The Long Dark is almost a “survive a Canadian winter” simulator. All we’re missing is a Tim Hortons and a smattering of Ski-Doos. If you’ve been struggling to survive in Hinterland Studio’s freshly minted (and finally out of early access) adventure-survival game, well, welcome to the frustrating party.
Sadly, there’s no punch.
It’s going to take more than just a good down jacket to survive this winter. Get ready to dig in for a long, cold spate of days and even colder nights.
Long Dark Survival Guide: Tips on what to do in your first hour of gameplay
The first hour of gameplay in The Long Dark is crucial. There’s a lot that needs to happen in order to survive the bitter cold. As is the case in any survival game — yes, even Minecraft – you need shelter. In “Wintermute,” the game’s story mode, this means that you need to carefully walk up the hill to the first cave. In survival mode, well, that’s a bit more tricky.
Get out of the cold as soon as possible
I recommend using the beginner map if you’re brand new, no matter how tempted you are by the other options. When you start playing, you’ll either need to find a cabin or a reasonable environmental shelter. Without dry ground, you won’t be able to build a fire. If you manage to find a man-made shelter, make sure it has a stove or a bed. Trust me, it gets cold faster than you’d think, even indoors, so you’ll need a source of warmth as soon as possible.
If you don’t manage to find shelter within a reasonable amount of time, your character will be at risk for hypothermia and frostbite. Which, you know, is counterproductive if you’re trying to survive and all.
Gimme fuel, gimme fire
Once you’ve located your shelter, you need the means to build fire. It’s not merely a matter of finding wood and a starter of some kind. This is a simulator, fellow survivalists. And simulators require attention to detail. You’ll need a starter, tinder and fuel. At the beginning of the game, the most effective starter is the cardboard matches.
Locating tinder and an adequate supply of fuel is tricky. You can find tinder in the form of newspapers and books inside dwellings (if you’re lucky), but you can also use crafting to create tinder plugs from a couple of sticks. Either way, you need to gather.
Gathering takes precious time and that time spent uses up internal resources. The more time you spend wandering around gathering, the hungrier and thirstier you’ll get.
Deal with water next
The nice thing about being in a frozen Canadian wasteland of doom is that there’s an abundance of water. Yes, it’s snow, but it’s water nonetheless. You’ll never run out of water in the winter. But there’s more to drinking water than just melting it.
In addition to keeping the fire running for long enough to melt the snow, you’ll also need to boil the resulting water so that it’s potable. Drinking unsafe water may quench your thirst, but you’ll be putting yourself at risk for infection. It’s always best to boil the water you’ve melted or use purification tablets, which are found inside man-made shelters, for the most part.
You will have to contend with encumbrance in The Long Dark, even if it’s not an explicit inventory management game like The Flame in the Flood. So don’t get caught with too much water in your pack, or you’ll move slower and will be at greater risk to sprain your ankle.
Forage, hunt, fish and scavenge your way to a full belly
There are a number of ways that you can keep yourself fed in The Long Dark. If you want fresh game, especially in the form of venison and rabbit, it’s possible. It’s not pretty to take down wildlife in The Long Dark, especially if a bear or a pack of wolves is hunting you, but it’s necessary for survival.
There may be ways around a carnivorous diet in the game, but it’s very difficult.
Fishing is relatively easy, even if you’re stuck on a frozen lake. All you need is basic fishing supplies, a hatchet to break any ice and to keep a fire going for the duration of your fishing experience. But, again, unless you’ve managed to find a hatchet almost immediately, you’ll have to stick to scavenging and, if your aim is true, hunting rabbits.
Scavenge man-made shelters to find things like granola bars, beef jerky, teas and canned goods. If you can, find a can-opener so you don’t waste food on trying to get the can open. I found this out the hard way when my can of peaches was entirely destroyed by my efforts to get the food out. Yes, I pouted.
If you manage to find frozen carcasses (usually deer) in the wild, cook them. Do not ever eat any meat raw, even fish. (As a sashimi lover, the latter bothers me, but I’m just following the rules at this point.) You will get food poisoning and you’ll be almost bedridden until you recover. Also, the longer you’re bedridden, the hungrier and thirstier you’ll get. If you haven’t prepared for more than a day, then you put yourself at risk to go gentle into that good night.
Time to make camp and get some shut-eye
By the time you’ve gathered campfire supplies, boiled a bunch of water (but not too much) and eaten enough food to be satisfied, you’ll likely want to get some sleep. But much like everything else in The Long Dark, sleeping isn’t as simple as it seems.
First, you need to make sure that you’re safe. It’s not like a Minecraft creeper is going to chew on your face while you sleep, but a predatory wolf may. Whatever you do, do not sleep out in the cold. Even if your character is fall-down tired, get back to your shelter.
Stoke the fire with enough fuel to last you for the duration of your snooze, once you get back to your shelter. When you’re safe and your fire is tended to, lay out your bedroll from the “campcraft” menu or get into bed. Make sure that you have an adequate calorie store and you’ve had enough water for a good eight hours of rest (if you’re tired enough).
Congratulations, you’ve survived your first day. And now... everything gets way, way more difficult.
More gaming news and updates
Check out the latest from Mic, like this deep dive into the cultural origins of Gamergate. Also, be sure to read this essay about what it’s like to cosplay while black, a roundup of family-friendly games to play with your kids and our interview with Adi Shankar, producer of the animated Castlevania Netflix series.