So my holdout on Frostpunk lasted all of a day.
Two things convinced me. The first was watching a stream that made it more obvious the game is a city builder at its core, and since I haven’t played a game like that since Forest Village, I was interested. The second was the streamer stating the game was hard. You tell me a game in a genre I enjoy is hard, and you have my attention (assuming its not a total garbage ‘hard’ game).
All of the below is based off beating the first scenario once, in about 7-8 hours.
I’ll get a bunch of the basics out of the way first. The game runs well, only crashed once for me, and has enjoyable and sometimes surprisingly great graphics and sound. It feels and performance like a finished product, and not a title still in development.
The theme of the game is its 1888, the whole world is frozen, and you lead a group of people to build perhaps the last city. Staying warm is critical, and the temperature will rise and fall as the game goes. You need food, you need to treat frostbite, and you need wood+steel to build things. You send out scouts to explore an overworld that has points-of-interest, and there are two tech trees (an actual tech tree, and a ‘laws’ system which is a different style of tech tree that also opens up new abilities and buildings).
The gameplay itself is really interesting. As mentioned, the core of the game is building a city, but here you build with far more purpose than in most such games. In others, you build to build a larger city, while here you are building to survive, both the initial rough conditions of the cold, and the ongoing problems the game throws at you. Perhaps for the first time in city builder history, the concept of ‘disasters’ isn’t an annoying tornado making you rebuild a few items, or triggering a volcano once after you save to watch it destroy things. No, here disasters fit the setting perfectly, and how you handle them has many long-term impacts. They shape the story of your city, and by the end had me really invested in its survival.
Another change to the typical city builder formula is how you place your buildings. Rather than a normal grid system, in Frostpunk you build outward, in rings, from the central heating unit. This does two things. One, it gives the city a unique look, and one that fits the theme very well. The other is more gameplay oriented; buildings closer to the core are generally easier to keep warm. Different buildings have different sizes, and before long building the city becomes a puzzle of trying to make the pieces fit without too much wasted space.
Frostpunk is made by the developers of This War of Mine, and the strength of the narrative and the emotions of the writing shine here as brightly as they did in TWOM. What is also nice is that the story and emotions aren’t told in page-length blocks of text; the writing accomplishes so much in short, precise bursts of text, which really helps to keep the pace going. Much like TWOM, there isn’t much happiness in Frostpunk, but there are plenty of great moments where the human spirit is shown in a positive light (and plenty of negative too).
Finally, no spoilers, but the ending of the game, both the final gameplay moments and the actual ending itself, are amazing. I can’t remember the last time I’ve played a game where the ending was this good. It has me wanting to play this scenario over again, because there are a lot of things I could have done differently. I’ll likely do that once I’ve completed the two other scenarios currently in the game (devs have plans to add more as well).
If you enjoy city builders, or just unique gaming experiences, Frostpunk is can’t-miss. It snuck up on me, but its a gem easily worth the current $30 price tag.