The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (spoilers)


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So it's finally here, after almost three years of waiting Story arrived and hinterland revealed their true Vision for The Long Dark. And what a beautiful wonderful vision it is, I feared that Wintermute will be a point&click fest like Telltales' games but the devs managed to combine the sandbox experience almost perfectly with a story to play through. There are some adjustments needed, some bugfixing and polishing but Story Mode is definitely on the right track and it exceeds all my expectations.

Attention: contains shameless spoilers from here on, don't read if you haven't finished the Story yet ;)

The Good
- what excites me the most is the fact that we actually do the same stuff as we did in Sandbox, the gameplay is very similar: you against an open world that tries to kill you in a multitude of ways all the time and on every step. My biggest fear was that the Story will have nothing todo with Sandbox play, that it will be a coaster on rails driving on a fixed path with little to no decision making. Thankfully the opposite is the case, as I dared hope in another thread it is basically a Sandbox with a few story elements here and there, telling you what to explore next and such. In between, lot's of freedom and you often spend days on a single task without encountering another NPC.

- We play out part of the story on the same maps as in Sandbox, Mysterly Lake and Forlorn Mustek are almost identical to the Sandbox and I could put my map knowledge very good to use. The most amazing part though was that we finally can put a face to the Trapper in whose Cabin we've spend so many hours. He looks nothing as I've imagined him but he fits perfectly, nice grumpy old fella. And thank you so much for the encounter with the Old Bear, this was really a surprise, especially that it plays very similar like the challenge (and unfortunately is similar bugged, see Bad).

- Graphically it blows my mind, I always liked the style of TLD and update after update the graphics got improved, this being the best iteration so far. I like the new skins for loot items, how the world looks at dusk or dawn and how the sun interacts with the fog now but the most beautiful thing to look at (besides dead Fluffy in the Dam :ph34r:) has to be the Aurora, it's breathtaking and one almost wants to forget that there are green wolves out there on the hunt for you. I am also very glad that the devs listened and have adjusted the flare so it's no longer directly in your face. And breath-clouds aren't as occluding anymore, though that may be because temperatures are never as low as in interloper, where your own breath made you de facto blind during the night. Haven't tested SB yet on Interloper.

-  Soundtrack: it's beautiful and very fitting, love it. Same goes for the sound effects, very crisp and clear and actually useful in many occasions. Pitty only that the bear crows seem to be missing.

The Bad
- Difficulty is balanced in the wrong direction for my liking. There are too many wolves, especially in Episode one and way way too much stuff lying around everywhere. This leaves the player mainly concerned with how to deal with wolves and not with how to survive, because there is nothing to be concerned about, every house is filled to the brim with stuff, weather was never an issue, not one whiteout blizzard, everlasting fireplaces at the NPCs, tons of matches, flares, later ammunition and the various settings (cals burned, recovery amount in sleep and so on) seem to be on Pilgrim level. I can honestly say that I never asked myself how I will survive any situation I was in, all I did is travel from one place to the other, deal with the wolves and fill my belly and pockets at the next house I'll sleep in. It felt very similar to the Nomad Challenge after someone dropped a huge bomb filled with wolves on the place.

- The quest system is very very basic, I actually got a bit angry when the first NPC I've met sent me on several "bring me this and that" quests. I like the idea of the Trust system and I'm even okay that it's based on items given to the NPC but it's redundand if the quests are also based on items to gather. Here I would've wished for some more creativity on the Quest side, a quest should tell a little story in itself and make me wanna do it, otherwise I'm just running errands for someone. The hunt for the Old Bear was a good quest and that's about it. What I really missed are quests that force us to go into the Night when the Aurora is here with our flashlights out, ready to point at anything green that moves. I went outside sometimes to look at it from a safe spot but I never ventured out during an Aurora night because why put myself in danger if I don't have to? I think a huge opportunity was missed here, I hope further Episodes will include quests under the Aurora.

- Interactions with NPCs are odd to say the least. Jeremiah asks me in a written text if I've noticed the Lights and tells me some stuff about the Aurora. I ask some other questions and when I'm finished I (voice) ask Jeremiah if he has noticed the Lights :S Also, I wasn't done with building trust with Jeremiah, I had still some hides and I wanted to unlock all his stuff but after I've given him the Bear's ears he wouldn't talk to me anymore, nothing happens when I click on him. I was expecting the Trust system always to work for as long as the NPC is alive.

