The Long Dark’s Long Road

When the Xbox One Game Preview Program first debuted at E3 2015, it launched with two games: Elite: Dangerous and The Long Dark. While Elite has since graduated to full release, The Long Dark has been moving along in Preview, adding and refining here and there. This masterfully bleak story of survival in the far northern wilderness hides a cruel heart underneath its gorgeous, almost hand-painted-looking visuals. But its developers have continued to improve and expand this chilly tale through its entire life.

Now the game is preparing for the debut of an episodic story mode (and subsequent move out of the Preview program) sometime this spring. It’s a perfect time to check out what’s changed in The Long Dark since its initial Preview release.

New Locations

The biggest change is the addition of four huge new areas to explore… and most likely suffer a slow and agonizing death in. If you thought Mystery Lake was tough, you ain’t seen nothing yet. From the tantalizing hints of civilization in Coastal Highway to the very aptly named Desolation Point, from the so-very-not pleasant Pleasant Valley to the treacherous Timberwolf Mountain, The Long Dark’s wide wilderness has expanded dramatically. In addition to these large new areas, you’ll also find smaller transitional areas with their own secrets to discover. For example, Mystery Lake’s adjoining Ravine area has been extended, and now connects directly to Coastal Highway.

Long Dark Inline 1

But if you want to jump right into the new areas, never fear: You can now carry multiple saves, and begin each new expedition in a different area. The game also helpfully suggests how challenging each area might be. And yes, Mystery Lake is the easiest.

New Gameplay

But that’s not all that’s changed. The game also comes packed with a variety of new gameplay elements. For example, your character can now scale sheer cliff faces via the new rope-climbing mechanic (just, you know, be careful – doctors are a bit thin on the ground up here).

Adding to the overall realism of the game, any bladed tools, like knives and axes, now need sharpening, so you’ll need to keep your eyes open for whetstones. And if you manage to track down a firearm – and good luck with that – you’ll also need to keep it maintained with a rifle maintenance kit.

The game also lets you craft more tools at workbenches, and even forge metal tools with the help of a hammer and a very hot fire.

New Interface Elements

The Long Dark has also added some smart new interface features to communicate your character’s status. For example, if you’re overburdened, you’ll simply see a weight icon in the corner of your screen. Or, for a happier kind of news, when your character is shielded from the wind you’ll see an icon of, well, a shield blocking wind.

Physical ailments are now communicated via a full-body diagram, making it easy to see at a glance the location and severity of any injuries. And inventory management has gotten a teensy bit of an overhaul as well.

Long Dark Inline 2

Finally, the game now includes an in-depth stats screen that shows things like percentage of the world explored, number of fires started, and distance traveled. It’s a neat little feature that offers a sense of overall progress – which is certainly welcome in this sometimes-merciless game.

Coming Soon: New Everything

But of course, these new features are all steps on the path to The Long Dark’s final release. The developers also recently revealed their plans for the long-awaited Story mode that will accompany it. Through four to five episodes, the game will tell the stories of a pilot named Will Mackenzie and a doctor named Astrid Greenwood, both trying to survive in the aftermath of a civilization-ending event. Though Story mode will feature some of the same areas (and some of the same gameplay elements) as the current Sandbox mode, it will add entirely new features and entirely new areas exclusive to the mode. And in a move sure to bring about more than a few sighs of relief, Story mode will eschew the Sandbox’s permadeath system for a progress-based save system.

The Long Dark’s Story mode is expected to debut sometime this spring, but there’s still a ton of gameplay on offer in the Sandbox mode available in Preview. And best of all, you can check it out yourself for up to an hour absolutely free. Just try to stay warm!