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One of the many traits unique to video games is the sheer volume of entertainment a game can provide. While a movie is over in two hours on average, and a TV show may offer ten to twenty hours in a season, an amazing game can be played for hundreds of hours.
Because many games have no final end, there are many choices, but a few titles stand out for their incredible tendency to drag almost everyone who plays them deep into their world. These games are so enthralling they can ruin report cards, strain marriages and make you want to call in sick for work – consider yourself warned!
The Elder Scrolls Series
Let’s start with the ultimate game for wasting hundreds upon hundreds of hours; The Elder Scrolls. Although the first game, Arena, was released almost twenty years ago, the franchise didn’t hit its stride until the 2002 of Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind. This massive single-player RPG drew players in with its beautiful open world and range of things to do, from questing to dungeon-crawling to stealing items from Morrowind’s most prosperous shops.
Since then two additional games, Oblivion and Skyrim, have been released. Both offer different settings, but are enjoyable for the same reasons. Skyrim, the most recent game, received numerous awards when released in 2011 and has seen four DLC expansions since, all of which are now available (along with the base game) in Skyrim: Legendary Edition.
The longevity of the franchise is further enhanced by its mod-friendly stance. All of the games come with world editors and are easy for individuals to modify either with enhancements to the original content (like combat mods and graphics packs) or entirely new dungeons and even sub-continents.
The latest game, Skyrim, is still $29.99 at most retailers (and $59.99 for the Legendary Edition), which means you’re looking at between 30 cents and 60 cents per hour. That’s not bad, but if you want even more value, the two older titles can be purchased for $19.99 on Steam with all expansion and DLC content included. Though they do look dated by today’s standards (Morrowind in particular) they’re still captivating.
Civilization IV & V
Actually, almost all the Civilization games might compel over 100 hours of time from you, but the two most recent versions are by far the easiest to acquire and look the best on modern PCs. Both are gotta-play-another-turn game of the highest order, and are almost guaranteed to make you look at the clock in shock (“I’ve been playing for that long?”) at least once.
Both Civilization games, the fourth and fifth installments are quite a bit different, deserves mention. Civilization IV is a game that places significant focus on broad strategic play, abstracting combat in favor of an emphasis on economy, culture and research. That’s not to say conquering enemies isn’t a valid path, but success comes more from developing the economy to sustain your troops rather than tactics on the battlefield. The fourth game in the series is also still looked upon favorably for its excellent implementation of religion, which is a geographical and economic force visible at all times.
The fifth version, on the other hand, offers more depth to combat because it adopts a hex-based grid and no longer allows unit stacking. The game also includes city-states (minor powers that don’t expand) to add spice to the diplomatic game, and revises many forms of the civilization advancement to use an almost RPG-like tree system. Some critics have complained that the game is not as enjoyable as its predecessor because of bad AI and less interesting civilization customization, but a recently released expansion seems to have solved the latter complaint for many.
Price may end up making your decision for you. The complete edition of Civilization IV, which includes all the expansions, is still a somewhat pricey $29.99 (or about 30 cents per hour). Civilization V: Gold Edition is $49.99, but doesn’t include the just released Brave New World expansion, which is another $29.99, so you’re looking at a total of almost $80 (or 80 cents per hour).
If you’re really broke try FreeCiv, a free open-source game based on Civilization II. Though lacking many of the advancements added to the franchise over the last decade, FreeCiv can still eat away hours with surprising speed.
Total War: Shogun 2
The Total War series is now one of strategy’s oldest-running franchises, and also among the most successful. Unlike many other games, which tend to focus on only broad (usually turn-based) strategy or tactical combat, Total War blends the two into one do-it-all package. The latest game in the series, Shogun 2, does this better than any before it.
Strategically, the game is a simplified Civilization set in Japan. As the leader of a clan you’ll have to balance taxes with happiness, build up your economy, and establish trade routes. While not complex, these elements are still crucial; they help you put more and better troops into battle.
And the battles are amazing. They can include well over two thousand troops per side and focus heavily on historically important tactics, like taking the high ground and keeping up troop morale. Sometimes they’re an easy route, but they can just as easily turn into a drawn-our bloodbath that decides the fate of your entire campaign.
