There is only cold.
The world of Frostpunk is unforgiving and you are charged with the survival of its people. Frostpunk is a survival game like none other. Your goal is not to wander the wilderness in search of a better home. The city, New London, is your home. You will either survive here, or humanity will perish.
Developed by 11 bit studios, Frostpunk is a game about a world undergoing a climate crisis. One different than the one we will face. The world of Frostpunk is freezing. The game takes place in an alternate history one where it seems the cooling effect from the eruption of Krakatoa never ended. A winter, like none before, is coming.
I want to warn you right now, this article will contain spoilers for the A New Home scenario. Since Frostpunk is primarily a strategy game though, these spoilers will serve to help you on your playthrough should you choose to continue reading.
My first try at Frostpunk’s main scenario, A New Home, started poorly. I began my having my workers harvest the resources of the ice crater surrounding the great generator that was our only source of heat. As my workers gathered resources, they started to become ill. I built more hunting lodges to hopefully provide them more food. I filled medical centers, but nothing worked. Worst of all, their homes grew cold as the global winter worsened.
I started pulling apart their tents and used the wood to build bunkhouses. I later tore down the bunkhouses to build real homes in a desperate struggle to keep the people warm. My population continued to get ill. A survivor of another city arrived and declared the other city’s doom. Hope plummeted.
A faction called the Londoners rose to power. Their desire, evacuate the city. Head south, return to London. Surely things can’t be worse than they are here. The people of New London declared they would remove me from power if I did not resolve their crisis of hope. The church was established. Hope became a religion. Shires were built. Mines dug into the frozen earth where my gatherers had once worked. Miraculously, people started to get better.
That was when I learned the error of my ways. My gatherers didn’t have huts to warm themselves in during their shifts. This led to frostbite and illness. The reason things got better as people started working in the mines was that the mines had heaters. Similarly, I never had to tear down houses to upgrade them. I could have just had a new house built on the same spot. This would have conserved valuable resources and taken less time. By the time I learned these lessons, the damage was done.
One hundred forty-one people wanted to leave my city and head back to London. One hundred forty-one people out of three hundred twelve. Anyone who leaves the warmth of the generator will die. I was left with few choices.
I could not convince the Londoners to stay. Hope in the city had fallen too far for that. I could not give them enough equipment and food to give them a fighting chance; our supplies were too low. I couldn’t let them leave. At the start of the scenario, I promised myself this playthrough was about keeping as many people alive, no matter the cost.
I ordered my religious zealots to keep the Londoners in the city. Fourteen people died. Twenty-nine people were wounded. After the conflict, we were one city, forever.
Things started to look better. I learned how to manage my resources. I started accepting refugees from other settlements into the city. My coal supply was steady and could always keep the people warm. Despite all the trouble things were looking up. I even had too much food. Then a great storm wall was seen on the horizon.
Waves of refugees arrived, telling of doom following them. My scientists reported that a great storm was coming. We ran out of wood. Houses could not be built fast enough to keep the refugees warm. People began dying in the street. On the fortieth day of my rule as Captain of New London, the people once again demanded that I restore their hope. I was ordered to build houses for the homeless, shelters for the sick, and stockpile food for the coming storm.
Food wasn’t the hard part. My greenhouses produced plenty. I could not build homes or clinics though. Due to a lack of steel earlier I overly invested in steelworks. My sawmills were nearly nonfunctional. What wood came from them went into the kilns to become coal for the generator. Discontent rose.
People became restless. Anyone who lost hope, and therefore faith, was banished. I didn’t have enough beds as it was, their fate would be the same in or out of the city. Weeks earlier, I had agonized over my decision to force the Londoners to stay. The day before the storm wall hit, I was barely phased by my decision to exile nineteen people, five more than died during the Londoner riot.
The storm hit. Hope was still low. I kept the generator burning. The greenhouses froze. We had enough food for the week. The coal, might not last that long though. People began dying in their homes. Despite my best efforts, their walls were not insulated enough from the storm. Three days into the storm over one hundred people had died, twenty percent of my population. That was when my people said enough.
I was exiled.
I did all I could. I did my best. I didn’t know any better when I started. The world only ends once. The people didn’t need a leader who would do better next time. They needed a leader who didn’t need a second chance.
As they left me to the cold, the fires of the great generator still burned. The coal mines still ran. The sawmills spun and the food was still safe. My people had the tools to survive. Too bad I did not see if they would.
Frostpunk is a hard game. It forces you to make hard choices. Which is exactly what I expect from the makers of This War of Mine. Unlike their previous title, Frostpunk is not all despair. When my city had hope, I had hope. If you like city building strategy games I recommend Frostpunk. Be warned though it isn’t mechanically deep, and it isn’t trying to be. Unlike other city builders, you are not some mayor trying to balance a budget or attract tourists. The only number you care about is the number of people you can keep warm and fed.
The game does a good job of gently increasing the difficulty for you. This keeps you always at attention. Just as you think you have your resource engine running and things are looking good, the temperature will drop and you’ll have to work even harder to keep everyone alive.
I was unable to continue playing This War of Mine after my first few attempts. It was too heartbreaking. Frostpunk is the first game in a very long time where I feel it challenged me to complete it. For that reason alone I would suggest checking the game out. But try to avoid looking up strategies. The real impact of the game comes from knowing you did you best and things were still hard.
I will answer Frostpunk’s challenge. I will build a city that survives the storm. I believe spring will come.
Update: Immediately after writing this I sat back down and played the A New Home scenario from start to finish. I could not rest without guiding my people through the storm. I’m not sure what the last game I played that haunted me like that was. For that reason alone I recommend it.
Update 2: Frostpunk is on sale for $11.99 through January 27th 2020. If this is your kind of game, this is an amazing price you don’t want to miss.