Earlier this year, we had a VGHVI discussion of Against the Storm. That game is Windows-only, so I couldn’t play it, but the discussion and a let’s play that I watched got me thinking that I probably would enjoy playing Against the Storm if it were available on console. And, during that discussion, Frostpunk came up; I started watching a let’s play of that game as well, and thought it was interesting enough that I ended up sticking with the let’s play through the game’s entire first mission.

So I was happy when we chose Frostpunk as our game to discuss in November – it’s available on Xbox Game Pass, and I was happy to have an excuse to give it a try. I figured that I’d just play through one mission; but I enjoyed it enough that I decided to play a second mission, and ended up going through all the non-DLC missions.


So yeah: a solid game. It’s a city builder survival game in frozen (and getting more and more frozen) wasteland. So you’re gathering resources, through both exploration and production; you’re making sure that you’ve got food and heat and medical care to keep people more or less healthy; you’re researching new technologies to keep your production curve ahead of the oncoming problems; and you’re enacting laws to manage people’s response to problems. It’s all well done; I was very very close to the edge of failure in my first playthrough of the initial mission, which felt like what I would want out of a game like this.

What impressed me more, though, was how the game explored its design space. I was expecting the second mission to be a lot like the first mission, just with a different set of events, and maybe a bit harder but that would be okay because I’d have a basic understanding of how the mechanics work. But that’s actually not what the designers did: the second scenario changed your population in a way that basically made a third or so of the buildings inaccessible (because you don’t have the right kind of people to operate them), and also removed the mechanic where you’d periodically discover new people during your exploration. So that meant that I had to explore different paths to accomplish my needs (e.g. because the building I’d been depending on for food in my first run was no longer available), and also I had to manage keeping my city ahead of the technology and resource curve needed to survive the increasingly cold temperatures without having an expanding population that would let me build and staff more production buildings.

And the other missions changed things up in similar ways: forcing me to explore different aspects of the possibility space, or expanding the possibility space in well thought-out ways. I appreciated that; I actually wouldn’t have minded if the game had repeated itself more, but what they actually did was more interesting. (I’m the sort of player who is prone to falling into a rut by sticking with the same strategy over and over in a given game.) Enough so that I was a little sad when I hit the end of the missions that were included in the base game; I thought about getting the DLC, but my game backlog was unusually long so I decided that it was time to move to a different game.


I’ve got quibbles with Frostpunk: while in general I think it did a good job with its tutorialization, there were some situations where I simply did not know how to accomplish some task that it was asking me to do, because they’d buried it some place I didn’t normally look. And I think they expected some of their moral choices to be weightier than they felt to me; call me callous, but if I were to find myself in the middle of an apocalyptic frozen wasteland, I would tell kids to help out instead of wringing my hands about child labor.

But none of that was enough to cause any particular problems in my enjoyment of the game. (And lord knows that most other video games do a lot worse at addressing morality.) Definitely glad I played it, and it’s probably a genre I would enjoy dipping into more. Probably also a PC-centric genre, so who knows how many such games will be available for me, but I was glad that VGHVI discussions gave me an excuse to play this one. And, for that matter, that Game Pass exists and makes it easier for me to try out games in genres that I’m not used to.

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