11 Bit Studios was showing off a number of upcoming indie titles during E3 this year in Los Angeles, and one game we got an extended hands-off demonstration of was Frostpunk, a game that, in principle, doesn't sound too groundbreaking, but once you peel back the layers and see how it unfolds, you get the hook.
To briefly outline what the game entails, Frostpunk is set in an alternate 19th century where an unexplained and catastrophic event has sent the earth into an ice age, and you command a group of survivors who have found a heat generator in the middle of a crater after being split up from the rest of their allies, the goal being to build a settlement around this generator.
We were guided through the birth of this settlement, and the first order of business after lighting this generator was to find resources such as steel and wood to make things out of. This obviously involved sending people out into the cold to find these supplies, but this was necessary so we could craft things for the good of the colony, such as tents and, later on, a medical building.
The world is cold all the time, but there's an added risk when random temperature drops occur, and these make already dangerous conditions even worse. For example, the heat zone around the generator then becomes cold, although not alarmingly so, but the workplaces where people are gathering resources then get cold enough to cause illness, pushing your medical supplies to the limits.
This is where the law comes in. As the leader of this band of survivors, you need to make tough choices, and medicine is one area in which this comes into play. When your people get sick, terminally so, you can either make them comfortable to die or you can use them for experimental medical testing, something that's much riskier but might get them back on their feet and back to work. Another example of a choice you can make is whether or not to make children work at all, either in safe jobs or potentially in any role, depending on your moral compass and desperation in terms of workforce. There are some really tough decisions to make (we even saw cannibalism in the laws menu).
These choices affect both hope and despair gauges at the bottom of the screen, and although we weren't explicitly told how these impact the gameplay, we assume this can make your people less productive if they hate your guts. Promises made to the people need to be kept to maintain hope and keep despair down, and as you'd expect poor conditions and unsatisfactory choices can also turn your people against you, with little Rollercoaster Tycoon-esque quotes from certain individuals popping up to give you some feedback.
Another important thing to consider, we were told, is that there may well be other survivors out there, so constructing beacons is necessary to make contact with either them or the rest of the crew you got split up from. In that sense, we were lying a little bit when we said the goal was to build a settlement around the generator, because it seems to be more about ensuring your settlement's survival, and you need people to do that. Attracting people is important then, as is exploring, which was teased when the map was shown and unidentified locations appeared that scouts could explore.
There's also a technology tree of sorts, similar to Civilization. It looked extensive when we caught a glimpse of it, and it contained upgrades such as those to your heat zone, meaning you can make your settlement increasingly advanced as time goes on and your people become settled.
Visually the game looks impressive, and we really enjoyed the fact that the trails made by the survivors left a permanent line in the snow. This little detail was a very nice touch to an already good looking game and the care that has been paid to make sure these features look good both zoomed out and up close is commendable. All the pictures in the UI have a frosty border, and the UI as a whole compliments this cold and unrelenting game.
What we saw of Frostpunk was just a little glimpse of what's to come, and we're very much looking forward to the different options we can use to expand our settlement, as well as perhaps growing beyond its borders. What's already in place looks promising, though, with detail and features aplenty, not to mention incredibly tough choices you're forced to make as the leader. This is an indie to look out for.