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Frostpunk 2 makes you hold a wolf by the ears as it snaps at you

Human nature may be a bigger problem than the eternal ice
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Frostpunk is a survival city builder that takes place in the midst of an apocalypse. Players have to make brutal decisions in the hopes of securing their people’s immediate survival, even if they may lose some of their humanity along the way. Its sequel, Frostpunk 2, picks up the pieces of these desperate battles and decisions – it’s a post-apocalyptic game in the truest sense of the word. It asks what comes after the desperate struggle for survival has been won and brings up questions and situations that may be more dangerous than the eternal ice.

Frostpunk 2 ups the scale when compared to its predecessor. This much is immediately clear to me as I watch a developer play at gamescom 2023. Where you commanded a small band of survivors before, you now steer the fate of an entire metropolis. No longer do you need to scavenge for food and fuel or build singular production facilities. You construct entire districts and time is no longer measured in days, but weeks and months. Humankind’s immediate battle for survival is over – it’s time to rebuild society. What should this society look like, though?

Frostpunk 2 screenshot of a snowed in city.

Frostpunk 2's scale is a lot bigger than the original game's.

It’s this question around which everything revolves in Frostpunk 2. You’ll still be faced with plenty of crisis situations and dilemmas, you’ll still need to make tough decisions – but instead of being a benevolent tyrant, who can enact laws at a whim, you now serve a council of your people. This council will contain different factions with their own ideologies and methods to solve the issues in the city like engineers and foragers. Following one direction will upset the other factions and they may band together against you. You’ll need to politick, negotiate, compromise, do favors and call them in – it’s a subversion of the power fantasy from the original game.

Getting factions to vote for your choice of policy will cost you and if you’re not careful you’ll be so trapped in a net of favors and compromises that you’ll end up being a mere puppet, a powerless figurehead. Perhaps that’s for the best? After all, if you’ve helped your favored faction to become the dominant political force, it may build the society you want on its own. But human nature is a complicated thing. Everyone thinks that their own way of rebuilding society is best. Everyone has faith that their methods are righteous. And if cornered by a dominant force that follows a different line of thinking, violence may be your only answer.

Frostpunk 2, the developers emphasize at every opportunity, is a society survival game that uses the external structure of a city builder. On the outside, your job is to govern well – you still need to ensure that everyone has food and heat, is healthy, and has space to live. But there are tons of different and competing ideas for how to achieve that and it’s these ideas along which your city’s population will eventually split – after all, the answers to a specific problem very much depend on who you ask. Hence there is no traditional research system in the game. Instead, you explore the different ideas factions bring up to solve problems. You can work on getting a specific idea enshrined in law through the council, working with the representatives of all factions. But they can also enact laws against your will – at the end of the day, you are a servant now, needing to work inside a constitutional framework.

So even though you may be of the opinion that every child in your city should get an education at school, if the majority of the council believes that they should instead stay at home to help their parents with work, there is very little you can do, unless you’re willing to make a deal with the devil – and promise to give assent to something you may be even less comfortable with in the future. Politics can get dirty.

Frostpunk 2 screenshot of the map.

Naturally the world not only contains your city. There are other people and events out there in the ice.

As you and the council make decisions, people will react to the consequences and their thoughts will give you hints as to the long term trends in your city. As mentioned before, if a faction feels unheard and ignored, even oppressed, for a while, its members will become more radical. Likewise, if a faction is dominant for too long, it may well use oppressive methods to convert everyone into followers whether they’re willing or not.

Frostpunk 2 comes both with a story mode as well as a sandbox campaign. In the latter, called the Utopia Builder, both the map and the factions present in your city differ. This makes each run unique, as you juggle different ideas and try to find some solution that leads to a society which can not only survive, but do so happily. Even the sandbox mode will contain narrative elements, though, which give structure to the playthrough.

Frostpunk 2 screenshot of a city with UI.

Naturally, if you let your city fall to hunger and cold, all those nice ideas will be for nothing.

11 bit Studios promises that Frostpunk 2 will be as challenging as its predecessor and seeing their vision first hand, it’s easy to deduct why: Human nature tends to be both a blessing and a curse. Roman emperor Tiberius once supposedly said that governing is like holding a wolf by its ears as its jaws snap at you – and it seems like this is the kind of experience that you’ll get from Frostpunk 2.