How to Reclaim Space Used by Games with Symbolic Links on Windows 10

How to Reclaim Space Used by Games with Symbolic Links on Windows 10

Today's games offer real visual quality and experience. Advanced technologies such as ray tracing are used to create realistic shadows. In addition, game development companies use AI to give game characters a more real feel.

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With the addition of all new technologies, not to mention the standard 4K resolution, the size of games has also increased. A few years ago, 15 to 20 GB was the target of many popular titles. With the advent of the 4K resolution, this number has continued to increase and today we have games that reach the 100 GB mark.

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Massive game sizes pose two problems: download the game and store it. SSD drives offer advantages such as shorter load times and no hitch in the open world games. However, they remain quite expensive. If your PC or laptop is equipped with an SSD, it is not possible to store all your games there. We will explain how to use the age-old feature of symlinks on Windows to recover the space used by games.

What are the symbolic links and how will they help us?

Symbolic links are like overloaded shortcuts of files or folders pointing to their current location. While a shortcut contains only data such as the location of the file and an icon or thumbnail information, a symbolic link is a file system object pointing to another.

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The symbolic link is also transparent for applications and programs. This means that an application or program will see a symbolic link as a real file at the location even if the file or folder is on a different disk or volume. You can read more about how symbolic links work in Jennifer Huang's article, Medium.

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We'll use symbolic links to store some larger game files on a hard drive or other drive to save space. We will use the mklink command to make symbolic links and a bunch of free applications for windows to achieve this. So let's start.

Get the tools

Before we start with the actual process, we have to download two applications for Windows, which do all the heavy work. First, TreeSize, a free application that visually shows what occupies your storage space. It breaks down a folder, a volume or even a disk into a tree structure that indicates the space occupied by each file or folder. We will use this tool to analyze the game files.

Secondly, Link Shell Extension, a fantastic little application that makes the process of creating symlinks to type long command line instructions in just a few clicks with the right mouse button.

Find game files

The first step is to search the game files on your PC for analysis. The easiest way is to access the Desktop> Right-click on your game icon> Open file location. If, for some reason, your game is not present on the desktop, you can find it in the Start menu> Right-click on the icon> Open File Location.

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If you are using Steam or any other launcher, you must look for the respective launcher game files.

Analysis of game files

Once you know where the game is stored on your PC, the next step is to scan the game files to determine which files or folders occupy the largest space.

Step 1: Go to the TreeSize icon on the desktop or in the Start menu and launch it.

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2nd step: When TreeSize opens, click Select Directory. In the new window, navigate to the location of the game files and select the main folder containing all the files.

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Step 3: TreeSize will show you all the files and subfolders of the main folder in ascending order of size. We need to limit the files / folders that occupy the most space. Unfortunately, game publishers do not reveal which files or folders are used for what. There is also no guide or information available online on the same subject.

So we will use the file names to determine which files you need to move. Typically, game files are divided into subfolders and individually compressed files corresponding to maps, levels, single-player missions, or multi-player missions.

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The folders in the red box correspond to the single-player campaign, indicated by the suffix "sp_". Similarly, the folder inside the green box contains the files of the multiplayer map Rotterdam in Battlefield V.

In the screen capture above, you can see the files corresponding to the single-player mission names and multiplayer maps in Battlefield V. I've moved the files for solo missions to a slower hard drive, because I do not play solo often.

Likewise, you must review your game folder to determine which files you need to move. If you are changing from a hard drive to an SSD hard drive, you can follow the recommendation below if the files are named systematically.

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Before you go any further, take a screenshot of the original layout of the game folder, as shown in TreeSize. So, in case of a problem, you know which file goes where.

Note: We recommend that you back up files or folders before proceeding to the next step. Read our guide below for the best backup methods for Windows 10.

Create symbolic links

We will now create symbolic links. Follow these steps:

Step 1: Launch the Shell Shell extension. The LSE works without a head, which means that it does not have a user interface and fits into the context menu of Windows Explorer. Then create a target folder in the location where you want to store the larger game files. It is best to create subfolders for the game if you are moving files from several games.

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Copy and paste the game files as shown

2nd step: After creating the target folder, navigate to your game folder and copy the largest files or folders (as shown in step 3 of the previous section) to the target folder, as shown in the screenshot. Screen above. Return to the game folder and delete these files from their original location.

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To create symbolic links to individual files

Step 3: In the target folder, select all files, right-click> Choose As Source. Then, navigate to the original location of these files in the Game folder and right-click> Drop As Symbolic Link. You must do them separately for files and folders. For folders, right-click> Drop As> Junction.

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To create symbolic links (junctions) with folders

After creating the symbolic links for all files and folders, launch the game and play a level to see if it works without problems. If it hangs at launch, cancel all tasks, and then restart the process. However, this time you need to access one file or folder at a time. Then test the game after moving each file or folder.

Enjoy the free space

We have tested two popular titles, Battlefield V and Apex Legends, and have not had any accidents or errors while reading them. Check the space saved for each game below.

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Although complicated, this method allows you to significantly reduce the size of your game files, provided that the files are named logically and that the game runs smoothly thereafter.

Then: If you think that symbolic links are too complicated for the games you play, you can use the CompactOS feature of Windows 10 to save space. Check out our next article to find out how to do this.

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