Frostpunk 2 Makes Brutal Politics a Fantastic Game of Survival

Frostpunk 2 Makes Brutal Politics a Fantastic Game of Survival

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City builders and survival games can be difficult genres to ease yourself into. They can seem especially daunting when they’re a sequel to a predecessor built on as complex foundations as Frostpunk was. It’s pleasantly surprising, then, that Frostpunk 2 feels so welcoming to new players. As someone not fully versed in the two genres it blends so delicately, and with just a handful of hours in the original Frostpunk, I loved my time with its prettier, and thoroughly political sequel. Largely thanks to the neverending series of moral conundrums thrown my way, I had a lot of fun in New London, even if all of the citizens I tried to save experienced the complete opposite.

Tasked with building and evolving a city to combat the endless cold, Frostpunk 2 shares its objective with the original. But everything has increased in scale in the sequel. Instead of constructing individual buildings, you’ll create entire city districts with the click of a button. Time is no longer measured in minutes, but ticks by in weeks and months. And, perhaps most importantly and most fun of all, a greater emphasis is now placed on the politics of the world and the influence of the factions residing in it.

But before I could allow my political machinations to play out, I had to navigate the tutorial – a must for both experienced and newcomer Frostpunk players due to the sweeping gameplay changes. The motto of Frostpunk 2 is “The city must not fall”. Well, it did within 20 minutes. Tasked with keeping a small community of Wanderers safe, they quickly lost faith in me after being left freezing cold and worked to the bone. I learned from my mistakes, though, and treated my humble population with greater care next time around.

This tutorial may have only been a half an hour prologue but it set up the tension of what it takes to survive in Frostpunk 2 perfectly. I was given 76 weeks to stockpile 40,000 food rations before a severe whiteout arrived, covering the settlement in a thick snowstorm. I achieved this with just two weeks to spare by navigating through a neighbouring ice shelf and locating four different food resource deposits and harvesting them for all they were worth.

It less so positions an angel and a devil on your shoulder, but two devils of which one enjoys harming a certain percentage of the population more than the other.

I did this by engaging with the new “frostbreak” mechanic, which allows you to thaw eight hexagonal areas of the segmented world map at a time so that their resources can be extracted from the frozen ground and utilised. These resources range from fuel, construction materials, and in this case, food. Once frost broken, I was then able to begin building food districts on each spot, and designated a workforce to each. But it quickly became apparent that the rate at which I was stockpiling food would never be enough, so choices had to be made. Did I demand double shifts from each of the workers or sacrifice a local group of sea lions to bolster rations? The animals hadn’t done anything wrong (and let’s face it were likely mostly blubber anyway) so I chose the former option. I was rewarded with great success. All it cost was working almost everyone to death.

This was just the prologue, though, and a smaller, gentler taste of the sort of ethical decisions Frostpunk 2 loves to throw at you. It less so positions an angel and a devil on your shoulder, but two devils of which one enjoys harming a certain percentage of the population more than the other. And so, it was time to begin the main story and head to New London to solve the coal crisis left behind following the passing of the Captain (the character played in the original Frostpunk) and begin the story mode in earnest.

A circular city emanating from its fiery, smoke-belching central generator, New London will conjure up memories for experienced players, but the way it’s expanded upon in the sequel is entirely different. Gone are the days of building out in concentric circles and in are the days of the hexagon as you commit urban sprawl out in any direction you choose thanks to the aforementioned frostbreaking.

It makes for a much more malleable set of construction systems that let you focus on which way you’d like to expand your city and the resources and philosophical direction you’d like to take it in. At first you’ll be given specific goals to achieve, such as increasing coal supplies, but soon you’ll be left to your own devices and allowed to make your own fatal mistakes.

There also seems like there’s slightly less of an emphasis on resource gathering this time around, and more focus on the people you’re charged with keeping alive – the most precious resource of all. I found myself regularly running out of workforce numbers to man new industrial or excavation districts due to legions of my population coughing themselves to death. Stemming the flow of disease is crucial, and something I wished I realised earlier before it wiped out hundreds of families.

