In 2014, Polish developer 11 bit studios released the award-winning This War of Mine, a survival game focused on the civilian perspective of war. Last year, the developer announced their return to the survival genre, this time in a vastly different setting. Enter Frostpunk, a brutal look at the struggle of surviving in a frozen wasteland.
Frostpunk's first trailer, "The Fall," released last August. In it, viewers got to get a glimpse at the perils that this new frostbitten world would unleash. During E3 2017, developers divulged gameplay details.
Rather than centering on the individual like This War of Mine, Frostpunk looks at society as a whole and how it handles the most extreme situations. "What [is] society capable of when pushed to the limits? Are we able to survive? Who do we become in the process?" asks the informational materials for the game.
Frostpunk takes place in an alternate reality 19th century with civilization erased by a deep freeze and only small bits of humanity remain. The player takes control of an expedition seeking means of survival, and in this world, that means finding a generator. They locate this crucial resource, but of course, plans have gone awry. A storm has isolated the small band of survivors around a frozen generator inside of a crater.
As the game begins, the player will have to get the generator going by gathering supplies before beginning construction of a city. From there, gameplay takes the approach of the city builder with resource gathering limitations and daily survival goals such as warmth and food. What differentiates it is the emotional element. Every decision the player makes will have some sort of consequence for the individual inhabitants as well as the society as a whole. Choices will come down to morality weighed against survivability.
"The game is about survival, but it's really about survival of the society, not any one particular individual," said Jakub Stokalski, Senior Lead Designer at 11 bit studios during an E3 demonstration. The leader mechanic forces players to make far-reaching decisions that look out for the good of the group (aka a rational strategy for survival). But the game's design will have the player be up and personal with the personal impact of those decisions.
Enacting laws is a core feature of Frostpunk. An early example may be the choice to use child labor or how to deal with the sick and injured. Survivors will then gain or lose "hope" or "discontentment" metrics based on decisions. The society then shapes around not only chosen laws but how they are established. The survivors won't merely do the bidding of the player. They react and form opinions.
For example, if a player decides to use child labor, the citizens will generally accept the necessity of the act but will comment about it. The long-term consequences unfold as the game plays out.
Players will start out with an initial group of survivors, but beacons will let any others discover the location of the settlement. Utilizing the workforce effectively will be a challenge for players. They are key to building resources like medical posts or even shelters, but they are a limited supply. Pushing the workforce to work in unsafe or cold conditions can lead them to be sick or injured and that will strain the population. Research unlocks new technology, but that, of course, requires labor. The world initially starts in the crater but expands to more locations (the scope of exploration is not yet known).
Like any city builder, the goal is to create an impressive settlement, but the survival element adds the need for planning. "You are expected, as the leader of these people, to strategize into the future and not just react to problems as they come," said Stokalski, "doing that will get you nowhere."
Frostpunk will have a sandbox mode with randomized challenges as well as a story mode. Stokalski estimated that the story mode would take players around 30-40 in-game days to complete. The game is currently in pre-alpha and the developers are hoping to finish by the end of 2017. Stokowski, however, did mention that the team has a focus on quality, and if the game needs more time, it will be taken.