In a developer blog published last week, Hinterland Lead Developer Raphael Van Lierop discussed the studio’s plan to extensively rework the first two episodes of The Long Dark’s story mode, Wintermute, before releasing episode 3. It’s been seven months since the first two episodes launched, and now players are looking at an indefinite delay before progress in the story resumes. So how long is too long?
Building for the Future by Changing the Past
The first two episodes released when the game left Early Access back in August of 2017. Reception from critics and long-time players was mixed. People were largely on board with the concept of Wintermute, but not the implementation. As Van Lierop pointed out in the dev update, “there were several consistent pieces of negative feedback…around the forced linearity of our mission structure…the lack of fully voiced dialogue…some glitches in the Bear Hunt mission, and issues with the opening tutorial.”
Taking this feedback into consideration, the dev team at Hinterland pushed back the original release date for episode 3 from late-December/early-January to a more nebulous status of soon, with Van Lierop saying, “I don’t have a date to give you.”
This is bad news for fans who have waited more than half a year, but if the team at Hinterland truly aims to deliver a cohesive experience from one episode to the next, the delay is ultimately a better decision than simply pushing forward.
To facilitate a move away from linearity, Hinterland is reworking the way players engage with the world in Wintermute. In the new format, most missions can be done in whatever order the player chooses, and some quests (like the ludicrously grindy fetch quest that is Jeremiah’s Survival School) will become optional.
The team also plans to implement a new first-person conversation system that will hopefully help deal with new variations in progress from player to player. From the work-in-progress videos, this looks a lot like the way conversations happen in Fallout 4.
Hinterland also plans to address the opening section of the game “to set up the story a bit better,” though what that means in practice is undefined.
How Long is Too Long?
While the rework is obviously the correct path for building a strong experience in Wintermute, it shines a spotlight on an uncomfortable question: How long is too long? How long will fans retain interest in an idea that manifests at such a glacial pace and now, evidently, also doubles back on itself?
Van Lierop summed up the conversation on story mode by saying, “Hopefully the above gives you a sense of how much work we’re putting in to getting it right.” Clearly, Wintermute is important to the dev team at Hinterland. But The Long Dark has been available through Early Access since 2014, and it’s been over half a year since the game “released” in an official capacity. Yet 60% of the story hasn’t even been told, and now the studio aims to get a running start by retelling the first 40%.
Maybe episodes three through five will be incredible. The first two, despite their faults, held tremendous promise. Maybe these changes will even will capitalize on that potential and reignite gamers’ desire to embrace Wintermute. Maybe new fans will find their way to the game. But much like the quiet apocalypse in which the game is set, the wait continues to be both long and dark.
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