A snowy city in Frostpunk 2.
Image Source: 11 Bit Studios

Frostpunk 2 Hands-On Preview – My City Might Fall

No walk in the (snowy) park.

I was terrible at Frostpunk 2. Prior to my two or so hours of hands-on playtime, I’d been warned by other journalists and creators to expect something brutally difficult. In fact, going into the play session without prior experience of the first game was basically a cardinal sin. I’d heard all about how the game consistently teeters on the precipice of a game-over screen at all times, I was both apprehensive and curious as to whether it could truly be that hard.

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Having now played more than two hours of Frostpunk 2’s story mode, I completely get it. It’s the most in-depth and engrossing city-builder I’ve ever played, with a difficulty spike that’s definitely noticeable, but never feels unfair.

A city in the development process in Frostpunk 2.
Image Source: 11 Bit Studios

Fortunately, I was relieved to see the comforting presence of a difficulty toggle when booting up the story mode. It didn’t make things a cakewalk at all—I still saw my fair share of game-over screens—but it definitely made me less intimidated going in. While that option does exist, it doesn’t alter just how in-depth the city management mechanics are, meaning you’ll need to spend a lot of time thoroughly reading the extensive tutorials that pop up as you play.

Set 30 years after the original game, your task in Frostpunk 2 is no longer to set up a civilization in a world ravaged by famine and environmental disasters. Instead, the threats come from within your city; you’ll be more concerned about keeping your citizens happy over repelling enemy invasions.

This is thanks to an in-depth factions system where various groups with different political and religious ideologies constantly pull your city Steward in different directions. It’s all about your strategy in managing these disparate voices: do you pick a few to keep happy by allocating them funds and passing favorable laws, or try to placate all of these groups? Almost all actions have an impact on these allegiances, so you’re constantly walking the tightrope of societal unrest.

The Icebloods faction in the Frostpunk 2 council.
Image Source: 11 Bit Studios

As such, the longer I lasted in my save the more rewarded I felt. After all, it’s no accident that Frostpunk 2 is a difficult game; every element is so meticulously detailed and well fleshed out that even the slightest progress feels like a victory for your Steward. Overcoming fuel shortages in the opening hours, and gradually expanding your communities to explore nearby settlements, feels like you’re making tangible progress, rather than just checking off objectives.

Of course, you’ll never get too comfortable as the benevolent ruler of a fledgling community. Frostpunk 2 is littered with tough decisions to make, some of which don’t rear their ugly heads until several hours in.

In the opening weeks, you have to choose between killing a family of seals to eat them or letting them live by sacrificing older members of your community. There’s no clear right or wrong, and you only feel the ramifications of this choice much later on. Some of your dilemmas are far more clear-cut: first, you can choose whether or not to send your city’s children to work in the mines, and then you can choose whether to save them or not when a fire erupts. SimCity, this certainly isn’t.

A new feature in Frostpunk 2 is the robust law-making mechanic, which also feeds into factions and their approval of you. Before passing a law, you generally have to research its ramifications and likely popularity levels at your Research Center, before determining whether to put it to the Council or not. To curry favor for a policy you can make promises to factions, getting them on-side by ensuring they’ll get kickback in some way. The small ways you can influence the vote is nail-biting as you watch the ballots come in, but the process itself does get slightly repetitive if you’re constantly passing laws each time the Council’s recess ends.

A snowy city in Frostpunk 2.
Image Source: 11 Bit Studios

What I found most engaging about Frostpunk 2 is how the entire trajectory of your save can turn without a moment’s notice. Your entire time is spent spinning plates, whether it’s ensuring your residential areas are disease-free or stockpiling coal reserves so you can survive imminent blizzards. If you rest on your laurels for even one moment, discontent spreads like wildfire and you’ll be swimming against the tide to prevent your meticulously planned city from falling to pieces.

So yes, I was very bad at Frostpunk 2. By the end of the preview session, I was having a hard time keeping my Stewardship together – but that’s all part of the fun. For those hours I was utterly engrossed in this desolate world, constantly hovering between elation and despair as I both kept my society marching forward but also witnessed the horrors this harsh landscape would constantly send my way. It’s hard, sure, but also incredibly rewarding.


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Author
Image of Luke Hinton
Luke Hinton
Luke Hinton is a video games journalist currently working as Senior Guides Writer and Associate Editor at Twinfinite. He has undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Journalism, Media, and Culture, and previously specialised in entertainment writing.
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