After finally getting my Windows game box set up again, I played The Long Dark for a while last night. Semi-realistic wilderness survival. I'd last played back in 2015 or something when it was just a sandbox (or snowbox) and I couldn't figure out what to do (or rather how to play so that it was fun haha). Here are some thoughts out of the gate:
- They've definitely come a long way since then, including adding a story-driven campaign in addition to the regular survival mode.
- In a nutshell the game feels very technically polished with a lot of custom art, animation, vfx, and audio. But it feels draggy in the pacing of the gameplay and the cinemas. The UX has some good ideas but has some annoying rough edges and missed opportunities.
- One of the first cinemas brings an estranged couple face-to-face after a decade or two apart. I'm severely paraphrasing here, but the conversation went something like "Hey. I haven't seen you since..." / "I know. I guess I was never quite myself after the the..." / "Yeah." It's going for a sense of mood and mystery, but I just found it frustrating that I'm having to listen to all this sedately-paced dialog while no actual info is being imparted. I eventually tried to find a way to skip the long rambling cinemas and realized I couldn't.
- The survival mechanics are fairly intuitive and interesting. You've got gauges for temperature, rest, water, food, and health. A radial menu option lets you place and build a fire, then you interact with the fire itself to add more fuel or cook something.
- As with many survival games, I burn through my supply levels of everything frustratingly fast. I can capture rabbits by stunning them with rocks, kill them, harvest their meat and hide, and then cook their meat on the fire. But the whole process takes up so much energy, firewood, and time (both in-game and real-time) that there's only a small net gain in my food bar. In short it's a grind to keep myself fed and watered; I want to spend more time exploring and less time feeding my face.
- An example of good UX: when you look directly at something on the ground you can left-click to inspect it (with an accompanying description of how it's useful), then left-click again to take it or right-click to pass.
- An example of a UX rough edge: when you left-click larger branches and such, instead of getting the quick-click inspection menu you get a crafting break-down (disassembly) menu - do you want to spend 30 minutes of game time breaking down this large branch into pieces of wood? Right-clicking doesn't dismiss this menu so it's frustrating to accidentally click on something that brings up the break-down menu and breaks the flow.
- Bad UX: to get non-potable (dangerous) water you have to melt snow for ~15 minutes of game time (1-2 minutes of real time), then grab the water before it boils off. Then you have to boil the non-potable water for another 15 minutes to make it drinkable - and again you have to grab it when it's finished or it will boil off. Cooking meat takes ~30m. That's all fine. But then when you harvest meat and fur from a rabbit, it takes ~1 hour of game time (which goes by instantly) and you can't do other things during that time. Given that my food and water bars are always rapidly draining, I'd really like to be able to skin my rabbits while boiling water while cooking meat. It's frustrating that my bars are always running low and I have to do all these things and I can't multitask.
- Good UX: crafting gives you a list of known recipes and you only need to have the necessary ingredients in your inventory; you don't have to fuss with the individual ingredients.
- After fussing with all that stuff for too long I finally made it to a little abandoned town in the intro to the campaign. There's one house with an active fireplace I can stay at, and then logic dictates I explore the one or two dozen surrounding abandoned houses and rummage for supplies. But here's where it gets frustrating again: there are multiple cupboards and cabinets in each house to search, each one takes a few seconds (with a search bar), and per usual it seems like I only find enough food to break even on the time it takes to scavenge. And so far I haven't found any useful tools. I would like a knife to replace my jagged piece of metal but so far not one of the houses I've been to has even one knife.
- There's an odd emphasis on tea-making. I can harvest berries to make tea, I can find tea, I can find coffee. And brewing a pot and then drinking it gives me a buff for the next few hours or whatever. I haven't actually made any yet 'cause I don't really enjoy that kind of busy-work.
I don't have much enthusiasm to continue the story mode because I'm faced with the semi-obligation of continuing to search all these empty houses in this small town I'm in. But maybe I'll just head out of the town and see what comes next, and/or maybe I'll give the sandbox survival mode another try.