Cities: Skylines II Review – Urban management redefined

Reviewed October 20, 2023 on PC

Platforms:

PC, PS5, Xbox Series X

Released:

October 24, 2023

Publisher:

Paradox Interactive

Developer:

Colossal Order

In the bustling realm of city-building games, Cities: Skylines II emerges after huge success with the initial game, developers Colossal Order ambitiously pushing the limits of what the genre can do. With grand promises of massive construction and immersive gameplay, does it truly rise above its predecessor or become another management hell?

Building limitless dreams from scratch

Cities: Skylines II invites players into a limitless world of urban design and civic management. You’re handed a barren canvas – a vacant piece of land – with an opportunity to fashion a thriving metropolis that springs to life. The premise is irresistibly engaging: take charge of city-building from the ground up. This isn’t just about constructing roads and infrastructure; it’s about creating a living entity with all the macro and micro-systems of a city.

“This isn’t just about constructing roads and infrastructure; it’s about creating a living entity with all the macro and micro-systems of a city.”

In a significant departure from its precursor, Cities: Skylines II enlarges the play area to awe-inspiring proportions. With 441 tiles at your disposal, offering a vast 159 km2 of space, you have an expansive canvas for your urban dreams. Furthermore, unlike its predecessor’s constraint of around 65,000 citizens, the sequel ushers in a realm without limitations. The population growth is only bound by your creative ambitions.

Unfortunately, this takes a toll on the performance of the game. The larger your city, the slower your PC will crawl with immense frame rate drops and sluggish movement of the camera. It’s pretty impressive how far the game will push boundaries with a decent PC before becoming a struggle to play. Still, all cities will hit a point where you’ll need to turn all graphic options down or simply start anew.

Urban engineering with finesse

At the core of Cities: Skylines II lies its exceptional gameplay and mechanics – and there is a lot here to play with. Luckily, the game starts off with an incredibly in-depth tutorial that doesn’t overstay its welcome. By allowing you to play along with tool-tips and pop-ups the first time you interact with a system, it helps you learn and play simultaneously. Tutorials can be turned off or on at any point in your city-building journey, which ensures nobody is lost.

At the surface, the game does look incredibly like the original Cities: Skylines. However, players now have the precision to meticulously plan the development of residential, commercial, and industrial zones. No more frustrating block placement of zones, allowing you to essentially create mixed-use residential areas and be more imaginative with the city.

“This is the most detailed city-management game available and is not for the faint-hearted.”

An array of services takes urban management to new heights. Police and fire stations can be allocated to specific districts, drastically enhancing their response times – and it doesn’t stop at essential services. Cities: Skylines II evolves on communication, welfare, and even death management, consolidating the intricate management of your sprawling metropolis.

One of the standout features is the heightened intelligence of the AI. Citizens choose their routes based on factors like distance, costs, comfort, and personal preferences, rendering the traffic system intricate and lifelike. This comes with added challenge, with minor adjustments to the road and public transport network causing complex issues with how citizens travel. The difficulty continues to rise when you incorporate the smarter AI into electricity use, employment, school travel, emergency services, water, and sewage… the list goes on. This is the most detailed city-management game available and is not for the faint-hearted.

Clime change authority

Cities: Skylines II has an XP system for progression, transforming how you build your city. You’ll accumulate experience points passively as your city’s population burgeons and actively as you construct new structures.

What sets the game apart from the original is the introduction of Development Trees, akin to skill trees for city services. These allow players to invest development points, providing a personalised touch to your city’s growth. You can essentially min-max your city to become a wider, sprawling country of smaller towns, a densely populated replica of New York, or whatever your heart desires with the right allocation of development points. It’s amazing the creativity Cities: Skylines II gives players.

“It’s amazing the creativity Cities: Skylines 2 gives players.”

Climates and seasons add layers of complexity and intrigue. Each map boasts unique weather cycles, with areas experiencing different conditions. From heavy rain to droughts and snowfall, you’ll contend with the ever-changing environment in your quest to nurture your city. With different deposits of resources within the earth, you’ll also have an added layer to closely manage pesky pollution and its impact on your civilisation. Without proper placement, you’ll be poisoning entire inhabited areas, crops, and waterways and turn your metropolis into a dystopia.

What sets the series apart is mod support and at the time of review and upon launch, modding is not available. However, the developers have announced the upcoming Paradox Mods platform for a universal experience. This means players playing on Steam, Xbox, or Epic can access the same mods across the board. With full confidence in the expansion of the game’s improved inherent mechanics, the player base should flock to create outstanding content to enhance the city-building fun further. I’m looking forward to creating a Cyberpunk 2077 city inhabited by dinosaurs who use Naarm’s Metro Tunnel in the near future.

A soundscape of urban life

Visual splendour and auditory immersion define the Cities: Skylines II experience. While the game isn’t photorealistic to the level of Microsoft Flight Simulator or Gran Turismo, every nook and cranny has detail, including large landscapes of rolling hills and the hustle and bustle of a thriving city and kids playing in parks. Admittedly, the closer you get the less fidelity you see, but you’ll be captivated by the sheer beauty and attention to detail.

“…every nook and cranny has detail, including large landscapes of rolling hills and the hustle and bustle of a thriving city and kids playing in parks.”

The downside is you’ll not see much of these visuals as soon as your city becomes too large and the game slows down. Turning down graphic settings from high to low is the easiest way to solve performance issues and will turn a lot of the close-up details into textureless clay.

There are also a range of bugs that will cause frustration. Overlapping structures will often get in the way and not clearly explain how to resolve the issue, when building roads they’ll sometimes refuse to connect to each other like two repulsing magnets, and some moving elements like cars and people will pop in and out occasionally when zoomed in. Not game-breaking, but annoying.

The audio design is equally impressive. It mirrors that of a living, breathing metropolis. The hum of traffic, the chatter of pedestrians, the sirens of emergency services – these audio elements seamlessly blend to create an authentic, dynamic city.

News broadcasts and podcasts break up the soothing soundtrack and are a brilliant way to add variety to the soundscape of the game. Not only does it change things up, but it tells a story and alerts you to immediate issues in the city – whether that be complaints about excessive garbage or a recent car crash on a main highway. The voice acting is also on point and sounds just like a real person creating a podcast or radio show (we would know, we run one). Incorporating audio as another cue in the performance of your city is remarkably smart and engaging.

9

Amazing

Positive:

  • Almost limitless possibilities for your city
  • Progression tree offers lots of creativity
  • Evolves on the existing systems
  • Great soundscape backed by podcasts

Negative:

  • Bigger the city, worse the performance
  • Bugs and other cracks to patch up

Cities: Skylines II is a city-building experience of epic proportions, filled with complexity and creativity. Its immense ambition in city design is complemented by an intricate web of services and an intelligent population. It may stumble under the weight of technical performance and a few bugs but the series still continues to redefine urban strategy in games. Colossal Order have truly delivered a living, breathing, dynamic city management game.