Frostpunk takes place in 1886, where you have to ensure the survival of the last remaining people on earth after climate change has plunged the world into a new ice age.
The game lets you know very soon that humanity has a bleak future in store for it and that you’ll have to make tough decisions if you want to weather the storm.
At Mother Nature’s mercy
In Frostpunk’s world, humanity has constructed giant coal-burning generators to protect itself from total annihilation.
As the leader of a fleeing group of Londoners, you must start and maintain a generator that your group found in the frozen north.
The temperature is initially -20 degrees Celcius, but this number will drop even further as the game progresses.
Heat is the lifeblood of your city, and keeping the generator running is your primary goal, as everything else’s operation depends on it.
Additionally, the temperature is linked to your citizens’ health — if your workers spend too much time in the cold, they will become sick and be unable to work.
Frostpunk heavily emphasises resource management — you have to keep careful track of coal, wood, steel, food, and most importantly, your workers.
Your workforce is divided into regular labourers and engineers. You can assign labourers to any building or task, but you need engineers for specialist jobs like scientists and doctors.
Engineers are also the only units that can run a workshop, which you will need to research new technologies to improve your chances of success.
Now is the winter of our discontent
It’s not just nature’s wrath that you have to worry about, though, since neglecting your citizens’ needs can quickly make your city fall into disarray.
Throughout the game, these needs will evolve based on the conditions your citizens find themselves in.
For example, if you focus solely on stockpiling resources at the beginning of the game and forego building any houses, you might get a request to build 80 homes within three days.
Failure to meet the goal by the deadline will result in discontent rising and hope decreasing.
You can expect some dire consequences if this becomes the case — it usually involves uprisings where mobs of angry citizens cut your gameplay session short by either banishing or murdering you.
To help manage discontent, hope, and resources, you can use the Book of Laws to pass a law at regular intervals.
For example, you can pass a law that would allow you to use children as labourers, which increases discontent but could help you survive in the long run, or you can build child shelters to house children during the day.
Each law you pass affects hope or discontent levels, and you will have to choose wisely if you want to make it to the endgame.
However, about halfway through the main story, Frostpunk expands the law system to introduce you to the true game-changer — the morality system.
At this point, you must choose how to enforce discipline in your society — will you use Order, or will you rule by Faith?
Order involves keeping citizens in line with things like a neighbourhood watch, guard patrols, and propaganda, which can quickly evolve into public beatings.
On the other hand, Faith starts with morning prayers and churches but takes a more sinister turn as you implement measures like public penance.
Either pathway will involve making some morally ambiguous decisions where you have to weigh survival with your citizens’ freedom.
This moral balancing act is one of my favourite aspects of Frostpunk’s gameplay because it adds a unique layer of depth to a game that would otherwise just be a run-of-the-mill city builder.