Frostpunk – PC Review

Frostpunk – PC Review
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Genre:  Survival
Developer:  11 bit studios
Publisher: 11 bit studios
Release Date: April 24, 2018
Edited by AlexKnight2005

When I first started playing Frostpunk for the first time, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was getting into. It is a colony builder survival game, that much I was sure of. Being a veteran of other survival games such as Rimworld and Oxygen Not Included, I thought this game might give me at least a fresh take on the genre. Oh, boy, did Frostpunk ever deliver. Frostpunk does something that very few other survival games have done: it gives you a goal. I don’t mean the same, generic “Survive forever” goal present in Rimworld and, until recently, Oxygen Not Included.

In Frostpunk, your goal is to overcome the specific challenge the game campaign throws at you. I won’t reveal exactly what that challenge is here since that would spoil the story. However, there IS a definite victory condition of surviving that challenge once it arrives. That’s not saying surviving long enough to overcome, or even discover the challenge is in the first place, is a piece of cake either. Frostpunk doesn’t pull any of its punches about being a survival game. There are many ways to fail, and the game steps up its difficulty regularly. It works to keep you on your toes through its entire campaign, while it tells a story of increasing hardship centered around the simple recurring theme: It’s cold out there, and it’s getting colder.

The game has a top-down building placement interface reminiscent of Real-Time Strategy games, such as Warcraft or Starcraft. Gameplay seems simple at first glance but contains a complexity below the
surface that will likely frustrate a new player’s first few attempts at the game. Everything is centered around the generator, a structure that provides your only source of warmth to ward against the cold.
Buildings are placed on a circular grid that expands outward from the generator at its center. It provides the heated area that, at least at first, provides a liveable space for your colonists to sleep. As days pass and the weather gets harsher, however, the initial settings on the generator just aren’t enough to keep your people warm and happy.

At that point how you’ve chosen to prioritize your research and technology upgrades begin to matter more and more. As more people move into your little sanctuary from the cold it becomes important to
not only increase the amount of heat the generator can put out, but also, increase the area it can distribute that heat to and provide a liveable area for the additional people. Part of the challenge in the game is simply finding a layout for your base that works throughout the course of the game. As your generator’s heat zone expands, areas which were once acceptable for self-heated buildings become prime real-estate for housing, which invariably need to be placed in a generator heated area.

Supplies are scarce in the Frostland, and the few stockpiles of scattered materials just aren’t going to be enough to keep your colony going. Additional research is going to be required to gain access to new
sources of material and increase the rate at which those sources provide, including the most vital resource of all: Coal. As more upgrades for the generator are researched, it becomes more and more coal hungry, and additional research is going to be needed to generate enough coal to keep the increasingly hungry generator fed. The generator itself isn’t the only technology that requires your attention, however. You also need to feed and shelter your survivors and build a myriad of structures that keep them healthy and happy.

As conditions worsen, your survivors will need additional technology to keep them warm. Heaters are needed to keep their workplaces liveable. In addition to upgrading the heat and area the generator provides, additional technologies are necessary to increase the insulation your survivors’ homes provide against the cold. More technologies are also needed to increase the amount of food your hunters can bring in, so you can provide meals to each of your survivors. Providing food and shelter to your survivors isn’t the only challenge you face, however. You also need to keep their discontent levels down and their hope levels up, and provide medical facilities for when (not if) they get sick. Failing to tend to the needs of your survivors can trigger a failure condition, as either high discontent or low hope can cause your little colony to decide it would be better off without you.

The game gives you some ability to manage discontent and hope in the form of a “Book of Laws” where you may make policy decisions that provides useful tools for combating discontent and raising the spirits of your survivors. Researching upgrades and passing laws to provide for all these needs can be difficult at times, and a first-time player will likely be overwhelmed by the simple complexity of it all. True to the Survival genre, experience is the best teacher, and each game the player should come back armed with additional knowledge needed to conquer the elements and keep their survivors happy. I wouldn’t expect a new player to succeed on their first or even second or third attempt at the game.

