There have been certain games from which I've had to ween myself off because it was affecting my productivity, as limited as it already was, but given the current circumstances I find I have a little more free time to fritter away on an endless cycle of Skinner box mechanics and little dopamine kicks.
What follows are some groupings of games I could happily play forever, or at least until I eventually ran out of things to do many weeks later. Some of these already have hundreds of hours recorded on whatever client app trackers are there to measure my chagrin, and not a day goes by when I don't think about booting them up again to keep chasing that digital dragon. It's only because I have a sizeable enough backlog of enormous unplayed games to keep me going that I'm not more tempted.
Since I'm somehow less shameful about enabling others, I've thrown a list together of the games that should hold you over this tumultuous and stressful period, in case the one hour of Animal Crossing: New Horizons per day doesn't suffice. These aren't just long games; they're games built to be played almost indefinitely.
(NB: I should probably add a disclaimer somewhere to suggest not burning yourself out on video games too early in this self-isolation process, and perhaps enjoy a few other avenues of passing the time concurrently. Pfft, disclaimers.)
(NB2: For the sake of keeping this list manageable, I've excluded MMOs because I don't know enough about them and which ones tend to charge through the roof on a monthly basis, and effectively endless session- and skill-based games like fighters, sports, or online shooters where a player's level of retainment is based on their desire to improve.)
Sometimes you just gotta put a block on top of another block and keep going.
- Terraria: The Nostalgic Man's Minecraft, Terraria is absolutely the kind of game I could, and have, sunk hundreds of hours into, between its robust treasure library, varied biomes, potential construction projects, colossal boss fights, and an impressive list of crap to do that the devs have continued to expand for nearly a decade. (Availability: Get it on Steam - it's cheap, you can mod it, and no-one's PC is so awful that they can't run it (though it may chug when zoomed out).)
- Minecraft: Since I included Pepsi, I should probably mention Coca Cola. Minecraft's more or less the grandfather of this format (if we momentarily forget Lego exists) and easily the most popular. If you've never tried it, now might be a good time? There's only ten million grade-schoolers who'd be further behind on the curve. (Availability: Everywhere.)
- Dragon Quest Builders: It took Dragon Quest for me to finally "get" Musou, with Dragon Quest Heroes, and a similar thing could be said about the two Dragon Quest Builders games and this genre. (Availability: PlayStation 3 and PS4 and Vita and Switch for DQB1 / PS4 and Switch and PC for DQB2.)
- Starbound: Despite featuring space travel and an orbital ship hub it's still a lesser Terraria, but it's also seen constant updates since its 2016 release and is assuredly better now than the last time you tried it. (Availability: PC, Xbox One, and PS4.)
- Rust/ARK: I know so little about these games beyond their notable popularity. Seems like if you were going to take the time to figure them out, now's that time. (Availability: PC seems to be the way to go.)
If only we could command our own white blood cells as easily and effectively as all these virtual armies.
- Stellaris: Paradox's space-faring sorta-spiritual-successor to the Master of Orion games is an extremely deep game that might take a lifetime to master. Or, well, several weeks spare. Looks we have those, though. (Availability: Steam, but there was a semi-recent console version for PS4 and XB1 that's supposedly adequate.)
- Civilization IV/V: The original Empire Sim, modernized several times over. Depending on who you ask, Civilization IV is either the unmatched peak of the series or Civilization V has finally caught up to it with its many expansions. Doesn't feel like you can go too wrong with either, though. (Availability: PC only. Make sure to grab as many expansions as possible.)
- Master of Magic: An oldie but a goodie, while MoM is busted in some significant ways (don't expect savvy AI decisions) the sheer versatility of its magic system and multiple fantasy races gives the game a longevity that's still hard to beat today. (Availability: PC only. Previously exclusive to GOG, there's a Steam version too now and it has some bonus content I'd be curious to see.)
- Endless Legend: The only self-described Master of Magic pretender that has come close to living up to that claim in my view, hewing close to modern Civilization games with its multiple scenario approach and hexagonal town development. Warlock: Master of the Arcane isn't too bad either. (Availability: PC only.)
- Total War: Not too acquainted with these, but they seem to be the best armchair general games around if the Paradox grand strategy stuff is a little too intense. Pick your poison: Rome, China, Japan, UK, and wherever the hell Warhammer is set. Diecastia, maybe. (Availability: PC only.)
Perhaps you'd like to escape to the one place that hasn't been corrupted by the coronavirus... SPACE!
- No Man's Sky: I'm not kidding when I say this game is almost unrecognizable compared to where it was two, three or four years ago. A giddying array of things to build, or shoot, or photo, or mine, or... (Availability: PC, XB1, and PS4.)
- Elite: Dangerous: The modern incarnation of the first and best space trader game there ever was. (Availability: Also PC, XB1, and PS4.)
- Rebel Galaxy Outlaw: For those who want to do all their space truckin' to an appropriate soundtrack. (Availability: Just PC for right now.)
