We've become mayor and tried to build our dream city in this long-awaited sequel.
There are few things that make me as happy in games as seeing my city light up in the darkness of night after the sun goes down. Cities: Skylines II is the sequel to the modern replacement for Sim City and these are no small shoes for developer Colossal Order to fill. Their previous projects in the world of simulations come in handy here, as they have explicitly stated that they listened to the feedback from the first game and developed the second one accordingly. I was very fond of its predecessor and consider it probably the best modern title in its genre. The second game is an attempt to build on what made its predecessor great.
It's immediately apparent that the graphics and sound have been improved. Just something as simple as a radio station playing live reports about your city and music in between is great. The voice actors provide excellent voices that you can listen to for a long time, and residents also let you know what's going on via a live feed, which in turn, like its predecessor, is a parody of Twitter called Chirper. You can also go in and give likes to any hate or love sent your way.
Construction has seen some upgrades, especially roads, which are smoother than before to build, and you have more tools right away and don't have to struggle with them in the same way as the predecessor. Just like before, the houses can be built next to the roads. When you lay a road, you see boxes to mark what kind of buildings should be built there, not unlike how Sim City 4 worked. The difference here is that you are more locked into where you can build. For me, this has been both a weakness of the series and a strength. The roads now also have ready-made and bonded waste and water pipes you can connect.
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Not having full control over where everything is built and how it looks is not always a bad thing. There is a certain charm in seeing how neighbourhoods built in the same way can have distinct appearances. As I build up cities, I can also change the design of the architecture. In the base game there is European and American architecture, and you can freely mix both. In addition to this, you have lots of unique or special buildings that you can place wherever you want, and the amount of content available is plentiful. You have a good range of things you can build right from the start. A disadvantage of these types of titles is often that a lot of content is not included at the beginning, but I think the developers have managed to remedy that. Everything from trains, subways, unique buildings, parks and more can be placed. Special industries can be built and these specialise your city towards collecting and or processing different raw materials, and during the game, you also unlock new buildings as the city grows via an upgrade tree.
If there's one thing about the second game that stands out, it's the progression, as you always feel like you're working towards something. It's easy to go into statistics mode and find information about where problems in cities are and at the same time as your city is growing, you have lots of other things to do. The pace is a little slower this time, but you have so much more to do that it's not noticeable. The maps are gigantic and you can really build super-sized cities. The maps are up to five times the size of their predecessors and this means that city planning is even more important. Although tools are available to move buildings, rebuild roads and other things, redesigning city centres is tricky, so if you don't think ahead, you can run into problems with local services such as buses, taxis, trains, planes and subways if you want them to be easily accessible by the population.
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The seasons are now built directly into the maps. So while it may seem like you have few choices of maps, both weather and climate are included at every single level. If you choose a map in the polar region, you can expect short summers and long winters, but some more temperate maps often all four seasons. Each day and night cycle represents a month in the game and while I do find this to be a bit fast, it also allows you to see a regular variation in both weather and the map. In winters, snow trucks plough the roads and in summers there can be forest fires, and of course, you can prepare for natural disasters and more if you have them activated. Along with a better progression system, large levels and lots to do, you'll spend a lot of time on each map, however it would have been great to have a few more places to build. I hope we get a desert map in the future, as I think the challenge of arid landscapes with new gameplay elements like importing water would work well.
What I really miss are bikes and more interaction with some buildings, because some stadiums are left empty and unused. Small things can make a difference and having city residents use what you build is important to bring cities to life. Even if the weather affects the behaviour of the inhabitants, I think a little more life in some buildings would do a lot for the experience. If you like building small towns, you may have a problem with the fact that many buildings are designed for medium-sized towns and above. However, I love the new modular upgrade system specific buildings have, where, if you click on a police station for example, you can upgrade it by placing more garages for cars. Furthermore, schools can be expanded for more students or with a park, and hospitals can be equipped with more ambulances and space. The list goes on and I think this is a clever way to let us tailor the capacity and capability of individual buildings to suit our needs and finances. The game wants you to build big.
Although Cities: Skylines II is a good foundation to build on with expansions, there are flaws. Those who bought all the expansion packs for the first game will probably miss some things. Another disadvantage is that Workshop in Steam is not supported but a system Paradox uses is in place instead, which no doubt will be fun for the console owners to modify the title when it launches later. Hopefully by this time the performance problems will be fixed, because the single biggest culprit and problem with this game is the performance. Colossal Order has already announced in advance that it does not perform as desired, and that is noticeable on higher settings. The build was cumbersome and didn't quite manage to reach high frames per second on my modern system. Still, when you move beyond the performance, it's a competent, well-playing and massive city-building game that evolves many of the gameplay systems from the first one.
Overall, I am very pleased to be the mayor of a new dream city. There's plenty of music and an appropriate news program talking about the merits and demerits of the city. The gameplay elements are improved over its predecessor and it's very packed content-wise. While the graphics won't surprise anyone, they look good for the genre, and little things like being able to see through windows are also welcome touches. It's a shame that technology drags down the experience as its predecessor flowed very well and had a tight launch.
I can look past some of the technical issues thanks to the studio's history of updating and building downloadable expansions. However, it's always unfortunate when games have these kinds of problems. If you can handle not running at the highest settings, you'll be fine. I also advise you to turn off the depth of field, as I thought I needed to go to the optician because it was so blurry. It's a shame that Cities: Skylines II has performance woes because it is undoubtedly the best of the year in its genre, and I will be playing this for at least several hundred more hours. Without technical problems, it would have been a solid nine.
8 / 10
Varied. Lots of content. Big cities and maps. Seasons. Lots of freedom. Good game mechanics and a great radio channel.
Missing bikes and buildings for small towns. Limited biomes. Problems with optimisation.