My Last Days in Survival Mode


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This is sort of a story, sort of a diary. Call it my last days in Survival mode. It's long. I am cataloging my story here, because I want to say what an amazing time I've had with this game, and to sort of memorialize these past few days in particular for my character. I'm not sure what happens next, if I go on, or if I just stay where I am and start Story Mode, never to return to my character. I think he is in a good place right now. This didn't end as I had intended for him, but a confluence of events led him to where he is right now, and I think this is where I might leave him.

The background...

It all started maybe a year and a half ago, when I first heard that there was this survival game that didn't have zombies. There would be no hordes of kids roaming around waiting to kill me just as I started to feel like I was getting my crap together. It would just be me, the winter, the wolves, and the bears... And whatever was left from the humans who had once inhabited this land. It seemed like something I might want to try.

I am an older gamer (48 years old), and I don't have much time to game. Call me a wimp, but I play on Pilgrim. It's not much of an achievement that I have lasted as long as I have, I know. I can't imagine what it's like playing on Stalker. Some of you are mad hardcore, man. My first character got a few days in, then slipped on the train trestle in Ravine. My second character has lasted much longer. I tried not to be spoilery by reading gameplay threads in these forums. I've played 54 hours, and 120 or so days in-game and only today did I find out that you can open the trunks of cars. I didn't know if the wolves could hurt me in Pilgrim, but I did find out the bears could. I shot one, and it almost killed me. Luckily, I was near my house in Pleasant Valley and was able to get back home to recover. I had always thought if a bear (does the bear have a name?) or "Fluffy" attacked you, you were dead. Every time I saw a bear, I backed away and went back the way I had come, or made a wide circle. Every time a wolf howled, a shiver went down my neck. Since I haven't read much here, I will probably name some areas wrong, and might get other things wrong. I'm just a casual gamer who has been playing video games for a very long time, and who just fell head over heels in love with The Long Dark.

The story...

I found myself on the Mystery Lake map, wandered down a frozen brook and eventually discovered the Trapper's Homestead. I stayed there for a while, then began to take little day trips exploring. Found Mystery Lake, and that became my main base for a long time. I lived on fish for the most part, and food I scrounged in the trailers near the logging areas. Every day of exploration brought something new. I will never forget my first blizzard, which I spent up in the Forestry Lookout. A warm fire burned in the stove, as the snow and wind whipped outside. This was amazing. And the next day, a beautiful sunrise of pinks and reds greeted me. There was the freaky Carter Hydro Dam. The silence inside was almost unbearable. I could imagine the tremendous roar that these turbines had made when functional. Now, it was a ghost dam. 

I eventually found my way across the trestle properly, and discovered the Coastal Highway, and all the amazing spots there. My first rabbit trapping happened near - where else - Jackrabbit Island. The sunsets and sunrises here were amazing as well. I made my base the Quonset Gas Station, until I one day when I opened the door, a wolf darted out right in front of me. Terrified, I quickly turned right around and headed back inside. I saw more and more wolves around here, and realized this probably was not the best place to stay.

But it was around this time that I realized I had been camping a lot. Playing it about as safe as you can on Pilgrim - which is to say, REALLY safe. So I pushed myself to go trekking a bit more. I never did lose my penchant for hoarding stuff, so I did most of this exploring pretty slowly. 

The first time I saw the church, and then the Lonely Lighthouse, I was awestruck. Just the sense of discovery in this game was always compelling. I stopped playing here for a while, maybe for a couple months, and every day at work in real life I'd think of my character, just hanging out in the lighthouse, waiting for me to return. Eventually, I did just that, and explored the whale processing area and The Riken. I later found out this area contained one of the few forges in the game, but I never ended up using it. Probably because I was playing on Pilgrim. 

I was going to explore more on Desolation Point, but then another bear kept me away from the end of the map, so I returned to the Crumbling Highway and then Coastal Highway. Somehow I hadn't seen Pleasant Valley yet, so I found Whiteberry's amazing maps, and discovered parts of Coastal Highway that I had missed, like the other watchtower, and the cave leading to Pleasant Valley. 

Across a bridge, I eventually found an entrance to a field, which I figured would lead to the homestead I had read about here, but instead I was led to the barn and outbuildings. Odd as it may sound, I didn't find the Farmstead for a long time. I went looking for it, and ended up in different parts of Pleasant Valley. The Point of Disagreement, the Three Strikes Farmstead, but no Pleasant Valley Farmstead. I eventually saw what I had missed when I made my way up to the top of Signal Hill and there it was.

Sometime between staying at the barn and moving to the farmstead for a while, I decided to try to shoot my first bear. It did not go well. I thought for sure it would just go down, but no. I hit it pretty square, or so I thought, and it came lumbering up to me in a rage, and you know the rest. I thought I was dead, but I was injured badly, and my clothes were pretty much destroyed. Needless to say, I didn't hunt another bear for the rest of the game. Who needs em.

It was around this time - 100 days in game, maybe 40 hours played, that Hinterland decided to do a save wipe. Now, since I was not a frequent visitor here, I had no idea this was going to happen until I logged in one day and my save was gone. I read their post on it, and I figured well, this is what an Alpha is all about. I stopped playing for a while. Figured I'd just start Story Mode when it came out. But I felt like all this play with this one character, and him being lost for eternity just didn't seem right. Luckily, when I went to start playing again, someone had figured out how to recover the player. I knew I'd be on my own with no right to complain if something didn't work out right, so I restored my save and decided to just quickly explore the rest of the map, and leave Timberwolf Mountain for last. Perhaps I'd jump off the top on Wintermute day, and that would be the end of this potentially corrupted save. 

I spent two days in Forlorn Muskeg. That was enough for me. Falling through the ice wasn't fun, and it happened a few times before I learned my lesson. Stay on the snow, along the edges of the map, or on the rails. 

Which brings me to Timberwolf Mountain.

I had no idea where the mountain actually was. I decided to leave Pleasant Valley with as much as I could carry. I had read there was very little shelter on the Timberwolf Mountain map, and I figured I'd need to survive at least a few days to get to the top and jump off. That was all I knew. I also wanted to try out the Cartographer function by mapping as much of TWM as I could. 

I eventually found the way up the side of the hill that led to the TWM map, and when I got to the other side, I found myself in a blizzard. This was not good. I could barely see in front of my face, and I was getting cold. But I wasn't turning back. Just as I started freezing, I found the lake, and got really lucky, as I spotted the Mountaineer's Hut. It didn't have a solid door, but it had a fireplace, and I was able to warm myself and get some sleep. 

The next day, I awoke to find a number of deer down on the lake. I had taken plenty of food with me, but if I needed more, I was glad this looked like a good spot to hunt. I spent the next couple days in the immediate vicinity mapping and resting. Then one day I managed to get pretty far from base, and figured I'd just keep going and see if I could map the whole thing. Eventually I came across some plane parts - a wing, and some containers. 

It was then that my 10 year old son came in to let me know he was ready for bed, and could we do our nightly reading. I said sure, let me just sleep in this cave. I told him this was probably the last day I was playing with this character, and he asked me why. I said because they released Story Mode, and I'd go on to do that. Will you ever come back to play the sandbox again? I don't think so, I said. This has been amazing, but I have so many other games to play and probably won't have the time to come back to this sandbox. Besides, I said, I've seen most of these areas now several times, and my favorite part is the exploration. I'm just going to go to the top of that mountain when I find a way up, and jump off.

Well, this concerned my son greatly. What if I did want to come back some day and play this again? I would just start another character I said. 

Throughout our reading, my son was clearly upset that I was going to kill off this character. Why can't you just leave him, he asked? Because I don't want to think about him just waiting, sitting somewhere, waiting for me to return when I never will. Please don't jump him off the mountain, daddy, he asked. I looked at him, clearly troubled. OK, AJ, I won't. 

We finished our story, I kissed him goodnight, and returned to the game.

I think at this point, I thought I might as well go for broke. I'm kind of OCD, and couldn't really stand the thought of leaving this guy somewhere, particularly when this was a "corrupted" save that really shouldn't be kept. If I got eaten by a bear in a cave, or froze, or whatever, I figured that would be OK. I could tell my son I tried to make it, but didn't. But I wouldn't intentionally kill this character. I was just going to play a little more risky that I normally would. 

