Subscribe to our newsletter

Join our subscriber list to get the latest news, updates and special offers delivered directly in your inbox.

The Frostpunk 2 beta was a bittersweet glimpse of changing times

11 bit Studios’ peek at its ambitious sequel didn’t portend the experience hardcore fans might be hoping for—and that’s a good thing.

The Frostpunk 2 beta disappointed me.

It wasn’t a bad beta. It delivered everything it said it would: a small portion of the unfinished game with clearly marked placeholder content and unrefined implementation. It only allowed access to the game’s sandbox mode. The menus were firm about which things would only be available in the full game. Even with warnings asserting everywhere that problems were likely to arise, I experienced no bugs or crashes in my sessions.

Assuming their goal was to reinforce hype, test infrastructure, and gather feedback, the devs mostly succeeded given the cautiously positive responses from media outlets and content creators.

But as the hours melted away and my week-long access ran out, I came out of the beta melancholic. It was not the experience I had hoped it would be. The game felt like it had abandoned so many things I loved about the first game.

Where was the knife-edge, hour-by-hour tension of managing work shifts? How was I supposed to optimize my city layout if I couldn’t position every building precisely where I wanted? When would I feel like I was in a white-knuckle race against the elements?

Why did it feel like I was playing a political, ultra-complex Mini Motorways?

The ice is getting thinner

I’m being unkind. But now that you have my context, I can give you theirs.

Jakub Stokalski, one of Frostpunk 2’s game co-directors, sums up their design ethos at the beginning of their Gameplay Deep Dive from last April 16:

“At 11 bit Studios, we don’t really believe in making just a sequel. It’s never satisfied us creatively, and we don’t really believe it would satisfy you. So, we always wanted to build on top of the foundation that was Frostpunk 1 and create something new, something exciting. The big question was how to do that.”

What they created with Frostpunk 2 is more than just promising. It’s brilliant and deep, even with the beta’s limited material. It follows the logic of the first game’s lore and respects the fact that time has passed both in the game world and in the real world. Just as the needs of the City are different three decades after the previous game, today’s gaming technology and preferences are very different from Frostpunk 1’s heyday.

Sure, I was disappointed, but I was also reluctantly impressed. They got what they wanted. They made a sequel that seemed to be everything a good sequel should be: elaborate, evocative, expanded, and evolved.

This is the sound of settling

My crude and grossly inaccurate Mini Motorways comparison earlier was only prompted by how the time scale tracks days and weeks now compared to Frostpunk 1’s minutes and hours. And yes, also by the visuals of roads and tracks zooming along in aesthetically pleasing, procedurally generated districts.

I was being catty because I was resisting.

I balked at the nuanced responsibilities of placating ideological factions with believably fleshed-out motivations, benefits, and complications. I begrudged the idea of macro city planning that cleverly utilizes hexagonal tile adjacencies like an unforgiving, Arctic Dorfromantik. I craved building city improvements piecemeal over trusting the AI-assisted districts to align things in efficient and gorgeously screenshot-worthy ways.

I wasn’t ready to let go.

But none of that stopped me from sticking with the beta. I wrangled the systems, pored over the details, and debated internally if the Icebloods were indeed safer than the Technocrats in an increasingly violent and squalor-ridden metropolis. I met the game on its own terms and eventually reached a decision.

Image: 11 bit Studios via PhilStar Tech

I will follow you into the dark

The Frostpunk 2 beta delivered a brief vision of a promising new world despite my expectations. It was still the world I missed—the frozen, turn-of-the-20th-century hellscape of Frostpunk 1—but enhanced with new and dizzyingly elaborate potential.

Yes, I stubbornly held on to my biases throughout my time with the beta. Yes, I’m still annoyed that Frostpunk 2 is a markedly different game from its predecessor. But you’d be right to point out: “These sound like you problems.”

My clinging to the past isn’t a Frostpunk 2 problem. And it shouldn’t keep me from appreciating the game on its own merits come full release.

Just like the willful factions of the City, the predominant biases in my head can coexist with fresh, fledgling ideas. Maybe the innovative complexities can be fun. Maybe my old preferences can find unexpected synergy with the new mechanics. Maybe I can adapt.

Or maybe I’ll get more upset. But I will play it through.

The City must not fall.

Frostpunk 2 will be released on July 25, 2024.