The Longing: Mattock

I’ve gotten the flow of time in the Shade’s living quarters up to a steady five seconds per second. At this rate, even if I do nothing else, I’ll be done in a mere 80 days, like a stay-at-home Phileas Fogg. At this point, I’m pretty sure that improving the decor is helping: the increased flow followed on installing some decorative crystals on the walls, something that became possible when I obtained a mattock.

The importance of finding a mattock is stressed from very early on. Not only is it mentioned in the Shade’s journal, it’s reinforced by the environment: places with crystals to be mined, additional tunnels to be dug, and even the great window separating you from the royal treasury all have a use point labeled with the words “Use Mattock”, even before you can act on it. And, having so impressed the need for a mattock on you, the game then teases you with their unavailability. There are mattocks visible just beyond obstacles that you have to wait on for the first couple of weeks (however long that takes).

The Longing has been compared to Tamagotchi, for its “let’s check in on the little fella and see how he’s doing” gameplay, but it differs from it quite a bit. The Shade doesn’t need to be fed or groomed, doesn’t die from player inattentiveness, and isn’t even really treated as a separate entity from the player. And unlike Tamagotchi, The Longing can be won. Your goal isn’t to keep things going indefinitely, but just to last a specific finite amount of time. (Or, apparently, to escape. There are multiple endings.) But it strikes me that one of the big similarities is the way that the very beginning of the game is a flurry of activity, as you learn the systems and explore the possibilities, followed by settling into a routine for the long haul. Except that the mattock provides something Tamagotchi never had: the promise of a second flurry of activity, as you follow up on all those deferred leads. A slowish flurry of activity, to be sure — everything the Shade does takes time, and digging can be expected to not be the quickest of activities. But a sudden expansion of potential.

Alas, for me, most of that potential is back out of reach. I managed to break the mattock on that treasury window soon after obtaining it, after mining some crystals but without having dug any new tunnels into new territory. The game gives you several confirmation prompts when you attempt this, so to some extent it’s my fault, but it really feels more like the designer’s cruel joke at the hapless Shade’s expense, or, more charitably, an emergent narrative device to make the player feel sorry for him. I’ll just have to wait until another time-lock resolves itself and hope I can get another mattock out of it. The treasury window still bears a visible mark, so I think the player is expected to expend multiple mattocks to break through it — although I won’t be trying again until I’ve dug some tunnels.

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