As I mapped more and more of Timberwolf Mountain, I got closer than ever to the bears (yeah, I know, I was still in Pilgrim). I traveled lighter. In fact, when it came time to climb one particular rope, I had to leave a lot of stuff at the bottom, and in my carelessness I somehow accidentally left my ax among other things. When I got to the top, the wind was blowing hard, and I figured I'd duck in a cave I saw so I wouldn't freeze. But now that I was in the cave, and I was almost out of food (when I started out tonight, I hadn't planned on continuing around the map. I thought it would be easier to get back to the Mountaineer's hut where all my food from Pleasant Valley was). I had one flare left, and no firewood. I thought the cave would be small, and that maybe there would be food somewhere left by someone. No such luck. This was a long, winding cave, and the deeper I got, the more I realized I was totally lost, and my flare was almost out. I had one box of matches, but that was it. It wouldn't be fun trying to backtrack my steps match by match. 

Then I saw a light up ahead, and was overjoyed that I was finally out of the cave. I surveyed the area, and figured there was no way I was going back in that cave. When the next snowstorm hit, I realized what kind of trouble I was in. You can't survive for long in this game without an ax, because sticks and branches don't last long in the fire. I found another cave, a shallow one, and got warm. I slept. I melted some snow with the sticks, and boiled some water. With any luck, I'd circle around the big black spot in the center of this map and hopefully end up back at the hut. 

I was having more of a hard time staying warm in this map than any of the others. Maybe because I was higher up? I had climbed up two ropes now, and at some point would have to go back to that first rope and get my stuff that I had left at the base. I don't know why I hadn't dropped my stuff at the top, then gone back to get the rest. I guess I was too tired, then that snowstorm hit, and then I had gotten lost in the cave looking for food, or something.

So, nearly frostbit, entirely out of food, I happened across another rope. It was a tall one. I just hoped that the weather would stay clear, or I was a goner for sure. I got half way up the rope when I had to stop off on a ledge to rest. Then I couldn't go any farther, because suddenly I was too tired to carry up the remaining distance what I had on my back. Screw it, I figured, I'll just sleep on the ledge. If I die in my sleep, this is where I'll die.

But the weather stayed clear, and I was able to continue my climb. It was still dark, and the snow was blowing differently. It was a fine snow. I had reached the "Summit." In the distance was the tail of a jet, with another wing broken off and dug into the snow. I went to the edge of the cliff, and could see down to the Mountaineer's hut. I mapped out the summit, and then proceeded to the airplane. If I hadn't made a promise to my son, this is where I would have jumped, even though I had planned to play for a few more days to map and explore this whole area before ending it and beginning Story Mode. But instead, I discovered the plane was open! There was food on the floor! The crates could be broken down by hand - no ax needed! Granola bar. Lantern fuel. I tried to get the metal compartments open, but it said I needed a hacksaw. And what was behind these containers resting on a wooden crate? A hacksaw!

The containers open, it was like Xmas! MRE's galore! Water! Lanterns! I had discovered a cache that would last me a long, long time. I had been saved. I wasn't going to starve! I wasn't going to die of frostbite or hunger! I could get off this damned mountain and back to the hut if I wanted!

But then I thought - perhaps this is a good place to leave my character. I didn't know this plane was up here and full of goods that would put my character in a very good spot for a long time. I would be able to tell my son I left my character very well provided for. Before this, I thought perhaps it was the end for him, that he was going to be stuck up on that mountain because I hadn't managed my resources well and I had charged on recklessly. But no. He already had skills, but now he had been given the gift of a little more time.

There were deer below. There were wolves below. There was fish in the lake. He had plenty of raw resources now from the plane - resources which would give him even more time to hone his skills further. He had learned how to make a wolfskin coat, rabbitskin gloves, and deerskin pants. Maybe, someday soon, he'd try to kill one of those bears again to make an even better jacket. 

He had time now.

He sat in the tail section of the plane looking at all the abundance that had just manifested itself before him. He could now enter this next phase of his life with a sense of optimism, relief, and the knowledge that he had what he needed to survive. 

Until the day arrived when he finally slipped into The Long Dark for good.


Thank you, Hinterland, for this amazing gift you have given us. I don't think I have ever had an experience like this playing a game, and I've been playing video games for 40 years now. I hope the Wintermute release brings more great things to you all, and can't wait to see what you do next. I thought when Looking Glass Studios closed up shop, I'd never see a developer again that could bring together all those intangibles that create a totally immersive, high art gaming experience like this, but here we are. Again, thank you. 

On to Story Mode. :)

... the firey mornings are always the best ...

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