OK I just beat Arks on extreme with all arcs after cruising through New Home on hard. Arks was very tough, and I didn't quite manage to get New Manchester the 6k coal. If I went back I think I could clean up a little midgame optimization with seed ark temp and overdrive utilization, and alongside an avoidable lategame coal stockpile limit bottleneck I think I could have hit the 6k coal surplus. Phew, overall I though both were great scenarios (New Home was a little long, maybe it could be ~30 days long not ~50). I want to talk about the biggest shortcoming the game has in my opinion, but first I need to preface it that I did really like the game: The city building, the atmosphere, the sound, all were great. OK time for the criticism, and keep in mind I only played the 2 scenarios I mentioned, so maybe other ones handle this better, but except for TLA I doubt this.
Frostpunk suffers from a lack of connectivity between its systems: economy, tech, exploration, and morale. To me, these are the four pillars of the game, and they each function fairly well, but the connections between economy and the others are lacking. I'll address each one by one.
Scouting: Obviously scouting is very important, and I don't want to change that. But for the first week it feels like if you get delay scouting you are massively behind with no way to catch up. Yes, deep in the tech tree you can get more and faster scouts, but early on you can't devote too much research time on these things. Basically, I think scouts affect the economy well by bringing back resources, but the economy has little impact back on scouting besides the few and highly constrained tech options (rush beacon, eventually get 2nd scout and faster scouts, the rest are so late to not matter much).
Furthermore, I think the extreme power of scouts is supposed to be offset by their high early cost (beacon tech, beacon structure, scout cost), but this is diminished somewhat with how scouts function. Ostensibly, the 5 person scout crew is supposed to be a big cost (~8% of early game workforce for both New Home and Arks). However, since those scouts don't eat and don't need heating or treatment, their cost is greatly diminished (also it's a bit immersion breaking to send your 5 hungriest and sickest survivors out into the harsh waste only to find them capable of meeting all their needs on their own without a generator). In your city, those 5 people would break down something like ~2 on food duty, ~1 on average sick / treating sick, ~1 getting coal, leaving just ~1 person to generate any net value. So the labor cost of your 5 scouts is really more like 1 or 2 people, plus subsistence work.
I think many of the issues I have addressed here could be fixed by making the scouts take food with them. Something like 1 food /day /person, meaning you normally would want maybe 20 food to be safe. Furthermore, you could let scouts optionally eat extra rations to travel faster, but at a less efficient conversion (maybe double rations give +25% speed). If you encounter survivors, instead of escorting them back, maybe you could give them food instead to ensure their safe return. All of these would serve to allow a player to make up for a late start at scouting by using surplus economy (food) to enable slightly better scouting. The baseline food cost would be a significant cost early on that may deter all the day 1 / day 2 beacon rushes that are so clearly optimal. This would allow for more player choice and expression, instead of the current state of affairs which is basically be forced to do the one super optimal path earlygame, which obviously lacks much strategic thought once you figure it out.
Research: Again like scouts, there is a clear interaction where tech helps your economy. There's no denying this. The issue is that the reverse is a very weak interaction. Say you got a late tech start but are otherwise killing it on the economy, what can you do to remedy this? Just about nothing, you should probably restart and rush workshop + 24h shift faster. Yes you can make extra workshops, but after 3 they provide so little impact. To double your research rate from this point (150% to 300%) you need an extra 15 workshops (!!!). Even if your economy was on fire to allow this, where are you going to find the 90 total engineers (remember you also need some for medicine). Yes, lategame New Hope allows this, but for most of the game it is simply not an option.
The problem here is twofold. First, your economy and survival are so severly gated by tech, and second, tech is primarily gated by research time / rate, with only the slightest way to increase this. On the first problem, imagine you have 1k wood, steel, and coal, but now it got a little colder than you were prepared for. The solution is to get the next generator power level, but this could be locked away 2 tech levels deep, meaning you need 3 techs to get it. Yes, you planned poorly, but ideally you could spend all those resource surpluses to buy you a little time while you tech up. Maybe there's a generator setting like overdrive but instead of spending generator hp it uses a less efficient coal conversion rate. Or maybe you could use excess wood to build temporary insulation on buildings (board up the windows) that only lasts 24h but at least it gets you through the night. As is, you have no recourse but to wait for the engineers to slowly chug along, giving you plenty of time to think about how you should have bumped heat up in the tech order a little bit and wish you had a save 3 days ago (or a more generous autosave system).
