Frostpunk may be my all-time favorite city builder. It provides you with a limited set of tools, a near constant set of cascade failures, really tough choices to make, and the tiniest spark of hope throughout. That balance between the edge of control and the edge of failure is what makes the game superb. And it’s success certainly pushed for imitators.

IXION is such a game. The story is simple enough, the future of humanity is focused on an ark of sorts, that is on a space journey. The challenges are also cascading, with balance a constant battle. The tools are your disposal take a while to uncover, and some decisions can massively hamper your progress… to the point where save scumming is a running thought.

The start of phase 3

Space to construct is limited, and each building has a specific set of location needs. Build enough of a type of building and the sector (of 6) becomes specialized, providing a bonus. As with most games of this genre, small percentages have large impacts, so you are likely going to want to specialize.

Resources are scarce. You can find more people in frozen capsules – which feels really weird when you population quadruples somehow. These people need food, shelter, work… and if they don’t, then you start to lose trust, which causes a mutiny and game over.

The ship you are in is in continual decay, and each mission makes the damage greater and harder to repair. This means a constant drain on resources, and intelligent use of time as there are periods where you have to stop repairs to improve power generation, or move the ship. Oh, and each sector you unlock also adds to decay.

Research is both hidden in layers, and difficult to progress. Each “zone” has a limited amount of research points to collect, effectively giving you a soft-wall of progress and forcing you to move, and therefore increase difficulty.

Combined, as is the genre, you can be going along smoothly, only to encounter a massive cascade of failures because one small piece stopped working. Like collecting iron… which repairs the ship and helps construction, which generates housing, which causes trust and decay to increase, and that’s the end of that run.

I do enjoy the logistical challenge of keeping resources balanced between sectors, and overseeing the various needs of the population. That said, I also think there are some balance passes required in how they interact and how they are set at default. Logically, the system should default to complete balance between the storage in each sector… but it doesn’t. Food created in one sector won’t move to another unless you set up that swap… which caught me off guard and caused a rather negative event.

I also enjoy the compounding complexity of various decision points, where you can have a general idea of how something will help you in the future. Some of those decisions are very obtuse… like research for items you won’t be able to use for a very long time. Given the scarcity of some resources, it makes it so that there’s an order of priority that simply is not evident on your first playthrough, and little grace for those types of mistakes. I will point that each chapter requires a very long process to complete, which not only feels like padding, but is likely to generate additional challenges. Like how collecting 500 cryo pods creates discontent as its faster to collect than thaw… Discontent that increases accidents and deaths, making it spiral.

I’ll also point that the pace of the game is rather odd, with random acts of sabotage that you can do absolutely nothing to prevent, and that can hobble you substantially if you’re in a balancing act. They act as time padding, preventing progress for the sake of making the game longer. The rate of accidents increases substantially as happiness decreases, which happens when there are accidents.

I will point out that some decisions you will make can have dramatic consequences down the road, to the point where you won’t realize it until it’s too late. Some mission options have catastrophic consequences, so that you’re better to save scum that hobble through. Some sector construction layouts (in particular around things requiring external walls) can be disastrous… to the point where it’s better to revert to a save an hour+ ago than to rebuild. In a “normal” city builder, you are not continually facing failure, just delays. In here, to a stronger degree than I was expecting, a single bad decision can be enough for a game over.

These are quality gripes, and I can only see them because I’ve been fortunate enough to play Frostpunk. If you’re coming from something like Surviving Mars, then you may not notice these smaller bits. The pace and impact of decisions, in particular hitting massive milestones that alter the gameplay, are key to these types of games. If it’s just continual fire fighting, then that loses appeal quickly as you run into the next fire before the last is put out. IXION straddles that line, and doesn’t always have that work out. For a game that’s been out a month or so, this is super normal and balance passes are part of the deal. I’d still recommend the game in its current state, but can only imagine how amazing this game will be with a few small tweaks. All the pieces are here.

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