Part of the game’s longevity comes from its specific victory conditions. Unlike most strategy games, where you’re given an almost unlimited amount of time to complete a very broad objective, Total War: Shogun 2 puts a time limit on your rise to the Shogunate. This, combined with a variety of clans that start in different parts of Japan under drastically different conditions, makes the campaign enjoyable to play time and time again. And if that’s not enough, you can also play the separate Rise Of The Samurai and Fall Of The Samurai campaigns.
Total War: Shogun 2 is $29.99, so you’re looking at about 30 cents per hour. The “collection” bundle includes the extra campaigns and few other bonuses, but that version is $49.99. I recommend holding off on it, because many players will find they need well over 100 hours to beat the main campaign with just two or three different clans.
If you want even more value consider older games in the franchise like Medieval II: Total War and Empire: Total War (both of which are $14.99, or about 15 cents per hour). There’s also a new game in the series, Total War: Rome II, just around the corner.
Baldur’s Gate II
This famous role-playing game based on Dungeons & Dragons is arguably the most epic role-playing game of all time. While many, many games before and since have offered awesome stories, Baldur’s Gate II set the volume on everything up to eleven. The result is a game that can suck away a huge chunk of your day before you’ve completed a single quest.
While the base game’s campaign takes “only” thirty or forty hours to complete on average, the readily available Throne Of Bhaal expansion adds another ten to fifteen on top of that. Such a speedy run would ignore absolutely all of the side quests, however, some of which are so complex they’d count as a main quest in any other game. All you have to do is respond to a villager’s request for help and, the next thing you know, you’ve sunk ten hours into rooting out and vanquishing the ancient evil that threatened his town.
Many of these sub-plots are hard to avoid because they involve the characters in your party, some of whom will even leave if you don’t address their concerns. This may seem heavy-handed, but that’s part of the game’s appeal, as is the brutal combat. Every decision has consequences and enemies are not easily quelled. The difficulty adds to the game’s playtime, too, as there are numerous fights that will take an average player many tries to beat.
Baldur’s Gate II Complete (with the Throne Of Bhaal expansion) can be purchased for just $9.99, which means you’re looking at about 10 cents per hour of entertainment. That’s great! Just be warned; this game is over ten years old, and while the original art is gorgeous, it’s all sprite-based. The interface is from another era, too, and the game relies heavily on text rather than voice-acting. If you want a more modern experience, pick up Skyrim instead.
And now for something completely different, right?
Pokemon, like most things made by Nintendo, seems immortal. Unbelievably, the first game in the franchise came out over 15 years ago, yet two new titles were released in 2012, and two more are slated for late 2013. That’s amazing for a franchise started more than a decade ago!
What makes Pokemon addicting is, of course, the “gotta catch’em all” mentality. This simple phrase actually sums up the appeal of many role playing games, but Pokemon replaces flaming swords and diamond-studded armor with cute, cuddly animals. The franchise aims at a different demographic, perhaps, but the underlying gameplay is rather similar and can lure in even the most cynical gamer.
The goal of each game is usually to become the world champion Pokemon master, and that can be accomplished in thirty or forty hours, but players usually stick around to catch more and more Pokemon, which is where the franchise really gets its hooks into you. What’s more, the games often appear in pairs, and catching everything requires playing both or trading with another who has played the other title.
Calculating cost is difficult because there’s no specific game in the series that players must start with. If you go for the latest releases, Pokemon Black & Pokemon White, you’re looking at $33.99 (or about 34 cents per hour) each. Some older titles are less, but some are much more, as Pokemon games quickly become collectibles once they go out of production.
Almost any game has the potential to provide 100 hours of gameplay. If you’re really into the game, you’ll play it more; that much is obvious and natural. But I think these five titles stand out because playing at least 100 hours is almost necessary to receive the “complete” experience. You can’t explore the entirety of Skyrim, truly understand Civilization, or catch a full game’s worth of Pokemon in less than 100 hours.
What games have you played for over the vaunted 100 hour mark? Let us know in the comments!