In 2022's city builder boom, Farthest Frontier's survival systems stand out

medieval city
(Image credit: Crate Entertainment)
Personal Picks

Game of the Year 2022

(Image credit: Future)

In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2022 (opens in new tab), each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new personal picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.

We're in the midst of a city builder boom. 2023 is already shaping up to be an outstanding year for city builders, with Frostpunk 2 (hopefully!), Manor Lords (opens in new tab), Laysara: Summit Kingdom, Aquatico, and more interesting-looking city building games (opens in new tab) headed our way. But 2022 was no slouch, either—we got to build a city on a space station in Ixion, rebuild society after a climate catastrophe in Floodland (opens in new tab), manage a norse settlement in Land of the Vikings, and survive plagues, tornados, and floods in Settlement Survival, which left Early Access in October. 

We even got to build a settlement on the back of an enormous dinosaur in The Wandering Village (opens in new tab). What a time to be a city planner!

But the city builder I fully fell into this year came from an unexpected source, Crate Software, maker of dark fantasy ARPG Grim Dawn. Survival-wise, I quickly discovered that Farthest Frontier (opens in new tab) wasn't pulling any punches as my little villagers succumbed to cold, starvation, dehydration, animal attacks, raiding parties, and just about every illness and injury you could think of. It's got the Greatest Hits of Communicable Diseases: cholera, rabies, scurvy, typhoid, tetanus, food poisoning, festering wounds, worms (worms!), and that old Oregon Trail favorite: dysentery.

Farthest Frontier brings it so hard I even had a citizen get sidelined by a bee sting.

That last one, while unexpected, was definitely my fault because I built bee hives all over my city and the surrounding farmland, hoping to cash in with visiting merchants by selling beeswax candles and honey. I'm not surprised when my citizens get mauled by a rampaging bear or get ill from eating rotting food from a rat-infested root cellar (again, my fault). Bee stings, though? That's a new one for me. It's a pretty impressive level of simulation and a clever way to knock a farmer out of action even when I've set up a healer's hut to cure the ill and proper food storage to keep my people eating healthily.

(Image credit: Crate Entertainment)

But rough as the citizens have it in Farthest Frontier, it somehow never feels unfair. This is a tough, unforgiving medieval-inspired world, but my little villagers are also pretty darn durable. There's a lot of satisfaction of watching them scrabble about for the last sticks of firewood before winter sets in, seeing them retreat indoors among a dwindling food supply for the long, snowy winter—only to survive and get back to work when the snow melts and the flowers begin to bloom.

The crop rotation system is a thoughtful one, requiring a lot of experimentation

I also really like that farming is tough. Not the basics—crops will grow as long as the weather is favorable and you can keep deer from scarfing up all your carrots—but really mastering the process to grow a successful, bountiful harvest. The crop rotation system is a thoughtful one, requiring a lot of experimentation, tweaks to the soil quality, the almost obsessive rearranging or crops so they're growing at the best time of year for peak optimization, and even spending a farming cycle simply growing clover instead of wheat or vegetables to rejuvenate the ground, which can be a tough decision to make when your citizens are barely managing to eat. 

And as I wrote back when Farthest Frontier entered Steam Early Access in August, I even like the raiders. Yes, I have cursed them many, many times. I have watched them descend on my little village at the worst moments, such as when I'm about to sell a ton of goods to a merchant and get some much-needed supplies in turn. I've seen the raiders ignore my well-fortified and protected walls to find a weak spot somewhere else on the perimeter and slip into my village. I've summoned soldiers to guard my vault only to see the raiders attack an iron foundry at the other end of town. 

(Image credit: Crate Entertainment)

Farthest Frontier's raiders are clever, which I admire, and they typically don't murder my citizens unless they need to, which I appreciate. No, they just want to steal as much of my valuable stuff as they can and then quickly beat cheeks back into the forest. I like that about them. At the same time, as my city grows and my defenses strengthen, it's an incredible pleasure to see a massive raiding party descended from the woods and be completely destroyed before they can even batter down the first gate.

Farthest Frontier still has a way to go in Early Access, and it could absolutely use more optimization and other improvements as it's developed for as-yet unannounced 1.0 release. (Cities really start to chug when they've grown to about 300 citizens). But it really drew me in this year, keeping me building, gathering, farming, and working for long hours to keep my citizens warm, fed, safe, and free of horrible diseases. It's a real "I'll just play for one more season" type of game that's easy to lose yourself in. Just don't lose your citizens to bee stings.

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.