Frostpunk 2’s story mode is brutal city-building strategy at its best

Frostpunk 2 has a knack for creating stories from your mistakes, and you’ll make a lot of them during your time as Steward. It doesn’t matter how pure of heart you are, or how well-intentioned your motives – not everyone will make it out of the frozen wasteland alive. I recently had the chance to visit 11-Bit Studios in Poland to try out the Frostpunk 2 story mode, and to ask co-game director Łukasz Juszczyk a few questions about how the team organizes what I assume is their giant box of ‘really horrible events to ruin a player’s day.’

Frostpunk 2’s Utopia Builder is the game’s equivalent of a sandbox (snowbox?) style mode, with open-ended objectives – mainly to survive, and thrive – in a world that’s miserable and desolate in equal measure. I put my thoughts down on this mode in my Frostpunk 2 preview, if you want to read more. The strategy game’s story mode – the main reason for visiting 11-Bit Studios – offers something a little different. It gives direction, and a slightly more tailored kind of misery, which is nice.

You begin your story as a relative unknown – the previous Steward has perished, and you’ve been installed in their absence. Thankfully, your entire population is on the verge of freezing to death, so there hasn’t been much time to consider just how qualified you are for the job. The camera pans out from a crashed Dreadnought and shows me a narrow gulley of sorts – I’m met with cries of doom, and must quickly staunch the bleeding of resources, figure out how to gather necessities, and, of course, get the generator working again.

Frostpunk 2 story mode: a population of seals on a frozen river.

This initial scenario acts as a sort of tutorial, but it feels like much more than that. It tempers me for what’s next and instills a sense of urgency that no other city building games can manage. This opening area also presents me with a fairly horrific dilemma. My scavengers find a small population of seals, the last seals on Earth, for all we know. We have a choice whether to farm them into oblivion or leave them be. I have an extinction-level decision to make, and it’s only my first day on the job.

After navigating this disaster, another potential one greets me. This particular monstrosity is called New London, a settlement set deep inside a crater, protecting it from the worst of the weather. That may sound all well and good, but the people are worried that the natural resources surrounding New London are on the brink of running out – and they are correct.

Frostpunk 2 story mode: a group of corpses wrapped in cloth, they have been trapped in oil for many years.

I take a breath to gather my thoughts, but that brief pause allows the people of New London to collate their own burgeoning doubts. My credentials come into question, and they would very much like to take a vote on whether I’m the person for the job. It’s called democracy, apparently. This could be career-ending, but much like a swindler who has sold monorails to Brockway, Ogdenville, and North Haverbrook, I get through it with a smile and a few dodgy promises.

Being accepted as the Steward of any settlement in Frostpunk 2 is both a blessing and a curse. You have to make tough, often impossible decisions, and the blame for any eventual blowback falls firmly at your feet. My plan of implementing structured childcare must fall to the wayside due to a growing sickness in the city; we need hospitals, and fast. Because of this, however, several knife-wielding child gangs have begun to pop up around New London, each bored and looking for regular rumbles. People are maimed.

Frostpunk 2 story mode: a huge human settlement set deep intoside a crater, surrounded by snow.

New London gets a lot of its coal from the rich veins that spew forth from the crater; they’ve sustained the city for a long time, but there isn’t much left, and I need to figure out how to make what we have last. This, coupled with the burgeoning political scene, gives me plenty of headaches – in a good way, I think. I’m forced to juggle the reality of our situation, and also play nice with the factions in the settlement, lest they cast me out into the cold, thinking they can do a better job themselves.

My time in New London comes to an unceremonious end, as many do. I can’t cope with the demands of the now several factions, each pulling the city in different directions. I’m not sure what I would do differently next time – perhaps siding with one core faction would have extended my time, regardless of how their values differ from my own. As long as I’m in a seat of power, I can affect change, even if I have to sell my soul to keep it.

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I enjoyed my time with Frostpunk 2’s story mode. The focus it gave my plight unlocked a mental fortitude I didn’t know I had. A laissez-faire attitude dooms everyone, so sacrifices must be made. Just make sure you bundle them up with a nice ribbon so the council knows that you tried your best. Whether you play Frostpunk 2 for the story, or whether you want to carve your own path in the ice, 11-Bit Studios has you covered.

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