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The Long Dark beginner guide

If you haven’t yet put some time into this wonderful, snowy, harsh, and cathartic world, there is no better time to pick up the Xbox Games Pass for PC and jump right in! The Long Dark was originally released as an early access title in September 2014 and I picked it up during December 2015. Here in South Africa we do not have a white Christmas with snow and cozy snuggles, so I thought this cold game will do the trick. 

Here at Beards Swords Shotguns we are fans of many different survival games and it was a no-brainer to pick up this title again after all these years. I know that Hinterland released massive content patches over the years and the game really grew into something that players loved. This is confirmed by the fact that it has 55,157 positive steam reviews at the time of writing.

I am a beginner, where do I start?

In this beginner guide we will take you through the core mechanics of The Long Dark, to help you build a solid foundation for survival. When you launch the game, you will be presented with two main gameplay options, the Survival mode and Wintermute, which is the episodic story mode for The Long Dark. In this guide we will head straight into the Survival mode to show you how to survive a couple of days until you get the hang of it.

Difficulty settings

The Long Dark beginner guide difficulty
Difficulty settings [image: Hinterland]


This difficulty setting is the easiest setting the player can choose. This is more for the player who would like to explore the cold world of The Long Dark, putting a limit on how harsh the environment is.


This is the most balanced difficulty setting that you can choose and ideal for beginners looking for a great experience. If you are new to the game, we would suggest you choose this option until you get to grips with the game’s mechanics.


As Hinterland suggests in their description of this setting, they aim this setting towards veteran players who are looking for a challenge. We opted for this option to put our survival game skills to the test.


If you want to become Bear Grylls, here is your chance, low resources and the harshness scale increases the longer you survive. Godspeed.

I see a bunch of maps, what now?

Ok, so you made the choice to play on Interloper difficulty? Good. Now you have to choose where you want to spawn. Every map/location is a drawn map, making it important to study the map before heading in. We will choose the first map “Mystery Lake”. This map is straightforward; you have a train track running from North to South and a massive lake to the east side of the map. The lake and the train tracks will be the important landmarks in this instance.

Mystery Lake The Long Dark - The Long Dark beginner guide
Mystery Lake [Image: Hinterland]

Character Choice

We love that Hinterland gave players the option to choose between male or female in The Long Dark. Both characters feel different so your experience can differ with every character as they have both been voice acted.

The Long Dark beginner character choice - The Long Dark beginner guide
Make your choice [Image: Hinterland]

How long can you survive in The Long Dark?

Check your vitals

Every time you load in, you will spawn at a random location on the section of the map you chose earlier. Keep in mind, we did not change any key bindings, so default bindings is how we will experience The Long Dark. As soon as your feet hit the ground, or should I say snow, hit “c”. This opens your character sheet, navigate to the status tab. Once you are on the status page, the first thing you will want to familiarise yourself with would be your vitals. You will have the following to worry about:

The Long Dark beginner guide
The Long Dark status [Image: Hinterland]

These are fairly standard vitals in most survival games, so you should have the knowledge to understand how to satisfy your character’s needs, right? Well, not all survival games have freezing blizzards, wolves, bears and well, extreme cold. Next to each of the mentioned vitals, you will see arrows pointing up or down. We would recommend you tend to the most critical ones first if your situation allows for it.

Time is your worst enemy in this game

We would argue that this is the most valuable resource in the game, every action you do takes a certain amount of time to complete. So before deciding to chop down a big box in the middle of a frozen lake, take note that if it takes two hours to complete and it’s almost dark, you might want to wait for morning before chopping the wood. You will get used to how much time and resources every action takes as you progress through the game.

Make a fire – Temperature

Most important thing when you start is to pick up all the little twigs and tree bark along the way. You will need these to build a fire. You aim at the twig and left click, you will be presented with options to either take or cancel the item. Go ahead, collect about 15 sticks. Now that we have resources, it’s time to find a nice shelter spot in this god forsaken frozen wasteland. 

Looks like the first spot we thought was great to set up shop had a carcass and a bear roaming around. Guess we’ll keep looking. As you move around the world, you will hear your character talking, letting you know how he/she is keeping up. We were freezing, so we made a little fire in between some rocks where we thought the wind would also not be as harsh. The wind was too strong at first, but luckily it died down so we could make a fire. There is a little wind shield icon that pops up, this means you are in a good spot.

Carcass The Long Dark bear
Big oof [Image: Hinterland]

If you are wondering how to start a fire, press spacebar to bring up your action wheel, choose the fire icon and then place your fire when the placeholder turns green.

The Long Dark campcraft
Action wheel [Image: Hinterland]

Once you have placed the fire, you have a couple variables to choose from, a starter, tinder, fuel and accelerant. The only item that is optional when making a fire, is the accelerant. If you are lucky enough to have some, it can be used to quickly start a fire. Your character can fail at starting the fire, still taking up resources for the attempt. Once you have successfully started the fire, you can stand close to it to soak up all the heat and warm up for the next bit of travelling you have to do. However, be careful to not step into the fire. This will hurt your character and potentially damage your clothes.

The Long Dark Start a fire
The fire starter [Image: Hinterland]

My character is tired, what now? – Sleep

This is a mechanic that will force you to seek shelter and a safe place to put down your bedroll. If you have to sleep outside, we would suggest making a little fire, max it out with fuel and sleep next to it to survive the brutal low temperatures during night time. Luckily you can also rest in beds inside little homes you will encounter along the way. You won’t be able to make a fire inside the house on the floor, it usually isn’t necessary either because you are afterall indoors. When you sleep, your character will burn calories just like in real life, so we can guarantee you will wake up more thirsty and hungry than you were before going to bed. We suggest you sleep through the nights and travel by day, because of low visibility and low temperatures. Once you have enough sleep and the sun is almost up, stretch those legs and get ready to continue the adventure.

I have to get my beauty sleep [Image: Hinterland]

Is it my second breakfast yet? – Hunger

As you travel you get hungry, even though it is a harsh world, there is still enough to eat. You can eat anything from beef jerky to raw wolf meat. Every run will leave you with different cuisines. For instance, in our run we found an unlucky deer that was frozen solid. We did not go full zombie and start eating the thing like a savage; we had to get an axe first, then only could we cut some fillet from the poor animal. Once you have chopped off the amount of meat that you want or can carry, you can either soldier it down raw or make a fire and cook some decent meat

The Long Dark how to make a fire
Looking tasty [Image: Hinterland]

Look at our nicely cooked steak, not too raw and not overly done either, perfect. If you don’t have the luxury of cooking time, grab that quick snack from your pocket to keep you going. Be sure to always thoroughly search buildings for these snacks, they might just save your life.

Dying of thirst? – Thirst

We love the thought Hinterland put into the thirst mechanic. We started with a can in our inventory and you probably did too. Once you have a fire, you can scoop a bit of ice and melt it, until it becomes fluid. If you are brave enough, you can immediately throw the water down your hatch. We would however suggest you take the extra time and resources to boil the water until it is considered safe to drink, minimising the risk of infection. Dysentery is not life. When you leave the fire remember to take the container with you otherwise you’ll be in for a nasty surprise, the next time you want to melt some snow.

The Long Dark how to cook water
Just pairing some melted snow with my steak [Image: Hinterland]

There are many other intricacies in this game, but if you can get these four main concepts under control, you will most definitely be able to survive long enough to see tomorrow. Do not get discouraged when you die, your next spawn might be jackpot, who knows you might even get a revolver in your first minute of exploring? Let us know on this post or our social accounts if this beginner guide helped you survive.

Good luck out there

Beards Swords Shotguns