Frostpunk is an oppressive game where the world has been covered by snow and humans have to rely on ingenuity and sacrifice to survive. It’s difficult, and it’s kicking my ass so hard that I don’t want to play it anymore. But like the frostpunks themselves, I persevere.
I’m not a strategy game quitter. I have the perseverance of spirit in me, and that means that even if I don’t think a strategy game is great, I will still stick around to complete (or fail) a game or two to see what’s going on. From turn-based to real-time, city-builder to unit-focused, I’m the kind of player who is willing to stick it out to see what happens across a broad range of strategy games. However, I keep failing at Frostpunk, and it’s really making me question how well my broad set of strategy skills can adapt to this specific game.
Frostpunk demands a lot from a player. You have to know what jobs your citizens are doing, you have to keep tabs on your always dwindling resources, and you have to have your next goal in sight. You need to be paying attention to the weather (because all your people are definitely going to get sick and die), but you also need to keep tabs on how your colony is expanding. Like all other strategy games, it’s a juggling act, and Frostpunk is clear enough in how it presents what it is asking from you that I never feel completely lost.
Maybe it’s my confidence that’s causing my undoing. Things always start going really bad around the 20 day mark of the first scenario. People are getting cold, and they’re getting sick, and then they start dying. Frostpunk has a punishing death spiral that kicks in when your workers start dying; since there are fewer workers, there are less resources being gathered, which means that it’s harder to provide for your workers, which means they get sick more readily. Repeat until game is over.
Like in most strategy games, I start over equipped with the knowledge that I died because of my own folly. This time no one gets sick. I build medical buildings and keep my citizens warm, shielding them from the awful frosty wind that chills them to their bones. But then I can’t feed anyone. My people become outraged with me, and then they kick me out of my own city. Afraid, I trudge out into the deadly wastes to freeze to death.
The next time I fail it’s because I run out of coal. The next time it’s because I went out into the world and recruited new citizens before I could properly feed or shelter them, turning them into an unruly mob. The next time it was because I just forgot to mine coal for an entire day, causing everyone in my crater city to ice up like Brendan Fraser in that one movie.
The thing is: I don’t know if this game is necessarily more difficult than other strategy games and city builders I enjoy. I love everything about the way it builds its different game systems (especially the hope and discomfort meters), and the setting is a lot more inspired and well-crafted than I initially thought it might be (Ethan nails it on the head when he writes that “Frostpunk is the kind of game where your hope meter actually rises when you build your first cemetery”). Everything is working toward making me interested and invested in figuring out what makes this frosty nightmare simulation tick.
It’s a great experience, though, because my repeated failures are a kind of simulation for what’s happening in the game. After all, you find out in the first scenario that basically all of the other colonies of frostpunky survivors have died in the wastes. It’s difficult to manage each of the aspects of society that you want to create in the game, and my inability to do so means that I keep getting to these truly tragic fail states.
Frostpunk keeps kicking my ass, but I get up again, Frostpunk ain’t never gonna keep me down.