The story of the game centers around the one simple fact: It’s cold out there. Something triggered a global winter, and all indications show it’s going to get worse before it gets any better. Your little band of survivors is doing alright… for now. But what about others? You can send expeditions out into the Frostland to find other survivors and bring them back to your settlement, or scavenge for useful supplies your settlement needs. You can also investigate what happened to the other settlements. Your generator is not the only one that was built. What happened to the others? Searching for answers in the lands surrounding your own generator can provide clues, and bring hope to your settlement… or further despair.

Personally, I found the story to be very heavy-handed in its judgmentalism. As the story progresses, you may be forced to take more and more drastic measures to preserve unity, combat discontent, and build hope. The game doesn’t tell you where the tipping point is, but passing laws after a certain point in the tree in the book of laws can cause what I consider to be a non-standard failure condition: You went too far. It doesn’t immediately cause a game over but after all, that is said and done and you reach the victory screen, you’re given the judgemental verdict: “Order/Faith was abused.” If you can get over the heavy-handed political statements built into the game’s story, Frostpunk is an enjoyable few hours at a time, trying different things to survive through the crises. If you’re like me though and enjoy seeing just how far you can go? Frostpunk has additional scenarios and game modes to offer further challenges and alternate takes on the storyline.

In The Arks, rather than caring for survivors, your goal is to protect several ark buildings full of seedlings preserved against the winterstorm. You must build automatons and protect the seedings — at any cost! The “Refugees” scenario deals with a group of poor refugees that seized a generator meant for the wealthy. New refugees will arrive every day or few, including the wealthy lords the generator was meant for! You must take care of the needs of the growing population… and keep them from tearing each other apart! The Fall of Winterhome has you taking power after a previous leader has been thrown out for their mismanagement of the settlement. You must repair the situation and get the settlement back on track to survival… before it’s too late and things get worse! In addition to these extra scenarios, there is an endless mode using any of the scenario maps, as well as several new maps. How long can you survive in the increasingly hostile conditions?

If this isn’t enough Frostpunk challenge for you, “The Rifts” DLC adds an additional map type to the endless mode in which building space is limited, and your resources are scattered over several isolated islands which must be connected with bridges to be accessed. Can you bridge the gaps and reach those crucial far off resources? Still not enough Frostpunk challenge for you? The “Last Winter” DLC provides an additional story campaign, set just before the global winter set in. Your mission is to manage your workforce sent to build the generator. It’s unusually cold, and who knows what the lords are thinking with this crazy project? But as time goes on and it starts to get cold, it begins to dawn on the workers just how important the project to build the generator really is! This scenario also adds the “The Builders” Endless mode in which you must start by building the generator, available to all previous endless map types as well. Want to REALLY test your mettle? Try combining “The Builders” endless mode type with “The Rifts” map.

Overall, I found Frostpunk to be a satisfying challenge. The story does leave quite a bit to be desired, as many questions brought up by the story are left unanswered by the end of it. The heavy-handed political statements presented by the game are a little hard to swallow but can be ignored entirely if you just want to play your own way. However, the game contains a considerable amount of challenging survival content and still has more to come. We’ve long known that this wasn’t going to be the end of the Frostpunk content and 11 Bit Studios finally announced that its final expansion, On “The Edge”, is soon to be released. At the price point of $29.99 for the base game, I found it to be money well spent. For the base price, you get the “A New Home” main story campaign, The Arks, The Refugees, and The Fall of Winterhome additional campaigns, and Endless mode utilizing any of the campaign maps as well as several others.

For an additional $29.98, you can get the season pass including The Rifts map type for Endless modes, The Last Autumn campaign and additional endless mode type, and the upcoming new expansion and all it will add to the game. I personally find the Season Pass to be a little pricey for what it currently brings to the table, but we still have yet to see what On The Edge will add to the game.

Pros:

  • Challenge to satisfy the survival enthusiast
  • Multiple story campaigns and game modes provide a great amount of replayability
  • Even more to come

Cons:

  • Season pass a little expensive for current content
  • Heavy-handed political statements built into the story

Shadou gives this Frostpunk a Drastik Measure of 7.5 out of 10 (75)