Frozenheim Review: Build up your village to burn down others!
When I previewed Frozenheim around this time last year, I was pretty content with the overall experience. It was a chill, relaxing city-builder with the occasional battle thrown in the mix, neither one really feeling particularly urgent or complex (i.e., my type of game). I mean, yes, obviously the game threw nord hordes at you and you, in turn, threw hordes of nords at them, but in between all that nord-hordery was a lovely village sim where townsfolk went about their business and seasons passed in the blink of an eye. I was excited to see how the dev team built up the game from there, but for the most part, I already found it to be enjoyable, albeit a bit on the short side. How does it fare a year later?
If I’m being honest, about the same?
I mean that in a good way, but I also mean that in a less than good way. But if you’ll notice, I did not use the word “bad” on purpose, and that’s because it is absolutely NOT bad.
Hear me out.
Frozenheim is touted as a RTS-meets-colony-sim type game where you plunder and pillage, then build your village. Half your time is going to be spent building up your tiny little town, while the other half focuses on either looting another tribe’s village or defending your own against said other tribe’s attacks. Boasting “rich settlement management mechanics” set in a “Norse folklore-inspired mythical realm,” Frozenheim has gone from a mostly positive rating from Early Access to a Mixed rating upon launch, which… honestly, isn’t completely fair, because it absolutely delivers the first thing it says it is (serene), but I can kinda see why there’s some disappointment, because it’s a bit light on the colony sim aspect.
RTS stuff is pretty cool tho, especially if you’re a big fan of games like Age of Empires. But I think a person’s playstyle is what will make or break the experience in Frozenheim. If you’re playing for the RTS experience only, it almost feels like there’s a colony simulator in the way. If you’re playing it for the city-building aspect, you’ll find it a bit lacking in comparison to others.
Where Frozenheim shines is if you toe the line it carefully straddles between the two genres. There’s a desire to build up your village and contentedly watch as the townsfolk pound pathways into the ground as they ferry resources to and fro, but spending too much time doing that leaves you vulnerable to attack. That is, of course, unless you also build up your horde and simultaneously conquer the nearest enemy village. After all, the best defense is a good offense, right?
In that sense, players will need to either love both genres to the point where they want something completely different or mitigate their expectations to recognize that neither is extremely in-depth. Both genres are present, but focusing heavily on one over the other will spell doom, either for the vulnerable settlement or unprepared horde. In my first playthrough I made the mistake of getting too comfortable after a successful raid, building up my village to establish a base before the snow rolled in, only to watch helplessly as another horde beached its longboats and made quick work of my nascent town. Striking the balance isn’t just necessary, it’s the point of the game.
Keeping that mantra of balance in mind, I really enjoyed my time with Frozenheim — it had lovely music, interesting pacing, and a fun mixture of genres. It was, however, not a very in-depth experience mechanics-wise, and I felt like I had played through everything it had to offer within the first few hours. Repetitive gameplay isn’t bad of course — I’ve played Katamari for years as a stress relief game — but I know that can be the kind of thing people get stuck on. A silver lining in that is that Frozenheim is a multiplayer game as well, so if you feel like you’ve seen all there is to see and conquered all there is to conquer, test that theory against a friend who feels bored of solo nord-hordery.
Frozenheim is probably the most serene war-mongering game I’ve ever played, with a lot of fun details that truly flesh out the entire experience. Not quite a city-builder but not entirely a full-on RTS, Frozenheim toes a themed line between the two genres in a fascinating, relaxing way. It has the potential to be a much more in-depth challenge, but for now, it’s a somewhat casual romp through Scandinavian lands (until a neighboring Nord horde burns your village down, of course). If you’re ready to plunder and pillage, then build up your village, Frozenheim awaits those with a lust for blood (and an eye for Viking carpentry).
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (Reviewed); Publisher: Hyperstrange; Developer: Paranoid Interactive; Players: 1 – 8; Released: June 16, 2022; MSRP: $19.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of Frozenheim provided by the publisher.