Frostpunk: On The Edge Review20 Aug 2020 0
Frostpunk: On The Edge Review
Released 20 Aug 2020
I find it hard to express how much I love Frostpunk, but it’s one of those games that stresses me halfway to hell. I don’t know if it’s the stark beauty of it, or simply the pressure of an entire city on my shoulders, but just like stepping out into freezing cold, it’s something I have to brace myself for. So when I heard about the final Frostpunk scenario, On the Edge, I was both excited and terrified - how does a game like this end?
Especially after all we’ve seen in Frostpunk’s other scenarios. We built the last city, helped scientists save the world’s seed vaults, punished those who abused their power, and built a generator to allow humanity to survive.
By comparison, On the Edge’s stakes feel a tad more humble.
A military warehouse is uncovered in the mountains beyond New London, and you are sent with a group of workers to set up an outpost, reclaiming the valuable supplies for the city. But as time goes on, it quickly becomes obvious that your New London masters perhaps view you as expendable, and you have to search for help elsewhere to keep your fledgling outpost alive. You are ‘On the Edge’ both literally and metaphorically, as you attempt to scratch out your own existence on the mountain.
It’s arguably not as strong a setup as The Last Autumn, and to say a bit part of the title is about being on a mountain, it doesn’t actually factor in that much. I mean, it’s pretty cold, but this is Frostpunk - it’s pretty cold everywhere. On the Edge does have some excellent ideas, however.
For example, as an outpost, you can’t enact your own laws, meaning that you have to call up New London and ask them for a solution. This is wonderfully tricky, as you can’t determine how New London might solve the problem. You say that you’re short on workers, so they pass a law to make children work. You say someone died, so they pass a law to let you harvest organs. And every time you ask them for something, your favour falls, meaning you can’t request any other help.
It’s a clever system, and even after it turns out that New London are jerks, it’s still used in the rest of the scenario as you explore Frostland, finding new groups to help you. Up on your mountain perch resources are limited, and you have no food, so these connections are what keep you alive. But in order to get favour or resources, you have to give something in return.
On the Edge, like most Frostpunk scenarios, is a balancing act, poised between what you give away to others, and what you hold back for yourself. There’s actually something pretty frontier about it, as you trade for what you need, and dig what you can from the earth. Also the fact that you don’t have a generator means the cold is far harder to deal with. On the Edge also feels like it’s discussing the idea of letting the old die so the new can thrive, or what the idea of new even means in Frostpunk’s world.
Jakub Stokalski, lead designer on Frostpunk, made this point to me about the game’s expansions earlier this year for PCGamer (print):
“This particular brand of apocalypse - the Great Frost - demands people bunch up to survive, while at the same time everything else around them dies, isolating them. Comparison to Fallout’s Vaults is quite apt. It’s even more interesting if you think about the consequences: all of these enclaves have their own story, their own narrative, and different people will come out of them if they survive.”
At its heart, On the Edge feels like it’s posing that all important question to players: is a new start even possible when the cost is so high?
I’ll honestly miss Frostpunk - its unique combination of narrative and strategy has made it one of the most memorable city-builders for many years. It feels like many reference the tough choices as being Frostpunk’s most memorable aspect, but for me, it’s atmosphere - and I get that’s maybe ironic for a game about an apocalyptic weather anomaly. Frostpunk has an atmosphere like no other strategy game I’ve seen: oppressive, apocalyptic, yet with just the slightest tease of hope - intermittent flashes of prosperity before you face-plant back into snow.
This review was kindly donated to Strategy Gamer by the author.