Tips for The Long Dark Noobs

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Tips For The Long Dark Noobs

I'm having a great time playing this game. I'm going to make notes on some hints and tips based what I figure out and try to help other new players.

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Sandbox Game Modes

The game has three sandbox modes.

  • Pilgrim, the easy "exploration" mode. Wolves and bears don't attack you, and there are less of both than in other modes.
  • Voyageur, a balanced "middle" mode. There's a few more wolves, but the biggest change is that they will attack without provocation. This is the default difficulty.
  • Stalker, the "hardcore" mode. The wolves now seem to target you from halfway across the map.

A lot of players see these three modes and immediately leap to play "Stalker". This can be a mistake because there's a lot to learn before you're ready for Stalker mode and it's really brutal. If you're here looking for a noob guide, you may have been spanked by Stalker mode at least once.

It's a really good idea for players to start with Pilgrim mode and get through a solid 10-20 days before they move up to Voyageur, then get in another 10-20 days of game time there, before moving up to Stalker mode. I spent my first 200 days of game time on Pilgrim so I could really dig into all the different mechanics of resource gathering and crafting, as well as mapping different areas.

Just Started A New Game, Now What?

Maybe this is your first time playing a survival game (The Long Dark was *my* first game of this type). Or, maybe you've played similar games but you're new to The Long Dark. Either way, it can help to have some advice to get you started.

As is always the case with any advice, this is my own opinion. Other people will have differing opinions, and you'll develop your own techniques that will work best for you. My goal is simply to get you on the path to independence by providing some simple advice on how to stay alive to start.

A few hints and tips to start...

  • The first thing to do in every new game is check your starting equipment. This may be subject to change (my notes are written while the game is in Alpha), but you should at least have a little food, some accelerant and matches to start a fire, some clothes for warmth, and a bedroll. Until you've memorized the starting gear, always re-check so you don't think you have something from a previous play-through that you no longer have.
  • Your primary needs are calories (food), water, and warmth. If you can meet these needs, the rest of the game is a combination of exploration and setting harder and harder goals for yourself ("How long can I live without a hatchet?" "How long can I live eating nothing but fish?" etc.)
  • Water comes from melting snow on a fire, or from toilet tanks in residential homes.
  • There's no map, so try to keep whatever basic woodcraft rules you know in mind to keep from getting lost. "The sun rises in the east and sets in the west" will help you keep track of compass directions. "Follow the river" (or power lines or train tracks) is usually good advice in real life, and very good advice in this game. You can follow your footprints to backtrack if it's not actively snowing. Try to move from landmark to landmark. Caves are usually safe if there are no bones in the entrance (bones at the entrance are a sign a bear lives there). There are area names that pop up as you explore, use those to keep track of your location in the region. Also watch for man-made landmarks like signs, disaster areas, and corpses.
  • Crows will circle over human corpses and starting dead animals the game generates (not animals you kill). Crows are markers for useful supplies and these corpses are another kind of landmark.
  • Stored calories are "weightless" storage. The more food you stuff into your body, the less you have to carry, which means the longer those calories will last before you starve. Prioritize calories by weight (eat the 'heaviest' calories first). Cook raw meat before you eat it. Uncooked meat _will_ make you ill. These rules apply to a lesser extent with water - the more you drink, the less you have to carry, and you should boil it or purify it before you drink it.
  • Drinks like soda, coffee, and tea all provide calories and slake thirst at once. This means you should drink flavored drinks, then eat, then top off your thirst with water.
  • Brewed drinks (coffee, tea) and some canned food can be heated. Heated food and drink provides calories and also raises your core body temperature, which can save you if you're freezing. It's possible to die in front of a fire if your temperature is dropping faster than the fire is heating the air.
  • Cat tails are edible and produce tinder for fires. If you want to complete the "Living off the Land" achievement these will be a good source of food before you find a knife or fishing tackle. There are quite a lot of cat tail plants around so if you're careful with your calories you can survive on them until you find a fishing line or knife and can start eating meat.
  • I find with a hatchet and a hunting knife you can survive almost anything. If you end up in a crazy situation where you have to jettison most of your heavy gear, save your bedroll, a hatchet, and a knife. Matches aren't heavy and should always be carried.
  • You don't *need* fire for heat as long as you have enclosed shelter. Clothes and bedding will keep you warm inside most enclosed shelters. What you *need* fire for is to melt water and to cook meat.
  • Sleep is for the weak. While that's a little bit of a joke, you don't have to sleep 8 hours if you're tired. If you're in a precarious situation while really exhausted, sleep a few hours and move to a safer spot (if you can). Sleep is also useful to pass time. If you're in a snug shelter waiting for a storm to blow over or a crafting material to age, you can sleep a lot of time away. Just make sure to eat and drink every 10-12 hours.
  • Learn to multitask. If you already have a fire going just for the heat, melt snow and boil it for extra water. If you're trekking around, pick up some firewood. If you're settled in a good home base, do things like set out rabbit snares before heading off to fish or hunt for the day, or before collecting firewood.
  • In situations where you have a choice, always use renewable resources before using fixed resources. Certain resources re-spawn. These include firewood, live animals, and coal. Water is always available as snow. Fish never run out. Plants don't re-spawn. Neither do tools, manufactured resources (reclaimed wood and scrap metal) or packaged food and drink.

Day One Advice

You've started a new game and you know nothing (or nearly nothing) about how to play. What do you do now?

Every sandbox game starts with you being dropped in a random location on the map, at a random time of day, in random weather conditions.

Your goal on Day One is to get yourself to some sort of enclosed shelter with enough food/water to last you 24-36 hours.

Before Shelter

  • Verify your starting gear.
  • Eat all the food you can. Remember, stored calories are weightless.

