Diving into the lore of The Long Dark.
May Contain Some Minor Spoilers
This review will fall outside of how I normally write game reviews; just a fair warning. There’s more to the story of The Long Dark than I originally expected, but I won’t get into the granular details. Instead, I’d like to talk about my feelings surrounding the first episode, while attempting to leave out anything that could be potentially considered as a spoiler.
I deliberately have not read any other reviews of The Long Dark or it’s story, in the interest of not coloring my own reviews with the opinions of others. That said, let’s jump in and try to not contract hypothermia!
Nothing Gentle About This Introduction
Do Not Go Gentle serves not only as an introduction to the story and setting of The Long Dark, but also as a tutorial covering the gameplay. The Long Dark‘s sandbox alpha and current version of the survival mode lack any introduction to the mechanics; something that can be considered good or bad based on how you feel about tutorials. Having played many hours of the sandbox alpha, I come from a place of understanding already, but I remember when I first started playing back on the Xbox One after it initially was released under Game Preview, fumbling around while dying in a matter of hours.
Nevertheless, Do Not Go Gentle starts the player off as Will Mackenzie, a Canadian bush pilot who has crash-landed with his passenger in the middle of nowhere. You’re “given” a crude knife, and spend the first few days of the game getting acquainted with survival.
After you clear the tutorial, during which you sustain a few injuries and gather some extremely useful tools, you’re set free along a path to find your passenger, Astrid. The tutorial itself sticks with the basics, and doesn’t overstay its welcome (which many tutorials unfortunately tend to do). For new players, the introduction is a godsend, and will save them hours of trial-and-error.
Instead of choosing to do a narrative dump on the player in the very beginning, Hinterland Studio went the route of dispersing background information through the course of your adventure. During these short cutscenes, you begin to learn more and more about Astrid and Will, but you’re limited to a third-person perspective from Will’s point of view. So instead of learning everything right off the bat, details are revealed to you as Will remembers them.
I appreciate this approach personally, if only because I hate info dumps. The drip feed of background to the player kept me intrigued during this episode, as I wanted to learn more and more about Astrid and Will.
Even if it’s difficult to not hear Commander Shepard’s voice when they speak.
In between the snippets of information as you traverse the cold, you’re treated to additional tips, like Hinterland Studio attempting to coerce players into stunning bunnies with stones before snapping their necks.
I couldn’t do it…
As a warning to those looking to jump into the story, be wary of wolves along the way. The path from the crash site is littered with them, and you’re going to spend a great deal of time trying to navigate around them.
All Roads Lead To Milton
For the first time in The Long Dark, players have another character to speak to. Your first human interaction in the game will be a woman who calls herself The Grey Mother. Your first exchange with her is tense, to say the least.
Lesson learned: don’t just waltz into an armed, blind woman’s house.
The Grey Mother becomes your source of information for the majority of your time during Do Not Go Gentle. It quickly becomes apparent that things have been rough around these parts for quite some time, even before the event that swatted your plane from the sky. There’s a deliberate vagueness to the proceedings, and while I’m dying to learn more, I can understand the measured approach that Hinterland Studio took.
Unfortunately, despite my enjoyment of The Long Dark‘s Do Not Go Gentle episode, I did find that the pace was a little slow for my taste. The Grey Mother gives you suitable tasks for someone that is relatively helpless, but searching the town of Milton for supplies for her was a little irritating. Not because of the nature of the quest design; the fetchiness of the quest didn’t actually bother me at all. My issue with the proceedings is that she dangles information in front of will regarding Astrid for so long, and you’ll likely realize the truth long before he does.
He’s a little dense I think.
More on the point of conversations, it appears that your social interactions will be divided between cutscenes that feature the characters exchanging dialogue, and silent conversations with subtitles. The pattern appears to be that the silent conversations are those that include player input. Interestingly, it seems that as you gain the trust of those you’re speaking with, you gain access to new information. After plying The Grey Mother with offerings she requested, I was treated to background lore of the town she resides in.
If I hold any gripes with the silent conversations, it’d be that the subtitles give no indication of who is speaking. While the camera moves to the character who is supposedly talking, it wasn’t always clear who was saying what, though that was thankfully rare (about two sentences).
While I feel like Do Not Go Gentle stumbled a bit about mid way through the episode, I have to say that I genuinely enjoyed it. Admittedly, it was a little infuriating to be confined to Milton for so long when I’ve spent the majority of my time in The Long Dark freely exploring, I can understand the reason why Hinterland Studio chose this approach. It would be rather difficult to build a narrative for players if they were wandering aimlessly in the cold, and had the option to completely ignore entire areas.
Also, despite my criticism of the way your interaction with The Grey Mother plays out, she’s a legitimately interesting character. Once the pieces start falling into place, it’s difficult to not sympathize with her attitude. Similarly, Hinterland Studio crafted a relationship between Astrid and Will that leaves me longing to learn more. The characters have depth to them that is often missing from many other games, even if you can draw comparisons of their personalities to those in other stories. That isn’t even considering that there’s obvious tension between Astrid and Will, but it doesn’t wear thin. It just feels like their connection is a pained one. I won’t say more.
I’m not entirely sure what I expected for the story of The Long Dark, but I’m intrigued to continue my experience. The story portion of the game is a departure from the way the game was presented in the sandbox alpha, but I honestly enjoy the difference.
If you’re interested in learning more about The Long Dark in general, I have a review for you to read. Stay tuned for the review of Episode Two: Luminance Fugue!
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