- Sometimes it's unclear what the game expects us to do, I've spent hours in completely wrong places searching for a story continuation, especially in Ep1 when I didn't follow the road at the church but went through the hills, you know, because two freaking wolves where on the road and I thought the reasonable  thing to do would be to walk around them. I ended up in the farmstead, unlocked it with the key, explored the whole area, climbed down the waterfall to see the end of the world but the story just wouldn't progress. Reloaded last checkpoint, went the same way again because the scripted wolves where still there and was still without a clue. The quest said "follow the road" and I was and the darn end of the road, why is nothing happening. Fortunately not one day after release some playthrough videos were already on YT and then I finally saw that the road takes a huge circle over a bridge until it turns back to the end of the road where I was. Finally, Milton. And more wolves...

- Similar story with the Old Bear: like in the Challenge, sometimes you see him moved by the engine to a certain place in ultra high speed, or when the engine decides the bear got stuck it just vanishes without leaving any footprints, impossible to trace. This happens for example by dropping down to a ledge where it can't reach you. It's what happend to me before the last encounter, I followed the footprints until there where none and then I had to check all the places marked on the map again. To add to the fun the engine decided to put the weather in thick-fog-only mode, visibility about 20m, I could not find him and was jumped by half a dozen wolves while moving all over ML. Ready to give up I tried to reload the last checkpoint but I didn't had the option in the menu, so I continued my search and found him after a good hour in Clear Cut in a place I've checked before 100%. I shot him, the Fog cleared and as a thank you Jeremiah wouldn't talk to me anymore after I've given him the ears. Unfortunately this spoiled the joy of seeing the Old bear in Story a bit.

- Some GUI issues: why are Painkillers not automatically added to the Wheel Menu like all the other meds? The engine adds three packs of Antibiotics to my Wheel Menu but no Painkiller, I have to add them manually and when they run out they are gone from the Wheel again. I had a sprained something several times and slept it off because I didn't realize that I still had Painkillers in my Backpack. The crafting menu is very well hidden, I think it should also be in the Wheel for easier access. The Journal seems buggy. For one there are Location infos which read something like "ML_1_InfoText" and other stuff is missing. People shows only a picture of GreyMother and no information about her nor Jeremiah and I really miss the statistics tab. Also, please give us an own keyboard shortcut for the flashlight. It's no fun to cycle through matches, lamp, flares, torches and flashlight or maybe change the cycling system alltogether. The animations are so slow, sometimes I press a button once too often and have to cycle again through all my lights or weapons, argh...

The Ugly
Why, o why why why did they not voice over all the few text lines? This is the worst decision the devs have ever made, or lets say 2nd worst after Cabin Fever. I don't understand it, they had already the actors in the studio, why not let them record the other lines too? There aren't so many, written in normal Text they'd probably fit on a single page. This is such a bummer, it breaks immersion tremendously, you are deep in the game, have just climbed down a mountain, wandered aimlessly around the world, survived another wolf attack and finally meet a nice old lady willing to help you, she speaks to you, draws you further in and then wait what? [esc] -> settings -> audio all on max... exit game, start new, hmm.... alt+tab into the forum, are others also having no sound, is this a bug, what's happening? And then the slow and painful realiziation that you have just been beamed back by 20 years and really have to read text and click on next, only to be beamed to the present a few moments later and people talk to you again. Even with all the "bad" points I've mentioned above I would consider Wintermute a Masterpiece of it's genre but partially voiced over text is not befitting for a masterpiece. My only hope is that hinterland will reconsider and record the remaining text lines too.

That's about what I can say about Wintermute Story after my first playthrough. The 2nd playthrough will be completely different now that I know what to do and have a better understanding of how it plays but given the low challenge, little story content and tedious quests it will probably take a while until I play it again. In  the mean time I'll go achievement hunting in the sandbox, I'm especially curious to see if we can eat wolf/bear meat again like in Story, what else has changed and if the small Cave behind Trapper's is also in the Sandbox leading to Milton :D

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