The serenity commonly offered by city-building RTS games has been lost on me as of late. Apart from the rather spectacular, The Colonists, most city-building games have let me down. They’ve failed to capture the same bliss and imagination afforded by their predecessors. Frozenheim initially promised me a trip through memory lane, a best-of collection containing all the greatest mechanics and features I’d come to know and love through my time with city-building titles. However, upon further inspection, Frozenheim reveals itself to not only be a phenomenal example of how to release a game into Early Access but also how to innovate upon an overburdened genre.
“Frozenheim’s core gameplay is unbelievably satisfying.”
In Frozenheim’s current state, you’ll have access to the skirmish mode and the campaign. While the campaign offers some rudimentary missions to help ease you into its mechanics, fans of the genre will likely jump straight into the skirmish mode. This is undoubtedly where you’ll spend the majority of your time. And for good reason, too, as Frozenheim’s core gameplay is unbelievably satisfying.
Regardless of whether I was in the heat of combat; watching as my poor scouts were torn to shreds by my enemy’s axes, or simply surveying my peaceful riverside village; as my people awoke with the rising sun, the birds chirping on the thatched roofs as the snow melted away and spring took hold, I was completely and utterly immersed.
Frozenheim’s world is filled with wonderful minutiae that help bring its fantastic setting to life. Whether it’s the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it animations that occur all across your settlement or the way the seasons dynamically affect your world, the sense of realism pervades throughout. This is all in due part to the phenomenal visuals.
Frozenheim is perhaps one of the best looking city-builders I’ve ever played. From the way the trees sway gently in the morning breeze to the snow parting as the rugged wheels of a cart are dragged through it, there’s a complete and utter devotion to capturing a sense of magic realism. The setting is, at times, fantastical, with monolithic monuments scattered around the map. But the dedication to crafting beautifully rendered visuals means that it never feels cartoony or aesthetically unpleasing.
“Frozenheim retains a lot of what made the original city-builders fun but modernises enough that it drops the cumbersome mechanics of old.”
Fortunately, Frozenheim isn’t just a superficially wonderful game. Its in-depth mechanics, even for Early Access never failed to impress. From the multitude of building options to the technology tree which opens up additional avenues for each playthrough, Frozenheim continually kept me engaged.
On top of the general city-building aspect, there’s also combat and missions. While these lack a little depth right now, they add an additional layer of entertainment to the proceedings. Within my first hour of playing, I was completely drawn in. It was incredibly enjoyable watching as my village expanded from a few houses to a vast bustling settlement. Frozenheim completely nails the serene aspect I was looking for, as developing your city is a relaxing endeavour.
One of the most stand-out aspects of Frozenheim is the way it takes conventions and mechanics from the city-builders of old and innovates upon them. It is not that everything in Frozenheim is streamlined, there’s certainly plenty of complexity to go around. It is just that the process of constructing your city never feels overburdensome or fiddly.
Whenever there was an issue, such as a fire breaking out or a resource having been depleted, I never felt as if I was left in the lurch wondering why everything was failing. Frozenheim does a good job of making the UI easy enough to understand. So much so, that even a novice to the genre could wrap their head around it. Frozenheim manages to retain a lot of what made the original city-builders fun, all while modernising it enough that it never feels cumbersome.
“You’re already getting your money’s worth with what’s available. But, with a few more additional maps I can really imagine myself sinking in hundreds of hours”
Frozenheim’s biggest weaknesses right now are a lack of content and bugs. While there is the campaign, it is clearly still in its infancy and not the star of the show. The single-player skirmish mode is phenomenal, but it lacks maps and a sense of variety. Don’t get me wrong, you’re certainly getting your money’s worth, even with only the three maps already available. But, with a few more additional maps I can really imagine myself sinking in hundreds of hours into Frozenheim.
Unfortunately, as with We Are The Caretakers, there are a few bugs worth mentioning. At times, the enemy’s ship would clip through my palisade, allowing them to enter my settlement unperturbed. Some buildings were constructed under the ground, meaning I had to click around a little to find them. But those two were the most egregious, and honestly, Frozenheim is far more polished than I was expecting.
For US$16.99, or whatever your regional equivalent is, Frozenheim is an absolute steal. This is a fantastic example of how to release a game into Early Access. It offers an extremely polished experience with enough content to satiate your city-building real-time strategy needs until its first big update. Sure, there are some inconsistencies here and there, but for the most part, Frozenheim is a shining example of how to take an overburdened genre and breathe new life into it. This is a genuinely brilliant strategy game with a lot to offer, and one I cannot recommend enough.
*Disclaimer: Reviewed on PC, code was provided by the developer.