If you're looking for something fresh, The Long Dark might be just what the doctor ordered.

The Long Dark is a hardcore first-person survival title from Hinterland Games, currently available on Xbox One and Steam. After a long period in Game Preview, it's finally here, and it's full of great content, is a wonderfully challenging and beautiful game. It's among my personal favorites on the console right now.

If you're looking for something new and challenging, here's how to start your love affair with The Long Dark.

What is The Long Dark?

The Long Dark is first and foremost an explorative survival adventure, featuring deep gameplay systems that'll have you hooked for weeks, if you go in with the right state of mind.

The Long Dark puts you in control of the sole survivor of a plane crash in the Canadian wilderness, following a global geomagnetic disaster. The details of exactly what went wrong are scant, but you'll find out the truth in the game's episodic story mode, currently dubbed 'Wintermute.'

In The Long Dark, animals are unnaturally aggressive, abnormally harsh blizzards ravage the land, and the only humans you will find are frozen corpses. The sandbox mode offers varying levels of difficulty and a range of large maps crammed with opportunities for exploration.

Quick Facts

  • The Long Dark features large sandbox areas that are connected. More are being added as time goes by.
  • It has a deep crafting system that is very demanding, but very rewarding.
  • It has dynamic day, night and weather cycles, and they all play an important part in survival.
  • You can leave feedback on the game at www.HinterlandForums.com.
  • The game also has a friendly community on reddit.

Finding that single crucial rifle round, a box of matches or the final component for a complex crafting schematic makes The Long Dark a persistently rewarding experience, and it's available for a reasonable price on both Steam and Xbox One. I'd argue it's among the best $20 you can spend on Xbox One right now.

Vital Information

Before jumping into the challenging sandbox mode, it's probably best that you head into the game's story mode first. Wintermute will introduce you to game mechanics one by one, serving as a narrative-driven tutorial before going head first into the long dark of The Long Dark.

Playing on survival mode's Voyager (normal) difficulty, you will find that the first few nights are the hardest. Supplies are low, and you might appear a significant distance from any form of shelter. The first thing you need to do is learn the controls. Learning what you can do at the outset is very important. You can view the controls by going to the options menu. Most of my notes will refer to the Xbox One version in this guide, but you can customize keyboard controls at will on the PC version.

Next, prioritize your vital stats. The Long Dark has a minimalist UI to maximize immersion. You can view your statistics at any time by pressing the Menu button.

Note: All vital stats decrease both in real time and when you take actions that speed up the passage of time. When you break down a log for wood, for example, it will usually tell you how long it will take, and how many calories your action will burn. This won't account for changes in the weather, however. I've nearly frozen to death because I underestimated how fast my temperature would drop while harvesting a deer carcass.

Here are your vital statistics that you need to manage. We'll get into how to keep them at safe levels in the next section.

  • Condition: Think of your condition as your hit points. When it reaches 0 percent, it's game over. And in The Long Dark, death is permanent.
  • Temperature: This is arguably the most important stat to manage, as it will deplete your condition faster than other statistics. The time of day, weather, wind speed and being wet can all affect your temperature. We'll get into how to stay warm in the next section.
  • Fatigue: While being tired won't impact your condition as harshly as being freezing cold, you can collapse as a result of fatigue, which is something you do not want to occur. Particularly outdoors.
  • Thirst: This is another stat that is particularly dangerous to ignore, but relatively easy to maintain. Drinking safe water often is crucial.
  • Hunger: You can get away with being hungry for quite a long time, but it's still important to keep those calories topped off.

The First Night

You can spawn randomly anywhere on the region you select when you create your new sandbox. Part of the fun of The Long Dark is exploring, discovering new locations, and finding those crucial items you need, so I won't give you too many pointers.

The first thing you should do is check your current status. If you're in the middle of a blizzard, getting into shelter as soon as possible is a priority. You can't make fires in the middle of a blizzard, because the wind will be too high. If the weather and "feels like" temperature isn't too low, there's not as much reason to panic.

Presuming you start at Mystery Lake, which is where all beginners should start, there are various cabins and other interior locations you can use as a "base" shelter while you gather enough materials to move forward. Getting to the lake the region is named after can be a chore, however, particularly in the first couple of nights. Mystery Lake is a large frozen water mass, complete with a visitor's center and tourist cabins. You'll recognise it from the game's title screen. The location is hard to describe because there are no maps, and indeed, Mystery Lake isn't the only base you can find, far from it. Exploration is key, but managing the risk of doing so is also important.

