the reason why I didn't lose myself within it was because I didn't have enough free time to fully take advantage of it. Then the global pandemic hit, and I realized it still looked scarily vast. Unfortunately, it's also far from the only game these days to suffer from that supersized nature. 

The Spread is Real

I won't bore you with tales of how you could complete the original Super Mario Land on the Nintendo Gameboy in about 30 minutes, but anecdotally, you can confidently say many games are much longer than they used to be. Rather than quick fixes to distract you from the world and entertain, games are now often positioned as epic adventures that you can lose tens, if not hundreds, of hours to. 

"Quality over quantity isn't always the case here, and for those short on time it can feel pointless to even begin."

Take a look at the original Red Dead Redemption and its sequel, for instance. The original Red Dead Redemption clocked in at about 18 hours for the main story, with the sequel taking about 48 hours. That's two solid days of gaming (with no sleep!). If you want to see everything that Red Dead Redemption 2 has to offer, then completing it will take a staggering 167 hours, compared to the once weighty feeling of Red Dead Redemption's estimated 46 total hours. 

Obviously, you can stop any time you want and still feel like you're "done" with a game, but that's hardly the point. Who watches a movie and stops halfway through, simply because they don't have the time? 

Assassin's Creed: Valhalla screenshot with character in foreground

There's been a similar-length spread in the Assassin's Creed series. The original Assassin's Creed took about 15 hours to complete the main story, with that figure creeping up to 30 hours by the time of Assassin's Creed Origins' release, and a whopping 53 hours for the latest instalment, Assassin's Creed Valhalla. A completionist playthrough is likely to take well over 100 hours to achieve. 

Friends with other commitments simply accept they aren't going to see the end of such games, and may not even start them. Why get into it when you’ll only ever see a fraction of what’s offered? Can a game even manage to offer 40-50 hours of solidly entertaining fun? It's a big ask, with many games filling the hours by creating excessively long introductions or encouraging you to complete not-entirely-interesting side quests. Quality over quantity isn't always the case here, and for those short on time it can feel pointless to even begin. 

Balance is Good

Miles Morales in Spider-Man:
Sony Interactive Entertainment

Not all game franchises have struggled with creeping lengths, however. The 2018 title, Marvel's Spider-Man, and more recently its remaster, takes about 16 hours to complete. It's a mostly enjoyable time, too, with relatively little filler. Simply web swinging around NYC is a joyful experience, with a series of collectibles that actually add to the story by telling you more about Spidey, rather than feeling like an excuse to make the game longer.

That tighter experience goes even further with Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales—a spinoff from the original game. The main storyline only takes about eight hours to complete, and even a full run of acquiring everything the game has to offer takes a mere 17 hours. It's a far stronger experience, too, cutting back on needless extras and focusing on being a cool superhero and solving puzzles. Such relative brevity feels empowering.

Don't Forget the Privilege

When looking at the length of games, it's easy to forget one's privilege. I'm financially secure and, therefore, able to buy more games than I ever could as a child. In contrast, when I was younger, I'd deliberately seek out longer games to get better value for money. I get the struggle. 

However, it's important to consider a game's value for your time, too. One recent title that feels like it lacks respect for your limited free time is Final Fantasy VII Remake. It's a remake of an early section of the original Final Fantasy VII—a section that originally took around eight hours to complete. The remake stretches that out to nearly 35 hours. There's a lot of filler in there with so-called "fetch" quests distracting you from the more interesting parts of the story. It feels long, especially if you remember how the original felt, with its vibrant and fast moving tale. 

Is more really better if you're unable to see it all? I'm not so sure. Such games may last longer, but they'll certainly feel that way too. Sometimes, shorter truly is sweeter. 

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