Northern Lights Gameplay Preview

Developed and published by MadGoat Studio – December 14, 2020 (PC)
*MSRP: $19.99 – https://store.steampowered.com/app/1090800/Northern_Lights/

Northern Lights is a survival crafting game set in a cold unexplored land. The game focuses more on exploration and survival than the crafting side. The main goal of the game is to find a way to get out alive.

You start off the game in a random area of a large map with only one part revealed. You have no equipment except for a backpack to store things in, your smart watch that monitors your health, and a pair of binoculars that will reveal points of interest once you spot them.

You have the basic staples of most survival crafting games such as a stone knife and hatchet.

From here the game feels like most other survival crafting games. You collect materials around you and craft them into handy tools. Two rocks will turn into a stone knife that can be used to attack animals and harvest meat, pelts, and bones. Collecting sticks will let you craft a small fire, with harvested spruce bark as tinder, and spruce bark and a stick as a hand drill to start the fire.

The progression of crafting and unlocking new blueprints does seem to take a while as you run into new items infrequently and the process is oftentimes left unexplained, leaving the gamer to experiment and figure things out for themselves. The initial learning curve can feel quite frustrating as the game’s tutorial doesn’t do a sufficient job of explaining the mechanics. For example, I died in my first playthrough because I had no idea how to acquire tinder to start a fire with. I had to examine and harvest everything before finding out that harvesting spruce bark and also a bird’s nest would work as tinder.

There are a lot of afflictions that can probably be healed by using plants but figuring out how that system works was a bit obtuse.

Also, the game has many afflictions that can affect you at any time such as fever, food poisoning, burns, and etc. The game doesn’t really explain how to reduce these symptoms and oftentimes I found myself dying without knowing why. The game did state that most of these symptoms will go away naturally but I did not find that to be the case all the time. This is a game where you will have to go experiment with the mechanics until finding out how things work for yourself, which may be a positive or a negative depending on what kind of experience the player is looking for.

There are many points of interest on the map spread out across the map. Exploration is essential in Northern Lights.

Frustrations aside, one strength of the game is that it fully encourages exploration. You have to travel a pretty large map and use your binoculars to find points of interest. In my playthroughs, I ran across a fishing dock, a lumber yard, a hunting cabin, and a watch point. Most of theses areas had preserved food items, sometimes beverages, crafting materials, new clothes, and new tools such as a fishing rod or even a rifle.

You can find new materials or even a rifle as you scavenge through these abandoned buildings.

Exploration is necessary as it grants you materials you can’t get otherwise, as well as help you towards your overall goal of escaping from the wintry land. While exploring and trekking from one point of interest to another, you do have to manage bars for hunger, thirst, body temperature, and sanity. It was relatively easy to keep these bars up, except for hydration because I didn’t know how to replenish it other than by finding beverages. You would figure for a person being surrounded by frozen water everywhere, you could just eat some snow but unfortunately that is not an option. Thankfully the bars decrease at a slow rate so managing them is not a tedious chore.

The game did a good job of making exploring feel lonely and forlorn. It reminded me a bit of No Man’s Sky in that regard.

The game honestly felt pretty frustrating the first time I played it since nothing was explained but as I figured things out, it definitely opened up a lot more. I wasn’t worried so much about surviving and I could focus on exploring. Making a long hike from one location to another to see what new discoveries awaited me felt exciting.

Overall, Northern Lights is a pretty decent game marred by a lack of clear instruction on how things work. It could be by design but the lack of transparency definitely created feelings of frustration. I can’t focus on exploring and the things the game does well if I’m constantly dying without knowing why. Once I got past that hump, it definitely felt better to play. Those with more patience and the willingness to experiment may find a survival crafting game worth playing.

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