  • Gather sticks. You will start with the means to start a fire, which includes both tinder, matches and fuel. Sticks can be found all over the ground, typically near trees. Sticks and branches respawn over time, particularly after heavy winds and blizzards. Remember that breaking down larger sticks will burn calories, so be careful. You can also create tinder from sticks in the inventory screen.
  • Create fires using the radial menu. You can place them anywhere on the ground near you on flat terrain. Use fires to build up warmth to survive outdoors on your way to a more permanent shelter.

  • Boil water by selecting the fire. Boiled water is safe to drink, and it's super important to have a consistent clean water supply as you travel. You can also use fires to cook food once you get it.

  • Don't worry too much about food. You can survive hunger for a longer amount of time than other stats, although it will compound how fast your condition decreases. Mystery Lake's most abundant source of easy food is cat-tail plants, which grow near frozen rivers and lakes. Human dwellings tend to have tins, chocolate bars and other sources of calories, until you find the means to hunt animals.
  • Place a bedroll to sleep. You can sleep outdoors on a bedroll, but beds indoors are obviously the better option.
  • Check your inventory. On Voyager difficulty, you will start with some rudimentary supplies. Most items can also be broken down to create other crafting materials.

  • Check your clothing. You can equip two layers of clothing to enhance your ability to withstand the cold. This makes exploration gradually easier, giving you the ability to withstand low temperatures and the game's wind chill factor.

  • Explore. Don't be afraid to explore, even if it means dropping your condition levels to do it. New locations will have important items like guns, bullets, hatchets, tin openers, and various other valuable gizmos for surviving at higher levels.

  • Experiment! You can interact with the game's world in many intuitive ways. Once you gain a hatchet, you will be able to break furniture down into reclaimed wood or cut up carcasses for meat, leather and entrails. Dropping items like hides and guts indoors allows you to dry them out, which is necessary for certain crafting recipes, such as a hunting bow.

  • Use the game's notebook The Long Dark's radial menu also offers a journal, which allows you to make notes. This can be useful for keeping track of stored items, the locations of crafting tables, and more.

The Long Dark's primary hazard is the environment itself, which mercilessly tries to kill you with its onslaught of wind and ice. But there are also dangerous animals to be aware of.

Wolves

Wolves seem to be the most abundant animal threat in the game. Wolves like to attack from behind. Sometimes you can simply outrun them, and then turn and face them down while backing away. You can use light sources, like flares or firebrands to frighten them away too. If you're using a weapon, aiming it at the wolf will generally prompt them to attack, so you'd better land your shot! Wolf meat can be eaten, and their hides can be used to craft powerful clothing.

If you get bitten by a wolf, you can generally fight it off. If you have a weapon like a hatchet, you can even injure them in the process, which often leads to them bleeding out and dying later on. Headshots are a guaranteed kill on wolves, while other shots will cause them to flee and bleed out. They also leave a blood trail, so you can track them down. Wolf bites need to be healed via the first-aid radial menu option. Bandages and disinfectant will heal you fully. If you get infected, you will need antibiotics and bedrest to survive. Wolf attacks will also damage your clothing.

Bears

Avoid bears, at all costs. Being hit by a bear will take 75 percent off of your current condition, and will one-hit kill you if you're already struggling. Bears will also shred your clothes, leaving you exposed to the cold. Bears appear in both the day and the night.

Bears can take way more punishment than wolves, but a headshot with a rifle will put them down, too. Bears will also bleed out over time if you injure them enough. Like wolf attacks, bear attacks need to be healed with bandages and disinfectant, and you'll also end up spending a lot of cloth and leather to repair any damage to your clothing.

If you do have to get in range of a bear for whatever reason, you should begin backing away. Bears will curiously saunter towards you, and eventually rear up on their hind legs and charge. If they see you aim a weapon, they will also charge, and you will probably die. Bears roam around an area for a few in-game hours and then move on.

Have fun!

The Long Dark is an incredibly deep game, and discovering how it all works is part of the fun. These pointers should help you get started without ruining the experience of discovery. The game is designed for multiple playthroughs, giving you information on how well you survived each time.

The Long Dark has regular Xbox achievements, but also has feats for achieving certain goals (viewable via the menu), which can provide passive bonuses on new playthroughs. This can be handy as you attempt the higher, more punishing difficulties, including the brutally challenging Interloper mode.

If you're a fan of survival adventures, The Long Dark is among the best on Steam and certainly on Xbox One. I cannot recommend it enough.