The root problem, though, is part 2. Research is almost exclusively gated through time, and economy has only the slightest say in the matter. I think a good fix would be a research cost redesign. Perhaps double the cost of every research and reduce the early techs time to completion. Furthermore, make workshops bottom out at +20% instead of +10%. This means that you will have the option to go full speed research and knock out techs like nobody's business, but only if you have huge economic surpluses. More realistically, you will have to cut back on research a little, perhaps even stop all together at times, and do more balancing between economy and tech racing. This means if you want to do less research early (maybe delay the workshop a day or don't use your only 24h shift on it) you will be able to catch up, because it's impossible to go full steam ahead all the time. This gives the player the option to make tradeoffs, allowing strategic depth, instead of the current system which basically asks you to keep as many workshops running as possible, no questions asked.
Morale: OK the final system. This one struggles the most. I didn't find the hope / discontent system very engaging. Rarely were these bars near the breaking point, threatening real consequences on me, and therefore forcing me to compromise my economic goals. The one exception is at the beginning of the Londoners, where the game artificially drops your hope all the way (sidenote, I get why they do this but it feels kinda bad because a lot of laws give a 1 time hope boost like child shelters or care houses and I already did those so … whoops). I think this might have to do with picking sawdust over soup, apparently with soup discontent steadily rises and you quickly need to go for the public house + moonshine. For me, I could have gone the entire game without as much as getting fighting pit and there would have been no issue.
I see two problems here. First, the popup decisions have little impact. We all know how much a trap the request to heat homes is. This could do with a quality of life change where houses get a ~6hr cold timer like how the seed arks do, so you get a chance to react if it something unexpected happens. But furthermore, give them meaningful consequences. The penalties to ignoring requests never amounted to anything, and the rewards to listening were equally unimportant. Furthermore, I think there's an organic way to tie hope into the economy – use food and coal. Nothing helps you forget the cold specter looming like a full meal, a warm bed (not just chilly, actually warm!), and the knowledge of large reserves of food and coal. Hope should slowly drift up and down based on how your people live. You could also get an options for like half / double rations to convert food into hope (yes the soup system does this a little but I skipped soup and there isn't much choice here anyway). You could even get to throw a festival to improve spirits, at a significant food / wood / coal cost. If hope gets low maybe you get spurts of people refusing to work due to apathy, or even a rumor of a suicide cult spreading (giving you 48 hrs to boost hope or let them enact their plans, like a mini Londoner's story). Basically, do more than what I experienced, either you had 0 hope and lost or you had >0 hope and were fine, and there were few reasons to ever comprimise your plans in the name of improving hope.
Finally, there is discontent. Admittedly, I never had high discontent so I don't know what could happen. I would suggest having labor strikes (sounds like TLA has something like this). But my big gripe is that nothing ever rose discontent significantly. Maybe soup serves this role, but soup is totally optional, and is that really the only thing in this world to get you riled up? I think there's an easy fix. Make extended shifts create small incremental discontent instead of temporary discontent that disappears when the shifts go back to normal. This way you can put the economy in overdrive but after a few days there will be riots in the street (as opposed to the current system where everyone always had extended shifts and the few popup gripes did basically nothing, and my discontent never passed 50%). This would force you to compromise, either do more for the people (extra rations, moonshine / pleasure house, generally "bread and games") or don't push them as hard and accept shorter working hours. I think this is also a chance to rework 24h shift slightly. The forced death is a big turn-off for many players like myself, meaning the system never gets used twice. Instead, maybe upfront give the option of extra meals to prevent all deaths, and make discontent the main penalty for using this (also my research redesign makes midnight research less valuable. You could do even more here by giving it a ~50% penalty multiplier, saying that nobody does there best work on the owl shift). For realism, I think 24h shift should be 12h shift, because it's really weird seeing someone do a 14h shift then a 24h shift back to back, totaling 38h. Like, duh that's why they died. I want extra, emergency hours, but not necessarily a full 24.
OK rant over. Thanks for coming to my TED talk. I think the 3 secondary systems (scouting, research, morale) could use some small / medium redesigns to let them interact with the economy better, specifically in letting the economy affect these systems directly (the reverse already exists, scouting / tech definitely do impact the economy). This would give the player more strategic options and allow for more gameplay focused on hard choices and compromises between multiple valid options, instead of fake / meaningless choices (do you really want to forgo the beacon even a single day? Does anything meaningful happen if you don't heat those houses?).
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© Post "Just finished the game on Extreme, had some thoughts on how to improve it" for game Frostpunk.
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