It happened all at once, or at least that’s how it felt. On January 1 when we published our preview of 2020’s video game releases, a bounty of riches seemed just over the horizon. A month later, that horizon’s receded into the distance. Cyberpunk 2077? September. That Avengers game Crystal Dynamics is working on? Also September. Dying Light 2? No idea.
I spent January playing old games, some older than others. That’s not unusual per se, as January’s generally a slow month. Looking back at 2019 there were only two major releases in January: The Resident Evil 2 remake and Sunless Skies.
The difference? This time, there’s no end in sight.
Bloodborne was first on the list, a game I bought in 2017, played the opening hours of, and then shelved when review duties got in the way. I finally finished it on January 6. Then it was on to Sekiro, another From Software game I didn’t have the time to do justice to prior. I finished that one this week after losing (more than) a few days to the Demon of Hatred and a few other end-game bosses.
When I’d get frustrated with Sekiro I’d jump over to Planet Zoo and design a few enclosures, or waste some time in Destiny 2’s Crucible, or bang my head against Myst IV (the only one I’ve never finished). Next on the docket? Detective Grimoire and Tangled Tower, all that Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey DLC I didn’t get around to last year, and if I’m feeling ambitious maybe I’ll finally tackle Danganronpa so my buddy won’t need to keep recommending it every few months.
Which is not to say there’s nothing releasing this spring. Kentucky Route Zero finally wrapped up, and just this week I played 2015’s Off-Peak and 2017’s The Norwood Suite in anticipation of the upcoming Tales From Off-Peak City, Vol. 1.
Doom Eternal releases in March, one of the few major releases still slated for spring. Really it was ahead of the curve, delayed out of 2019 and into 2020. It’s joined by Half-Life: Alyx for people who own VR headsets, the Resident Evil 3 remake in April, and Wasteland 3 in May.
And uh…that’s pretty much it, at least on PC. We’ll get some indie games here and there, but even those seem few and far between this year, doubtless because the biggest and best are also part of some end-of-year chess match between the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.
Moreover, the games we’re getting (barring Wasteland 3) are short. Last E3, this spring looked daunting. Cyberpunk, Dying Light 2, Watch Dogs, Wasteland 3, Bloodlines 2, it was a parade of 30-50 hour RPGs. Amazing RPGs? Sure, probably—but still too many all at once, or at least too many for any one person to play.
Now all of them (again, barring Wasteland 3) have vanished into some far-flung future. Doom, Resident Evil 3, Half-Life: Alyx—these are 15-20 hour experiences at most. They’re digestible, you might say, or self-contained. Compact. Not that 15 hours isn’t a long time, but it certainly seems manageable when held up against the 100-plus hours I expected to invest in Cyberpunk 2077 in April.
And so suddenly I have time, and it feels like a blessing.
Backlogs always start innocently enough. Maybe a particularly steep Steam sale convinces you to open your wallet. Maybe a friend gifts you a game they love. Maybe a new game sidetracks you from an old one, or you’re called back to a multiplayer game for a few nights. Maybe you go on vacation, and when you return you’ve forgotten not just the mechanics but the story. (That last one happened to me with 2018’s God of War, a game I’ve still yet to finish.)
In any case, they grow quietly, a game or two at a time. Every year, they expand a bit more, and a bit more, until suddenly you’re staring at Steam’s “Unplayed” category and thinking “No, surely it can’t be that many.”
We so rarely have a break these days, an extended gap in the release calendar. As I said earlier, January’s usually reliable. July too. In 2019 I used January to catch up on Yakuza 0, and July playing (and replaying) a lot of Tetris Effect and the two Guacamelees.
This year we have eight straight months of nothing much. I urge you, don’t be depressed. Celebrate it! Revisit an old favorite, or try something new. Play that game you’ve been putting off. Take the time to experience Disco Elysium if you haven’t already, or Baldur’s Gate and its sequel (to prep for Larian’s Baldur’s Gate III), or toss a coin to The Witcher 3, or experience existential dread in Pathologic 2.
No? None of those? Pour hundreds of hours into Final Fantasy XIV. Get sucked into Call of Duty multiplayer, or Apex Legends or Battlefield or Destiny 2. Try (and fail) to learn what the hell you should be doing in Dwarf Fortress. Blaze through dozens of shorter games, Edith Finch and Eliza and Wilmot’s Warehouse and Later Alligator and Gato Roboto and 80 Days.
I’m not here to tell you how to spend your time, or what’s most important for you to play. The possibilities are endless, or at least as “endless” as your unplayed pile. My only commandment is: Enjoy it while it lasts, because come November and the new console releases there will be more games than anyone can possibly play again, and then the backlog will begin its slow and steady creep back upwards. It’s going to happen.
But for eight or nine months you have the chance to beat on, boats against the current. I doubt you can zero out your backlog in that time—I certainly can’t—but you can make a dent. It’s a chance that likely won’t come again for another decade, if ever, so make the most of it.