As the end of the year draws close, like many others we find ourselves reflecting on the things we enjoyed most in 2018. While chatting to each other, many of us at ZA/UM brought up our enthusiasm for Frostpunk, a city-survival game from 11 bit studios. Its beautiful menus were a real wake-up call for us, and we admire its lively UI for how streamer-friendly it is. Our conversation inspired our UK Community Manager Danielle to pick it back up, write about her experiences as she played, and freshly renew her enthusiasm for this amazing title.
Frostpunk… what a game. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, I’m going to talk a bit about the main story scenario and the first steps you take, as well as the variety of choices you can make/ways you can play the game. Don’t worry too much about spoilers, I won’t be going far into the story!
I begin a new save of “New Home” the main story scenario, with everything set on medium difficulty.
The time has come to build the last city on earth.”
So first you need to fight the cold by stockpiling 200 coal and turning the generator on. Once you do that, it will set off the next set of steps so be warned and be ready. I start with 80 people, 15 are kids, 15 are engineers and 50 are normal workers.
Sounds simple right? Wrong. It may begin simple but it isn’t long before you are micromanaging and multitasking to extremes. Despite this, Frostpunk never feels cumbersome or dull. It does a great job of making you feel pressured even though there is a pause button.
The only building you start with is the generator and “stockpiles”. The Generator provides heat and power to other buildings. Without it the city will freeze to death. Meanwhile, the surrounding areas are filled with wreckages for you to gather resources from. Wood Crates, Steel Wreckages and Coal piles are your first targets, with Frozen Trees, Coal Deposits, and Iron Ore Deposits (which need advanced machinery) following.
Day 1 – 3
At 2am I finally turn on the generator to Steal level 1 after gathering 300 coal. I’ve managed to build 30 houses with the wood from the crates. It’s currently -20 and I’ll need to build another 50 houses to keep everyone safe and warm from the biting cold. Now I’ve completed the generator task, my next goal is to secure food for my people. To do this I need to secure a raw food supply by building a Hunters Hut or a Hothouse, and also build cookhouses to start preparing the meat.
You’ll have to continue to gather resources to be able to erect new buildings.
A pop up appears: “A word of advice. Critical Shortage. The Sick is rising.” Great. Now I have to think about medical posts. Or there is the book of laws…
The book of laws is basically what it says it is; It allows you to enact various laws on your city. There is a cool-down period where you must wait for the law to be passed before starting another. Laws will affect the people in different ways.
Back to considering my options. I could push the Emergency Shift (Overtime) Law through so I can gather more resources and open a medical post sooner. Or I could ignore it for now, causing Discontent to rise. In Frostpunk you have two bars measuring Hope and Discontent. Sometimes necessary laws will have to be processed and they will cause Discontent to rise. Continue building, completing tasks and heating the city to raise Hope.
I ignore The Sick for now. I’m informed the Steel Wreckages have been depleted which means I’ve gathered all I can. I now have available workers so I pause and replace them elsewhere. To be efficient in Frostpunk you need to do this a lot until you have more workers, or you pass a law allowing children to work. Move people around to where you need it the most. I pass the emergency shift law and Discontent rises more than I anticipated. Oops.
I’ve finally managed to build 80 houses on the inner ring so at least people are happy they have homes… well tents at this point. I also have built 2 medical posts. It’s still -20.
It’s now -40 and I need to get more building on the go. I build
2 resource depots to store coal.
2 hunters huts
2 workshops (next to each other)
Building 2 of everything is a bit much at this point and I hope it doesn’t bite me later on. Usually I build a bit slower but I’m trying to make my city more efficient and get a grip on things early on.
Another pop up. People are hungry. This time I’m presented with various choices on whether to try and feed them all by x time or feed some of them by x time, each with different outcomes. I say I’ll try to feed them all.
The next pop up is people from our convoy. “With basic resources for now we can try to rescue the people we left behind.” The game wants you to research, build a beacon, and try to save as many survivors from the expedition as possible- at least 20. You’ll need a workshop (mine is already done!) to design plans for more advanced buildings.
Now I’m going to end my little Frostpunk Diary there as to not spoil too much of the scenario. This way it just gives a little taste of the choice and variety available in the game. Just like with Disco Elysium, you can make choices about who you want to be. You can play Frostpunk as a dictator who has little care of people’s feelings and only wants to survive, or you can try and be the nice guy who doesn’t put the kids to work while building care homes and shelters.
This War of Mine, another excellent game from 11bit Games has a similar vibe of bleakness and desperation. It also has the ability to tug at your heartstrings as you make near impossible choices, sometimes between life and death. It might seem silly to say but both of these games actually feel cold when you are playing them. Credit to all involved for crafting such immersive experiences, using the writing and the visuals harmoniously.
The ability to put this burden on to the player, making the player care about the city and its inhabitants, is the key to its success. The need to control every detail, combined with random events, and various paths means Frostpunk doesn’t feel repetitive in a way some games can. It’s a perfect balance of knowing what you have to achieve and trying different ways of going about it. I’m also aware that for some players that could be frustrated at first, but for me that’s what also makes it exciting. I know in this day and age I can google a game or watch a YouTube video or Stream and learn how to play it better. But I didn’t want to with Frostpunk because I liked learning how to play the game better each time I failed. That’s also part of the fun for me, and what makes me start ‘new game’ almost immediately after dying or being banished in the last one.
I would be so inclined to name it my favourite game of the year because it’s one of the few I’ve sunk the most time into and enjoyed the most. I grew up on games like Sierra’s Pharaoh then eventually graduated to Civilization, and Frostpunk feels like the next level in Survival/City Builder/Strategy games. 11bit are continuously adding new scenarios and I hope that continues. I recently played the newest scenario and it’s amazing. Leading on from the events in the first main scenario, it’s like a great episodic sequel and I urge anyone who hasn’t played it yet to give it a go. I really hope the studio continue to build on this game or games in this format, because it’s clear that they shine in these areas. When a studio can make some of the bleakest and most horrible decisions be fun to play, you know they have a masterpiece on their hands. They call it the first Society Survival game, and I really hope we see more in this vein, but only if they are handled with the skill and mastery that 11 bit keeps delivering.