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Frostpunk 2 Wants Its Players To Think Bigger

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"Every utopia ends up being a dystopia for someone else"

If Frostpunk was about survival, then Frostpunk 2 is about stability--or at least the pursuit of it. Survival is still at the heart of Frostpunk 2’s gameplay and themes, but 11 Bit Studios wants its players to think bigger this time around. How do you create a thriving, expansive metropolis in a frigid and unforgiving wasteland? According to co-game director and design director Jakub Stokalski, “With that type of story, the scale needed to change, and with that came different city building mechanics [and] different depictions of society.”

If you’ve followed Frostpunk 2’s development or checked out the recent beta, then you probably know what Stokalski means by scale. Frostpunk 2 moves at a much brisker pace than the original. Rather than managing your city hour by hour, Frostpunk 2 moves day by day. Production, as long as your factories are properly staffed, moves at a constant pace. That’s not to say you don’t need to manage your workers and citizens. Like in the original, they still need food, shelter, and warmth in order to survive, but these issues come and go at a quicker rate. To give some perspective, I burned through nearly 200 weeks with a population of over 10,000 in just two hours.

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Now Playing: Frostpunk 2 Director Breaks Down Biggest Changes

In order to match the scope and pace of Frostpunk 2, 11 Bit Studios needed to rework some of its fundamental city building mechanics. Rather than constructing facilities on a radial grid, Frostpunk 2 lets you create entire districts inside of hexagonal tiles. This gives your city a more freeform structure as different districts spill out from the city center and expand across the frozen tundra.

You can’t just build anywhere, though. Every tile needs to be frostbroken before districts are erected, and that requires resources and a small workforce. Additionally, you can only frostbreak tiles adjacent to other frostbroken tiles. This means if you see a natural resource in the distance, you must first carve a path through the ice before you can build an Extraction District and start harvesting its resources.

The frostbreaking mechanic adds a natural push and pull to Frostpunk 2’s progression and city expansion. You could focus all your efforts on frostbreaking nearby tiles to expand your domain, but if you prioritize that over building housing, food, and extraction districts, your city won’t last long. There’s a thin line between expansion and development you need to walk in order to succeed. These changes give a fresh perspective on the world of Frostpunk, and--in the early hours at least--provide a different kind of challenge than the original.

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The human element also plays a huge role in this push and pull between expansion and development. At the outset, Frostpunk 2 has you managing a much bigger population this time around, and with that comes new factions, laws, and hierarchies. You could enact double shifts at the factories to earn more resources, but this could lead to discontent, sickness, and even death. If you let any of those issues get out of hand, your city could fall. Conversely, if you’re too lax on your workforce, you may not be able to keep up with your city’s growing demands. Like the original, Frostpunk 2 feels like a delicate balancing act that routinely asks you how far you're willing to go for the greater good. Are you willing to exile the elderly population in order to conserve food rations? Apparently I am.

A big part of managing Frostpunk 2’s population is communing with the council and passing laws. Gone are the days of Frostpunk’s Captains. Instead, the Steward alongside a council of 100 delegates are responsible for proposing and passing laws. The council regularly meets, and during those meetings you can review and propose a law for the council to vote on. Much like in the first game, these laws range from child labor to work compensation laws. However, in order to pass a law you need a majority vote. The delegates will typically vote based on your performance, but you can negotiate or pressure delegates if things are looking dire. If you’re doing a really poor job, the council can even vote to remove you from office. Alternatively, Frostpunk 2 also has Twitch integration that will allow viewers to assume the role of the council--something that will surely make the experience much harder or significantly easier depending on the community.

In order to match the scope and pace of Frostpunk 2, 11 Bit Studios needed to rework some of its fundamental city building mechanics.

Your performance isn’t the only thing the council factors into their decisions. Your relationship with different factions can also play a huge role. If you abuse the Frostlanders, don’t expect them to back you during the next town hall. Factions are much more than just political pawns, though. Each faction has its own set of beliefs that can inform your play style and shape your city. Some laws and research might directly support one faction while simultaneously harming another.

As Stokalski puts it, “Every faction has a vision that ends in something they would call utopia: a set of ultimate technologies [and] ultimate laws that for them is the ideal world. The trick is [...] that every utopia ends up being a dystopia for someone else. The core meaning of the game lies in you trying to navigate these different visions, and trying to find your way through it [to] build a society that you, as a player, leader, and human being, are comfortable with.”

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However, Stokalski stressed that these difficult decisions aren’t built around shock value or gratuitousness. Choices designed to simply shock or frustrate the player have a short shelf life. The key, as he puts it, “lies in the fact that every step we [try] to include you, the player, and your values, worldview, and outlook into the game’s system itself.” It’s not always about picking the lesser of two evils, but filtering these decisions through your own beliefs and trying to make sense of the immediate consequences and the eventual repercussions.

Going into Frostpunk 2, my biggest concern was that the shift in scope would overshadow the intimacy of the original. Your meager population and how they reacted to your decisions brought that world to life, and that back and forth between you and your citizens gave Frostpunk character. It felt like the pace and mechanics of Frostpunk blended perfectly with its difficult decisions and tactile consequences. In theory, the more 11 Bit Studios zooms out and expands on that original idea, the more it could trivialize those intimate moments, but that isn’t the case here. Based on my preview, it seems Frostpunk’s cold, icy heart is still intact, despite its many shake-ups.

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