- EVE Online: I feel like NASA has dedicated servers towards figuring this game out. Maybe you can beat them to it? Maybe you already have. Maybe you're an economist for the Icelandic government and are very happy that I'm bringing it up. (Availability: PC only. I'd love to see what a simplified console port looks like though.)
- Star Citizen: Look... we don't know how long this current situation will last. Star Citizen might be out before the quarantine ends, but there's really no promises either way. (Availability: Maybe 2023?)
Throw your food garbage into an area. They get all rotty. A fly has a baby. Dirt is born. Share this moment with me.
- Stardew Valley: The game that swallowed a lot of peoples' 2016, my own included. Now its insidious powers of compulsion can be put to good purposes. (Availability: Everywhere.)
- Rune Factory 4 Special: If you wanted to sound all superior to the Stardew Valley kids, might as well grab this recent remake of the franchise Stardew borrowed most of its ideas from. (Availability: The "Special" version of RF4 is Switch-only, though there's also Rune Factory 5 sometime later this year. Oh, except I think that's Switch only too.)
- My Time at Portia: Like a 3D Stardew Valley, kinda. Just came out of Early Access last year, if you were waiting for a completed version. (Availability: Everywhere.)
- Farming Simulator: Of course, you can dispense with the cutesy sim-people and optional socializing and crafting and just go for pure farming nirvana. It might not hurt to learn how to grow our own food... (Availability: FS19 came out on PC, XB1, and PS4. FS20 was a mobile and Switch only thing, and didn't review as well.)
- Animal Crossing: New Horizons: There's more to AC than just farming, in theory, except my entire Twitter timeline the past week has been people trying to find fruit trees to plant in their town. The entire timeline. (Availability: Switch only.)
You're probably going to want to play the online versions of these...
- Deep Rock Galactic: Watching the Giant Bomb guys play this made it seem like a fun, hectic time with friends. Partly the Horde mode of every online shooter, partly a cooperative treasure-gathering excursion. The latter's more compelling to me, but I guess there'd be no conflict without the former. (Availability: PC and Xbox One.)
- Divinity: Original Sin II: I'd love to see Giant Bomb take on a multiplayer co-op playthrough of this enormous and excellent strategic RPG, perhaps with someone seasoned in the lead (like Rorie). It wouldn't be easygoing, but I think everyone would get heavily invested into their characters and their plights by the end. Of course, you could try it yourself with your own group of CRPG diehards. (Availability: As of last September, it's out on every current system.)
- Overcooked! 2: Cooking is a relaxing pastime, though not with all the hazards and obstacles in these kitchens. Admittedly, the truest hazard is one's own incompetence. (Availability: Everywhere.)
- Heave Ho: Of course, if you wanted to like the people you're trapped inside with even less... (Availability: PC and Switch.)
- Apex Legends: I figured I should include one free Battle Royale game, and I liked this more than Fortnite. Get a couple of friends together to slay some fools, or annoy some randos by pointing out every landmark with your ping tool. "Look over here!" "Is it ammo?" "No, it's a cloud shaped like a muffin!" (Availability: PC, XB1, and PS4.)
If you're in charge of these paramilitary squads, I might suggest practicing some social distancing just so they don't all get taken out by the same grenade.
- XCOM 2: War of the Chosen: I've been meaning to get back into XCOM proper, and this expansion to the sequel sounds like the way to go. Man, if the Martians can be taken out by a common cold, they're shit out of luck right now. (Availability: PC, XB1, and PS4.)
- Wasteland 3: I get it, enough of the apocalyptic stuff. If you can't hold on two more months for Wasteland 3, there's always Wasteland 2. (Availability: In May 2020, for PC, XB1, and PS4. Wasteland 2 is also out for those systems, as well as Switch.)
- Into the Breach: Fight a neverending time-loop war against monstrous bug kaiju in this clever roguelike take on grid-based strategy games. I said no roguelikes, but I can have one. (Availability: PC and Switch.)
- Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall: My personal favorite of the three Shadowrun Returns games (followed by Hong Kong and then the original); get all your cyberpunking out of your system in this distinct hybrid sci-fi/fantasy setting before you-know-what gets delayed again. (Availability: PC only for all three.)
- Disgaea: But if we're here to talk strategy RPGs that might actually take you forever, Disgaea is really the only game in town. Disgaea is to time what Cookie Monster is to cookies. (Availability: Disgaea 5, the most recent one, is available for PC, PS4, and Switch. There was also a recent remaster of the first, Disgaea 1 Complete, for PS4 and Switch.)
My commiserations if your job is presently on hold, but below are some ways you can emulate hard labor without getting paid for it. Enticing prospect, right?
- Viscera Cleanup Detail: Cleaning space marine brain off the ceiling is a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it. (Availability: PC only.)
- House Flipper: A fixer-upper game for the fixer-upper careerperson, put off spring-cleaning your own place by working on someone else's. Could be worse, you could be one of those Airbnb flippers who are really facing the music right now. (Availability: PC, XB1, and PS4.)
- My Summer Car: There's a few games where you're putting a vehicle together piece by piece, but this one seems to have the most personality. Is it the '70s or the present? Is this Finland or the Deep South? Why are there so many hotdogs in the kitchen? (Availability: PC only.)
- Satisfactory: Vinny and Giant Bomb have done a better job selling an audience on this early access multiplayer ode to relentless capitalist industry than I could ever do. Just don't drive the trucks off a cliff; the corporation's not likely to spring for a new one without garnishing your paycheck. (Availability: PC only. No clue when the finished version is out.)
- Hardspace: Shipbreaker: Sorry, it's another game that's not quite out yet, but the premise - (carefully!) deconstruct obsolete spacecraft without them or you exploding - sounds absolutely riveting in the weirdest way. (Availability: Out "Summer," unless they decide to release an EA version early.)
Sometimes the classics are best, and the classics want you to descend into a musty dungeon over and over and steal everything that isn't nailed down.
- Diablo 3: No idea when Diablo 4 is out, so might as well go back to the well (of souls) and keep smacking that big red dude around. (Availability: Everywhere.)
- Path of Exile: PoE's skill tree makes the FFX Sphere Grid look like Baby's First Lite-Brite. If your secret passion isn't looting but deciphering the indecipherable, this seems like the best alternative to Diablo. (Availability: PC, XB1, and PS4.)
- Grim Dawn: Yet to play this, but it sounds like a very serviceable clone for those who played the former two games to death. Made by the Titan Quest guys, so try that series out too if Grim Dawn's your bag (of loot). (Availability: PC only.)
- Victor Vran: Another top-down vaguely gothic looty-shooty, but with a bit more dexterity involved. You can jump! You're not allowed to jump in loot RPGs, what the heck?! (Availability: Everywhere.)
- Wolcen: Lords of Mayhem: This is still new and prone to no small amount of issues and bugs, but it might be fun to get in on the ground floor now with an enthusiastic community. (Availability: PC only. No idea when it'll be "complete.")
You know what else are long-ass games just in general? JRPGs. Fuss your hair until you have a perfect ahoge, and flop-sweat your way through a few of these longer-than-most anime adventures.
- Xenoblade Chronicles 2: I'm playing XC2 right now and I could let this thing absorb my entire life if I let it. I'm penning another blog about its extracurricular opportunities for the near future, but suffice it to say all three of these games are a lot. If you have systems set up that can play the earlier two, be sure to try those as well. (Availability: Xenoblade Chronicles 1 is Wii and 3DS (though a Switch remake is coming this year). Xenoblade Chronicles X is Wii U only. Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is Switch only.)
- Dark Cloud 2: One of my favorite gaming comfort foods, DC2's mix of dungeoneering, town-building, photography, fishing, golf, and a bunch of other stuff is a potent mix that will last and last. If you actually do finish it, grab Rogue Galaxy or Fantasy Life and start over. (Availability: Digitally on PS4, as is Rogue Galaxy. Fantasy Life is 3DS only.)
- Yakuza 0: Pick a Yakuza, preferably the earliest chronologically you've yet to play (that'd be Yakuza 0 for those coming into it fresh), and let yourself become immersed in an urban world very unlike the one we currently know: Japanese food outlets, violent gangs, mahjong and shogi parlors down shady back-streets, Sega arcades, and areas where multiple people are allowed to be in the same place. (Availability: The whole series is on PS4 in one form or another, along with its spin-off Judgment. For PC players, currently it's just Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, and Yakuza Kiwami 2. Xbox One will also get those three, but right now just has Yakuza 0.)
- Persona 5 Royal: Had your misgivings about P5 or just didn't get around to it? Its enhanced sequel is just around the corner (as in, a week away) and might be the perfect replacement for a suddenly vacant social calendar. (Availability: PS4 only.)
- Trails in the Sky FC: The localized version of the eighth game in the Trails mega-franchise just came out, so what better time than now to start from Trails in the Sky FC and work your way up? No guarantees that when you eventually leave your house after the credits roll on Trails of Cold Steel III it won't look like the end of Army of Darkness out there. (Availability: OK, here we go... IN ENGLISH, Trails in the Sky 1 and 2 are available on Steam and PSP only, and on Steam only for Trails in the Sky 3. Trails of Zero/Azure have not been localized, but have fan patches for their PC versions. Trails of Cold Steel 1 and 2 are on Steam, PS3, Vita, and PS4. Cold Steel 3 is on Steam and PS4 and soon for Switch too for some reason. Cold Steel 4 hasn't been localized yet, but will eventually. Phew.)
Anyway, that's enough to get be getting on with. Stay safe out there? There are many avenues through which to wait these tiny pointy bastards out, so go do that and don't give up hope. (And let me know what your own preferred gaming black holes are in the comments below.)