In the span of about 15-20 minutes in Frostpunk, I went from deciding where to send out scouts to harvest supplies and create heat from the freezing cold, to enacting laws of whether or not to impose child labor laws and what to do with the bodies of those that are dead. Even though that’s just a brief window of time compared to the many dozens of hours I am sure that players will get from Frostpunk, the game already has had a lasting impression on me and wanting to know more from its cold, striking world.
If the game’s trailers or concept imagery didn’t already make that clear from the start, Frostpunk is a game defined by a bleak setting and tone, but those that dig a little deeper will likely find a game that is as much challenging and thought-provoking as it is haunting and and menacing.
During PAX East 2018, we had the opportunity to check out the upcoming Frostpunk from developer 11 bit studios ahead of its release, which is arriving on PC in just a few weeks on April 24th, 2018. Coming from the developers of 2014’s This War of Mine, Frostpunk is likely to draw in players familiar with that game’s striking premise and survival gameplay. Beyond that though, Frostpunk bring some unique and interesting ideas to the table with its combination of simulation gameplay and survival mechanics, and it’s all wrapped up in a frigid world that I truly wanted to know more about, despite probably never wanting to live or be there myself.
As a brief intro to the game, Frostpunk is a city-building and management simulation that blends together elements from survival games. The game places you in charge as the leader of a group in a sort of alternate history version of the late 19th century, as the world has become a frozen wasteland with frigid temperatures and low chances of survival. Given the harsh temperatures and climate, the stakes are high as your people will depend on heat, food, power, and more to sustain life, but along the way various difficulties will arise that will force players to make some hard decisions in the name of surviving.
From the start, players will establish their city with a few dozen people, and then expand their city from there. Much like other strategy or sim games, early on the focus of Frostpunk is resource gathering and building up basic settlements and stations. From there, players can then train specialized workers to build new structures, supply heat and food to the growing population and, later on, eventually build beacons and send scouts out to other parts of the world to recruit new settlers, find more resources, and more.
Frostpunk can essentially be compared to something like a frozen post-apocalyptic version of SimCity, but what really makes Frostpunk so affecting are the choices that it puts in the hands of players to keep the population alive. Even from the brief demo time that I had with the game at PAX East I already felt pressure from some of the things that the game was asking of me with only a few dozen people, given several dozen more hours of playtime I can only imagine the stakes that the game raises with far more mouths to feed and increasingly dire circumstances.
Thematically, Frostpunk and its setting share a lot of similarities with the studio’s previous game This War of Mine, though it adjusts the scale of its ideas and tones in a much grander way. Where in This War of Mine players were grasping with the idea of survival among a small group of people in life during wartime in a fictional European city, Frostpunk emphasizes survival and making hard decisions on a much larger scale. This War of Mine held you responsible for a small group of people, while instead Frostpunk places you in charge of a burgeoning city and a population of several hundred.
This puts Frostpunk into an interesting place as 11 bit studios (purposefully) is using a lot of the mechanics and systems that made This War of Mine so affecting and powerful, but instead applies them to a setting with much different circumstances. Where each death or tragedy in This War of Mine felt devastating, Frostpunk seems to be putting players under more strenuous circumstances of having to dangle lives in the balance for the greater good. The game also strays far away from trying to lump your decisions down into “good” or “bad” decisions as, given the circumstances, you will no doubt have to make some hard choices to save your people (or at least as many of them as you can).
Aside from the basic cycle of gathering resources, building new structures, and adding on to and developing your city, one of the most interesting mechanics that Frostpunk utilizes is The Book of Law. Essentially, during certain points in the lifespan of your city, you (as the ruler of the city) will have to make decisions about enacting certain laws that will have an impact on your developing city, in the name of the greater good. From my demo, this included a pivotal choice of whether or not to incorporate child labor laws, which could have an impact on the population’s trust in my leadership, but also provide a valuable number of workers to gather resources or maintain the city’s structures. Later on, more dire choices can come into play like deciding how to dispose of dead bodies, or even getting as dark as whether or not to legally endorse cannibalism.
Between managing your resources, developing your city, expanding your reach into other parts of the world, and satisfying the needs of your people as best as possible, I would admit that Frostpunk might be a little overwhelming to those that might be new to city-building games like this. But regardless of the challenge level and depth that I’m sure it will have, Frostpunk leverages that complexity with a striking setting that I couldn’t shake my attention from, and moral choices that had me genuinely at odds with my own personal choices.
Much like This War of Mine before it, 11 bit studios will have players questioning their own decisions in Frostpunk, and seem to have perfected creating situations where there is no perfect answer to everything. But in the wake of spending some time in Frostpunk‘s chilling and bleak world, I’m looking forward to getting those out alive that I can.
Frostpunk will release for PC on April 24th, 2018, and developer 11 bit studios has said it has plans to bring the game to consoles down the line. For more information on the title, you can also read our full interview with 11 bit studios’ Senior Marketing Manager Karol Zajaczkowski for more insights on the studio’s frozen survival sim.