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Frostpunk Review

Frostpunk is hard. At least, at first. If you’re anything like me, you’ll start out by throwing a few of your citizens at wood piles, because wood is always critical in city builders and survival games. You’ll probably send a few to gather coal, knowing that your steam generator has to run on something. And, from there, you might put a handful of people on food duties before building a couple of bunkhouses and a medical post.

But, you’ll soon learn that the cripplingly low temperatures change everything you know about city builders. Gatherers get cold and when they get cold, they get ill. Which means, even with a population of a few dozen people, you’ll soon find that your single medical post isn’t enough. In fact, New London will be awash with medical facilities once you progress.

The cold also means that buildings shut down if they don’t have enough heat. And then, when you think you’ve got the temperature under control, your citizens start to revolt. For most of the game, it feels like your population is only one decision away from total annihilation. And, that’s probably true.

But, after a couple of failed playthroughs, you will find the economy screen. The economy screen will become your best friend, and it gives you a good chance of actually winning. In this sense Frostpunk definitely caters to the min-max gamer.

The Premise

Launched in 2018 by 11 Bit Studios, Frostpunk is a city builder and a society management game. You have to prevent your population from freezing to death, meeting their basic requirements for food, housing, and healthcare.

Initially, this will mean sending your few citizens out to manually pick up wood and coal. Over time, and after researching the appropriate technologies, you can harvest wood from the walls and coal and steel from deposits. But that takes time and it costs resources that could be spent on other things.

The aim of the first scenario, A New Home, is basically to survive through the oncoming storm, when temperatures drop even further. That temperature decrease renders most of your buildings useless and all but your mechanical robot gatherers will likely stop working. The storm lasts 48 days, and if you thought early conditions made the game tough, you are in for a real treat at -80°C.

There are 7 scenarios, in total, but they all have the same basic premise. Survive the cold.


Frostpunk Revolt

While you need to meet the basic needs of your population, you also need to ensure they have hope and don’t become too disconsolate. As well as constructing buildings to help increase hope and reduce despair, you can enact laws.

You choose whether to force people to work through the night, whether or not to chop off limbs, whether children should be sent to work, and whether to pile up bodies or have a proper cemetery. You can even decide whether your population should follow religion or your dystopian word. And your decisions do have consequences. Significant consequences. Workers may down tools. Groups may need persuading to stay in your new home. And, if things go really badly, you may even be exiled into the cold wasteland. And die.  

Frostpunk Gameplay

Frostpunk Gameplay

Available on PC and consoles, Frostpunk is well optimized for play on PlayStation and Xbox, which isn’t always the case with city builders. It is well laid out and easy enough to navigate once you get the hang of it. However, it can be difficult to differentiate some of the buildings, and you’ll struggle to find a few when you really need to. In inability to zoom in closely only exacerbates the problem.

There is a steep learning curve, and many aspects of the game are harrowing, to say the least. Initially, you will actually care what happens to your people. But, over time, you’ll learn to strongly dislike your people, which will make it easier to enact some of the more egregious laws.

Although there are 7 scenarios to play through, I needed a bit of a break after A New Home. Frostpunk kind of gets to you. And I suspect a lot of players won’t bother going any further. Which would be a shame because the scenarios do offer a little variety. One has you protecting vital seed banks, primarily using mechanized automatons, changing the way you play.

Although there are plenty of city builders available, there aren’t too many games similar to Frostpunk. It does a really good job of city building and population management. It is firefighting and crisis management, but fun… in a harrowing and disturbing way. If you’ve played 11 Bit Studios earlier title, This War of Mine, you’ll have some idea of the difficult decisions that lie ahead.

I actually loved Frostpunk. It is challenging, both in terms of gameplay and morally with some of the decisions you have to make. But, after a break, I was glad to come back to the game to try out some of the different scenarios. And, with news that Frostpunk 2 is coming straight to Game Pass later this year, it might be time to dust it off and have another go.

Frostpunk Cover Art
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