The most interesting of Frostpunk 2’s new additions – the Council system.

People are the key to progress then, and nowhere is this displayed more than in the most interesting of Frostpunk 2’s new additions – the Council system. Building new districts and stockpiling resources may keep your city ticking over, but in order to implement real change, you’ll need to get laws passed in the Council. This parliament-like body is made up (at least to begin with) of three separate factions: The Stalwarts see order as a core tenet of the city and are devoted to the memory of the fallen Captain; the Frostlanders adapt to whatever challenges nature throws their way; and the New Londoners value technology and the advancement of society.

In order to pass any new law you’ll need to secure a majority of at least 51% of votes. Sometimes this is simple, sometimes a challenge. For example, the very first referendum I faced was one about whether I should remain in charge as steward. I’d already curried favour with the Stalwarts as I funded them with extra members to patrol the city, but they only made up 13% of the council’s numbers. Frostlanders and New Londoners consisted of 43% and 44% respectively and were both neutral towards me, so it was clear I’d need to sway one in order to gain the necessary votes. This is where the war was won as I offered to implement a proposed law of the New Londoners that supported greater extraction efforts which would in turn provide more materials for buildings.

This gave me a safe majority, but I could have taken a couple of other riskier options, including letting the vote just play out to see where the neutral voices ended up, or even wielding an iron fist to pressure delegates into voting my way, which would in turn worsen my relations with all three communities. It’s this balance of making the correct decision for the greater good of the city at every turn that is at the core of Frostpunk 2.

With a girthy book of laws to get your head around there appears to be a lot of room for tailoring the rules of your city to your own image. Some revolve around preventing disease spreading, whereas some revolve around child labour. All have one thing in common however – they’re never going to be universally praised. Even when you think you have everything relatively under control, Frostpunk 2 will throw a new wrinkle your way that changes how you govern everything. For example, the emergence of a new faction.

These political dilemmas and frequent twists and turns that emerge naturally through gameplay make Frostpunk 2 consistently engaging.

Halfway through my play session, 600 Frostlanders defected to form the Pilgrims. A community held together by traditions of ages past, they now held 9% of the vote in any council session, and let me tell you, they weren’t a fan of me and my technologically progressive ways. It gave me a new enjoyable headache to contend with – did I continue on my path to make New London a modern technological marvel, or bend my beliefs slightly to appease the Pilgrims? Doing so and building up enough good faith from them would allow me to periodically trigger their faction ability of sending out search parties to look for extra survivors and therefore bolster that ever-precious workforce.

These political dilemmas and frequent twists and turns that emerge naturally through gameplay make Frostpunk 2 consistently engaging, even in its relatively relaxed opening couple of hours. I hope that this is something that can still be experienced dozens of hours down the line as things, presumably, get ever-increasingly complicated to manage.

It’s also key to note that Frostpunk 2 is a gorgeous game too, regularly adding a level of sheen and sparkle to otherwise macabre dioramas. Snow and ice twinkle, while the industrial buildings impress with their steampunk-infused architecture. For a world focussed on building bulging cities, the level of detail is truly impressive, not only to the eyes but ears also. The overworld is soundtracked by yearning, swirling Oppenheimer-esque strings, while zooming in on different districts will greet you with a variety of soundscapes ranging from chugging smokestacks to chattering children.

It’s just a shame that those children may not be playfully laughing for long, then. Frostpunk 2 is a game all about making tough choices in a delicate balancing act that makes you pause at every decision. And, sometimes, those moral conundrums end in you just having to send 112 troublemaking children down the mines, then blocking off their air supply to stop a fire from going out of control and losing that coal deposit completely. It just had to be done. Then 17-year-old George Fairweather has the cheek to tell me he’s missing his little sister. This is a fun game, I promise.

Simon Cardy should never be left in charge of a burgeoning industrial power. Follow him on Twitter at @CardySimon.

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