Now, are you in a blizzard or heavy fog? If so, you won't really have a chance to look around and get the lay of the land. If the weather is clear (even if it's dark) you can actually learn quite a lot about the area you're in.

Your goal is still to get yourself to an enclosed shelter and have enough food/water or stored calories for two days. This generally means a house, cabin, the lookout, the Hydroelectric dam office, or a trailer. While it may be all you can find, an open-sided building (a fishing shack or one of the burned-down building shells) will allow you to start a fire and stay alive, but it's very dangerous. You can either freeze to death (if you don't have enough firewood) or be attacked by wolves (if you're not on Pilgrim mode). Enclosed shelter is actually readily available on the Mystery Lake map, it's mostly a matter of walking in a straight line long enough to find something. If you see frozen water (a frozen stream or pond), follow it to reach a good shelter. All the frozen water leads to good locations at one end or the other.

You can pretty much expect a blizzard within your first 24 hours. If you've started a new game in a blizzard it may halt briefly (tricking you into thinking it's safe to explore) and then start up again, or a blizzard may strike while you're traveling or resting. This isn't really a "spoiler", as you should _always_ expect a blizzard to strike. The weather is quite unpredictable and storms blow up quickly.

Pick up sticks and break small branches with your hands as you go. You can get a quite nice stash of firewood doing this.

Loot any human corpses you find. You won't be able to loot animal corpses until you find a hunting knife. To loot the corpse, click on it. But also check around it, especially near the hands. Corpses often die with something useful near their hands.

Enclosed Shelter

You've made it to an enclosed shelter before dark! While you're still awake and have daylight and your first day's rested energy, rummage around and loot both the shelter and the surrounding area. This includes grabbing more sticks for firewood, and checking multiple buildings (if you found a line of cabins or trailers).

  • Crouch and use light. If you lucked into a lantern (or started a fire and have a torch) light can help you find all the little hidden packages tucked away in nooks and crevices. Crouching is useful because useful gear can be pushed far back on the lower shelves or even under a bed.
  • Open every drawer and cabinet, and mouse over every shelf and carton. Look for First Aid boxes on the wall near the door to the outside.
  • Loot corpses, as well as checking near their hands.
  • If there's a gun rack, look for a rifle. Even if there isn't a gun rack, check _every_ location for rifle bullets.
  • Don't rush! Take your time, and go slowly so that you don't miss any food or tools.

You may have to stay here for an extra day, depending on the weather.

No Enclosed Shelter

What do you do if you don't find enclosed shelter and it's getting (or is already) dark? If you're on Pilgrim mode, you only have to worry about freezing or starving. On the other modes, you also have to worry about animal attacks.

Your first priority is starting a fire. Once the fire is lit and stoked with wood (which will warm you and buy you some time), you need to evaluate your situation. What is the weather like? Are you at risk of animal attack (can you hear wolf howls)? Did you see any encouraging landmarks (frozen water, a road sign, a building in the distance)? Are you at risk of your fire being blown out by bad weather?

If you have any canned food or a brew-able drink, heat it now and consume it. Pick up a torch from your fire and head out.

If the weather is really bad you're just going to collect some firewood to wait out the storm, and explore after. If you have some visibility, you're going to either find enclosed shelter _or_ at least explore as much as you can before you die.

If you're on top of a rise (like a hill or ridge) you're going to head downhill and then walk straight, trying to avoid crossing up and over other hills. Try to stick to "lowland" paths as much as possible until you know the map. If you see frozen water, you're going to follow it. If you see a sign, you're going to head towards whatever it marks. If you see a road or marked path, you're going to follow it.

If you have good visibility, as you walk, make sure to 'look around' a lot by changing your camera view. There are a number of shelters hidden inside small copses of trees, or at the side of roads or broad paths.

If the weather is bad (fog/blizzard), as you walk, DON'T change the camera view if you can help it. Moving the camera will probably result in you walking in a large circle. Instead, pick a direction and simply walk as straight as you can, as long as you can. If you cross an encouraging path (road, frozen water, etc.), turn to follow it but (again) keep your camera as straight as you can.

The most important thing you can do to survive Day One walking in The Long Dark is to pick a direction to walk and stay with it. There are a _lot_ of shelters scattered around the Mystery Lake map. If you walk for a little while and then try to double back, and maybe strike off in a third direction, you're just going to get hopelessly lost.

After Enclosed Shelter

After Day One (or One and Two, depending on the weather) it's time to use your first enclosed shelter as a stepping stone to reach a semi-permanent "home base" in Mystery Lake.

For noobs, this should be the Camp Office on the west side of Mystery Lake. It has fishing, rabbits, and deer in close proximity, as well as a number of cabins with useful tools and resources. It's a great place to settle down and try out all the different game systems.

More experienced players may decide they prefer a different base, but that's outside the scope of this help.

Home Base

What makes a good home base?

  • A somewhat central location on the map, to allow you to explore in all directions and get back to your base easily.
  • Good storage (drawers and cabinets). On maps other than Mystery Lake, this includes refrigerators.
  • Access to a ready supply of food. This includes well-stocked shelters (scavenging), as well as fish, rabbits, deer, wolves, or bears for Fishing and Hunting in The Long Dark.
  • Access to a work bench. This will let you experiment with Crafting in The Long Dark.
  • At least two exits, one of which is protected by a railing.
  • A wood stove, fireplace, or fire barrel for an interior fire.
  • A close forest that spawns firewood.
  • Beds for sleeping (to avoid wear on your bedroll).

You don't have to find a location with all these things, but the more resources available at your base, the more you can accomplish.


I moved this to its own page so that people who just wanted some play tips wouldn't get the map spoilers.