Each new episode of Wintermute brings progress to The Long Dark. We're treated to new concepts, new story and characters, and often new regions to explore. All are present in Episode 4, titled Fury, Then Silence, which does a great job of pushing the game’s Wintermute story mode forward while also adding new gameplay concepts to the already strong foundation. Mackenzie and Astrid have come a long way over the years, and Episode 4 sets the stage for an exciting conclusion to the story of The Long Dark.
Welcome to the Blackrock
When Episode 4 kicks off you (playing as Mackenzie) are being dragged through the snow by a couple of convicts. You're not in great shape, and the convicts don’t figure to have the best of intentions. In fact, they take you back to a place that they know quite well. You're going to prison.
It’s immediately clear through the episode’s initial scenes that this is the best The Long Dark has ever been in terms of visuals and voice acting. I’ve always enjoyed the acting, but the new characters that are introduced all look and sound even better than those in Episode 3. This isn't a knock on characters from the past; what was good is getting even better.
The story starts to take shape once you're locked in a cell. We get some background on who these prisoners are, what they want, and how we'll handle the bad intentions of terrible men while not falling victim to the brutal wildlife and conditions of Blackrock, the new region introduced for Episode 4.
Where am I?
My first order of business was to secure some first aid and bring it back to the prison. This involved time exploring the yard and a few buildings within, which I enjoyed even though I had to sneak around a wolf or three that were placed directly in my path. Navigating the prison can be tricky at first, as there’s rarely a straight shot from one part of the yard to another, or one building to the next. This holds true for the entire region of Blackrock. Although, as expected, navigation drastically improves with map experience.
I’m not entirely sure where the Blackrock region will fit within the world when it releases in Survival mode later this year. It has a bit of an Ash Canyon vibe with its narrow paths and use of verticality. There are quite a few indoor locations, but unless there are tweaks made for Survival mode, this is a place you visit, not where you make your home. That’s fine, but as I wandered the region to complete side quests and little mysteries, I found myself wondering what would be added to entice players to visit Blackrock once it was part of the open world. Even in the middle of an interesting story, my brain always has its Survival-mode instincts switched on.
I started blasting
My first quest eventually led me outside the prison and through the heart of Blackrock, and I was greeted by more wolves. The often-narrow paths make skirting them difficult and leads to a lot of wolf combat throughout the episode. On one trip through the middle of Blackrock and back, I felt like I was shooting a wolf every few steps. I’d hear the next one lock onto me with a bark immediately after I shot the last one. At one point, multiple dying wolves were sprinting past me, panicked and bleeding out.
A normal wolf or two here and there is fine, but I don't love Timberwolves when they're used frequently. In Episode 4, you'll see them often. They aren’t difficult to deal with, but it gets old having your clothes ripped up repeatedly. I would much rather encounter fewer packs but have them be more of a threat. Once you deal with your fourth or fifth group, which lean more towards annoying than dangerous, the novelty wears off. Give me a high-stakes game of chicken with a single bear blocking my path instead of making me go all John Wick on a pack of Timberwolves.
Thankfully, you have the tools to overcome these packs due to the abundance of weapons and ammunition, as well as the addition of the Noisemaker. The Noisemaker is a new tool introduced with the episode. You get a few, but then players make their own if they have the correct materials. These are great at breaking wolfpack morale, and I found combining the Noisemaker with a few well-placed Revolver shots was the best approach. I even used Noisemakers to scare off normal wolves, but quickly realized wasting this valuable tool on a temporary solution (I’m just going to have to kill it on the way back) wasn’t ideal. I should also note my excitement for Noisemakers being added to Survival mode at a later date. I finally have a use for all those empty cans I stuffed in the backpack lying in the snow outside Trapper's.
Get to work
More new gameplay systems are revealed as the story picks up. Episode 4 includes a puzzle that stumped me even after I completed it, as well as a three-level deep mine that introduces the idea of suffocation. Suffocation adds a level of anxiety that works well with its limited use. I hope some of these concepts are brought to existing Survival maps because they are some of Hinterland’s best work in either mode.
The surprises don’t stop with new gameplay systems. Episode 4 features a lot of stories for players to dig into, including some high-stake moments to wrap things up. I’ll stop there so as not to spoil the details, but I will say that anyone who has enjoyed learning more about Astrid, Mackenzie, and Great Bear in general should be pleased. Episode 4 is both in line with what you expect but also manages to push both gameplay and narrative forward in new and exciting ways.
Overall, I spent about 14 hours with Episode 4, although if I were to do it again and ignore both the side quests and general exploration, I suspect I could reduce that by more than half. Where’s the fun in that, though? The Long Dark’s story mode is at its best when it weaves storytelling with its survival mechanics, and both are on full display here. It sets the stage for what figures to be a dramatic conclusion to Wintermute, and I cannot wait to have all the pieces to the puzzle laid out in front of me.
These impressions are based on a PC download code provided by Hinterland Games for review consideration. The Long Dark: Episode 4 - Fury, Then Silence will release on PC via Steam and Epic Games Store, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch on October 6, 2021. The episode is free to existing owners of The Long Dark.
Bill Lavoy posted a new article, The Long Dark Episode 4: Fury, Then Silence impressions
Looks cool. I enjoyed the game when I played about a year ago, but the narrative kinda fell off and it started to feel tedious.
I'm waiting for the story campaign to be finished before I play it. I'm glad it's getting close!