Frostpunk 2 wants to prove leading a civilization is tough work

While some city builders and strategy games are power fantasies that let you lead a country, Frostpunk 2 knows being in charge isn't all it's cracked up to be.

11 bit studios

As someone who has never been great at city builders and hardly played PC strategy games like Civilization, I was quite anxious travelling to Warsaw to play the opening hours of Frostpunk 2 at 11 bit studio’s Hands-On Event for 2024. I obviously did my research and played plenty of the first game before traveling but I never felt like I got good at keeping my frost-blighted city running or even my citizens alive. While Frostpunk 2 isn’t an easier game by any means, it is certainly a very different game.

The City in a snow-covered valley

Source: 11 bit studios

Frostpunk 2, while still demanding you keep your subjects warm and fed and sheltered, moves the focus away from just survival of the elements and towards surviving the cutthroat world of politics. This change in tone can be seen in the game’s art direction. The City is now somewhat established, you survived the end of the world, so what comes next? As workers hurry to and from their mines and food depots the streets are aglow with trailing lights of city life, the world of Frostpunk 2 is just as harsh as the first game but people have begun to adapt. The game’s co-director and lead art director, Łukasz Juszczyk, told me that giving the world this light isn’t to signify that things have gotten better but it is, “a way to represent [continued] life and the passage of time” in the universe.

While things have changed, the story of Frostpunk 2 opens with a prologue designed to remind you that this is still a harsh world that is out to kill you. In fact, looking around the preview event, I noticed several people (including myself) fail the prologue the first time as you’re given only a handful of weeks to prepare and survive the first dramatic drop in temperature.

A government scene from Frostpunk 2

Source: 11 bit studios

By the time this prologue ends, you’ll have established what could generously be described as a government, where laws and rules can be passed that will impact the running of your city. You’ll then jump forward a bit to a time when the city has established itself more. You’re dropped into the opening act and several factions/political parties have already formed on the ice. Some of these groups are technocratic in nature while others are quasi-religious organizations, and they all have different opinions about how you should be running The City. While you’ll quickly have to begin voting on laws, Juszczyk doesn’t want players to get too bogged down in the political process, instead, he says these factions were designed to, “set a scene, a theater, for showing how different ideas [of how to survive] are clashing [at the end of the world].”

These laws can range from simple to massively consequential. From “Let's build a mining research facility” to “So just how old do these kids have to be before we set them to work?” and each faction feels differently about all of them. You’ll have to juggle all these political pressures, while also making sure that The City gathers enough resources, finds new resources to mine/hunt/scrap in the surrounding areas, and grows its population at a rate to compensate for those dying. What’s more, the wheels of governance turn slowly, and you have to wait a few weeks before passing each new law, and often inciting incidents see one faction demand a vote on a particular issue within a certain time frame. This led to a situation where I knew I had to pass a law that would allow scouting parties to recruit survivors to The City before our population dropped too low, however, one of the factions had become enraged and threatened to overthrow me because I hadn’t established schools after hooligan children caused problems in the streets. It's a tough balancing act and, like in a lot of 11 bit’s games, often there is no good outcome, just less disastrous ones.

An event requires the player to make a decision in Frostpunk 2

Source: 11 bit studios

As if all this wasn’t enough, while at the event, 11 bit announced that Frostpunk 2 would be getting a Twitch integration, where members of a streamer’s chat could vote on each law. When asked how he thinks this will go, Juszczyk chuckled to himself a little and told us, “I have no idea. It will be some sort of social experiment. I have no idea what will happen, but I think that [this is] only possible in this game.” Juszczyk went on to explain that while playing the game traditionally you might learn to wrangle the different political powers or game the system, but all that goes out the window when dealing with your chat, and you have to take into account their voice and try to rule them.

When Juszczyk talks about this integration feeling like a social experiment he’s not joking. During our short conversation he started hypothesizing, “I don’t know how [chats will respond to different votes] in Europe, in China, in the United States, in Florida, and in Warsaw.” It’s an added element of chaos that the team seems genuinely excited to sit back and watch unfurl upon release. “There’s an aspect in Frostpunk 2 about challenging the power fantasy,” says Juszczyk. He explains that if you are playing Civilization the player can tend to say, “Now I rule the world, I will do whatever I want,” but in Frostpunk 2 this isn’t the case, “This time you have to deal with the people.”

The City with heat winding out from the center reactor

Source: 11 bit studios

Dealing with the people is something 11 bit is intimately familiar with, thanks to the first Frostpunk’s surprise run-away success and its large community. We discussed what had changed over the intervening years and the most notable thing Juszczyk brought up was the team's preparedness for continuing support of Frostpunk 2. “The Sandbox mode, right from the [start] of Frostpunk 1, was one of the most anticipated [fan requests],” Juszczyk told me. It was something the team had to add after launch. This time, however, Frostpunk launches with a Sandbox mode called “Utopia” where players can endlessly try to build and run their city.

Juszczyk says planning this mode from the start shaped how 11 bit developed the game, “In Frostpunk 1, this mode was added on top of the story. We already created the game, and on top of that we built the sandbox.” He explained that the team found that players having learned the ropes of how to survive could sustain their cities almost endlessly without too much challenge. “So knowing that, in Frostpunk 2, we started the game development from the sandbox mode,” said Juszczyk. This allowed the team to create more systemic problems, challenges, and puzzles that created this “interesting utopia in sandbox mode and on top of that we [created] the story.”

A snow-covered map of the region in Frostpunk 2

Source: 11 bit studios

After three hours with Frostpunk 2, I really started to see the draw of city builders in a way I hadn't previously, especially with this methodical layer of strategy 11 bit has woven into Frostpunk 2. However, as someone who originally found getting into city builders and strategy games a daunting prospect I had to ask what advice Juszczyk and the team would give to people who were like me and were intimidated by the Frostpunk series. His answer has stuck with me since talking to him two weeks ago. “That’s a really good question because the thing is that’s not [our] genre. It’s not like you have to be a Civilization player or Settlers [of Catan] player to dive into [Frostpunk’s] genre.” Juszczyk explained that, “[Frostpunk 2 is] not a crossover with other city builder games. It’s quite unique and innovative on its own.” He went on to highlight my own experience to me, “There’s a learning curve, yeah. You have to do your homework, and read tutorials,” but the onboarding process didn’t require me to learn the systems of Sim City or Civilization first, I just had to come to grips with Frostpunk, and once I did, I really started to enjoy myself.

While Frostpunk 2 might be difficult and its world might be harsh, I quickly met the game halfway and started to realize what was demanded of me as a player. By the time I got on Frostpunk 2’s wavelength, I agreed with Juszczyk when he said, “I don’t feel anyone should be afraid of the game.”

Contributing Editor

Lex Luddy is a freelance writer and journalism student. She has written for Vice, Fanbyte, PLAY Magazine, Gayming Magazine, Push Square, startmenu and more. She can be found on X (Twitter) @BasicalliLexi talking about Yakuza, Kirby, and queer representation in media.

From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola