The swansong of the snowy saga
As mentioned in my Frostpunk: The Last Autumn review, I love Frostpunk so much, I play it until I ironically get laptop burns on my legs. Unfortunately, it does a number on my psyche, since it’s just so gd stressful, that I have to kind of “build myself up” to be able to play it. My boss perhaps said it best — “Frostpunk is like Schindler’s List: an amazing work of art, but you don’t generally seek the experience of mental and emotional trauma.”
An avalanche of suffering, Frostpunk is one of the few games I feel able to identify with on an ancestral level. As someone who grew up in the LDS church in Utah, I’ve held dear the stories of my English ancestors pushing handcarts across the plains through harsh winters, the promise of a better life often the only warmth available. Where my pioneer ancestors eventually did reach their Zion and not only survived, but thrived, the humans of Frostpunk tend to be left off with a question mark. Sure, you help them live through the first few weeks, but will they build upon their meager existence, or is your leadership only prolonging their inevitable demise?
That is what the final DLC of Frostpunk aims to answer; titled Frostpunk: On The Edge, this expansion is the third and final available from 11 Bit Studios, the team behind both Frostpunk and This War Of Mine. The post-apocalyptic steampunk society survival simulator that took the world by storm in 2018, Frostpunk: On The Edge is the team’s way of saying so long but not goodbye to the dedicated players and citizens of the Frostlands alike — one last hurrah before they move onto bigger, better, and presumably more grim titles.
Frostpunk: On The Edge has players taking the role of a captain of an outpost team for New London. Your mission? To extract steel from an old army depot and ship it back home. The location of the outpost is optimal for steel gathering but puts you at a disadvantage for wood and food, with only a limited amount of the former and none of the latter. No matter — New London will send you food shipments so long as the steel keeps coming… that is, until they go back on their word and you’re forced to find other settlements in the Frostland to survive.
If you’re familiar with Frostpunk already, Frostpunk: On The Edge will have all the gameplay you remember with a few tricks up its sleeve. For one, there’s no generator, which means limitations on heat and renders automatons useless. Second, the aforementioned lack of food and other resources means that you’re at the whim of other settlements being able to send supplies to you based on how much they like you. Third… well, those other settlements. Remember how in the base game you tend to be a beacon of hope in the middle of a white out of despair? After the Great Storm starts to subside, it seems pockets of humanity have made the Frostlands their home, and it’s up to you to bridge the gaps that separate you and work together to survive.
In fact, that’s the overarching theme to Frostpunk: On The Edge — cooperation. By helping out various settlements, such as a peaceful farmer’s commune, a mine run by children, and a camp inhabited by former convicts, you can not only ensure the survival of your own people but all the others scattered across the Frostlands. Build their homes, tend to their sick, and provide them with supplies when they need them and they’ll eventually send food, wood, and coal your way each day.
This system of constantly doing favors for other settlements to build up their trust plays out a bit differently than the base game; instead of managing resource trees by keeping facilities running, players can expect to pour all their manpower into steel and coal mining and then just milking the favors where possible. Frantically trying to keep your head above (frozen) water is hard enough as it is, but Frostpunk: On The Edge feels less like you’re trying to survive and more that you’re trying to stockpile enough resources to pass them onto someone else. You can certainly choose not to do this or to focus on just one of the settlements (choose the farmers or the convicts if you must), but this will make the final push much harder if you don’t have at least one ally’s relationship maxed out.
Like any Frostpunk scenario, Frostpunk: On The Edge offers cruel morality choices that not only impact your settlement, but the settlements around you. The farmers’ commune is hit by a fever early on, prompting you to choose to treat it medically or let them use their herbs or whatever and hope it doesn’t pass onto your own people. The convicts’ camp — who range from petty criminals to murders — asks for access to the farmers, and you can choose to give them their address or simply promise to take care of them. Each choice means you’ll be required to provide resources to keep the settlements happy, but the moral consequences felt missing. Unlike the base game, it didn’t feel like it mattered whether or not I did something the settlements liked or disliked, because in the end, they all pitched into help. Maybe there’s a metric I glossed over, but as long as you fulfill the requirements, they’ll heed your call to action when the stakes are dire — no matter what you did to offend them.
Additionally, performance issues were a little concerning in Frostpunk: On The Edge — the game would constantly stutter on my gaming laptop, and although it is admittedly nearly three years old, it never had these issues playing Frostpunk: The Last Autumn or the base game. There was also a weird issue I hadn’t seen before where construction crews would head out towards a settlement from within my city, eventually hitting a mountain, and just congregating there until Kingdom come. Must have been weird for the morning shifts to wake up and see ten dudes just huddled together at the base of the mountain, only to pass them by again at the end of day heading home. Calling them back home and even disbanding them did nothing to fix the issue — maybe they just really liked the great outdoors?
Despite any gripes, Frostpunk: On The Edge did something I’d been hoping for each time I played the base game: hopefully concluded. The anxiety I have coming into each playthrough is palpable, as I just want humanity to survive the harsh winters and forge a new normal amidst bleak circumstances. Frostpunk’s gameplay might be absolutely grim, but Frostpunk’s message has always been one of hope in the darkest of times; it wasn’t until Frostpunk: On The Edge until I truly felt that message. After successfully saving New London with the assistance of the scattered peoples of the Frostlands, I felt confident in humanity’s ability to rebuild, working together to ensure mankind would not perish. The sacrifices were many and the suffering great, but the will to go on was even greater — through cooperation, we prevailed.
Frostpunk: On The Edge may be a little short and the morality choices unbothered by consequences, but the message of hope rang loud and clear from the developers. A fantastic expansion that players can one-shot within a single sitting if they play their cards right, Frostpunk: On The Edge offers an uplifting conclusion to the groundbreaking society survival simulator. Where the other expansions may have provided more soul and grit, Frostpunk: On The Edge leaves a lasting impression of what a labor of love this rollercoaster ride of a game was for the developers. Frostpunk: On The Edge was the perfect way to end the snowy saga, and I’m touched to have been able to be a part of it in this small way. To 11 Bit Studios, a standing ovation is due for all your hard work — take a bow, let the curtain fall, and know that we eagerly await your next title.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed); Publisher: 11 Bit Studios; Developer: 11 Bit Studios; Players: 1; Released: August 20, 2020; MSRP: $12.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Frostpunk: On The Edge given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.