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Frostpunk – Like Banished with Depression

by Kat Haas

From the developers of This War of Mine, a very good but depressing game about trying to keep a small group of people alive for as long as possible, comes Frostpunk, a very good but depressing game about trying to keep a large group of people alive for as long as possible.

The world has ended via an ice age. You’ve led a group of people out of 19th century London to rebuild society beneath the shadow of a giant generator in the frozen north, where vast coal deposits are your only hope of surviving.

Right off the bat, Frostpunk put me in the mind of Banished (which has some of the most hilarious Steam views I’ve ever read). The city you’re building revolves entirely around the large generator smack dab in the middle of everything, and if you don’t keep it running then you will die. At a most basic level, when you’re starting out, your 40 some people need heat. Not necessarily shelter, or even food, but they need heat. Your very first goal is to stockpile enough coal to get the generator up and keep it running for a while. If you want, you can just worry about that and not even bother providing housing for your people.

But then they get grumpy. And then they get sick. And then they die. Bad.

Unlike in This War of Mine, and in Banished, your people will actually speak to you. If you go too long without providing them with something they need, be it housing, or a place for the sick, or a reliable way of producing food, they’re going to tell you about it via a pop up. You can give them what they want, of course, but you can also compromise and only give them part of what they want, or just ignore their request completely by basically saying “I’m too busy to address this right now.” But they won’t go away. And the next time you bring it up your options are going to be a lot more limited (for example, less time to provide housing for more people).

Not only do you have to worry about all of your people getting sick and dying (or enough of them getting sick and dying that you no longer have the workforce to provide for who survives), you also have to worry about their hope and discontent. In the beginning it’s straightforward. Gather coal, wood and steel however you can. Keep the generator up. Build some houses, an infirmary, a food production chain, make some laws that enact extended work hours, emergency shifts, child labour or shelters, how to deal with the gravely ill and how the dead are treated.

Everyone has a name. Their opinions will pop up when you build something new, or sign a law, or when the temperature changes. Just because you’re dealing with more of them doesn’t mean that there isn’t an emotional weight attached. Maybe you don’t have the time or the resources to build a cemetery for your dead; bury them in the snow. At least the bodies won’t spread disease. Maybe you can’t afford to put children in shelters, even though you can then turn them into workers or engineers via education; maybe you need the extra hands right now, or the entire colony is going to die. Maybe trying to provide full rations for everyone is just too much of a strain on your resources; make them eat soup. They’ll hate it, but at least they’ll have full bellies.

There’s no true victory in Frostpunk. Every bit of coal, wood or steel, every able-bodied man or woman is a resource that needs to be carefully distributed to what’s most important for the community, not for the individual. Maybe your people will hate you because of what you have to do. Maybe they’ll understand the gravity of the situation. Either way, at least they’ll be alive.

Maybe it’s just because I like this kind of game, but I give Frostpunk a solid 5.

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