LGR - Cities Skylines 2 Review
[piano-laden jazz tunes play] [computer buzzes, beeps] After a lengthy 8½ year run, Paradox and Colossal Order have finally set aside Cities Skylines and plopped down the long-awaited sequel: Cities Skylines II. Which is always a bit weird when it comes to simulation games, being that the entire goal of a simulation is... to simulate, as much stuff as possible. And after 11 full expansion packs, several mini expansions, dozens of cosmetic, flavor, and creator packs, plus free updates and countless mods? Yeah, the sheer amount of SIMULATION available in the original Skylines is categorically overwhelming.
So it’s a given that starting over from scratch with a new entry will feel like a step backwards, right? Or two or three or five steps– look, I’m gonna be straight with y’all. On launch, CS2 is the mixiest of mixed bags. On the one hand, there are a slew of fresh features, quality of life improvements, and logical additions that make CS2 feel like a proper evolution in city sims. And I respect that they’ve included CS1 content that was previously part of paid expansions. Like weather, specialized industry, disasters, cargo hubs, trams, and taxis. But despite doing so much right from day one, there's a weird amount of stuff currently worse than before, or missing outright. Like the lack of placeable props, few city policies,
missing animations and certain basic features, and opaque under-the-hood logic making the sim feel unbalanced, or even broken at first glance. Don’t get me wrong, it’s clearly a different simulation than CS1 and there’s a lot to like here making for a solid foundation to build upon, and I’ve still come away having fun with the core game. But I also think CS2 seriously needed more time in the development oven before being publicly unleashed, because it feels like I’ve been playing a pre-release game. Oh and to be clear, I’m not, this is the public release! I paid for the game
myself and was not offered any kind of review copy or early access at all, so I only got to start playing on its regular launch date. That said, I’ve still managed to rack up a good 50 hours thus far, so let’s dive into the nitty gritty of what’s old, what’s new, what’s good, and what sucks. And well, it’s no surprise that Cities Skylines II directly follows its predecessor in attempting to be everything that SimCity still wishes it was. This is a classic city builder focused on managing demand for Residential, Commercial, and Industrial zones, while juggling citizens’ needs regarding power, water, traffic, education, city services, and so on. And much like before, there are two main ways to play: The gamified way by starting with a set amount of cash depending on chosen difficulty, and earning XP to unlock city levels, gradually providing new buildings and features. Or there’s the wide open sandbox way, with infinite money and everything unlocked from
the start, allowing you to skip the progression system entirely. This time around though, there aren’t nearly as many maps to play on, with only 10 in the standard edition base game and one more in the ultimate. And as of now, there’s no map editor included either. Or an asset editor, or any kind of editor at all, as it’s still in beta and yet to be released. That said,
the included maps are diverse enough I suppose. They not only have their own themes, climate, and resources, but the map sizes are roughly five times larger than vanilla CS1. Each map contains 159 square kilometers of play area according to the devs, split up into 441 tiles that can be unlocked as needed. Each individual tile is smaller now, but I think this works better since you can strategically snap up only the bits of land you need without spending a ton.
And tiles don’t have to be connected either, so you can purchase tiles all the way on the other side of the map to exploit resources and set up a remote mining town or whatever. Each map can also experience a gamut of seasons year-round, so depending on their preset climate they can go from spring, to summer, to autumn, to winter, and endure the accompanying weather patterns. And yep, snowfall can occur without specifically being a snow-focused map now, fixing that rather silly limitation from the first game. That said, there is no way to adjust or turn off weather either, and if you enable disasters before loading up a city? Then you’ll randomly have to deal with those too, with things like tornados, forest fires, hailstorms, and flooding. But yeah, starting off it’s a simple matter of placing roads to generate zone tiles, and both features have been tweaked with positive results. With roads, the tools for placing, upgrading, and adding onto them are significantly improved. Like check this out, so long as you have
snap disabled and replace mode on, then you can not only change road types without bulldozing but you can even move them around bit by bit until they’re exactly where you want them. It’s also way more forgiving with building complex approach angles and intersections, plus roundabouts and bridges are now a placeable feature, it’s awesome stuff. Roadways also contain underground pipes and power lines, another feature that I am all too happy to see. No more nasty above-ground power cables and spaghetti-fied water and sewage lines! Unless that’s your fetish and in that case, carry on. And zones now go up to six tiles deep, allowing for larger and more varied building shapes. This also ties into the fact that scaling has been adjusted in a much-needed way, I really like the overall look of buildings here. Ooh and I also really like that street addresses
are generated for each zoned building, you’ve gotta appreciate the little things like that. And you have a bunch more zone types as well, like row housing, low rent apartment blocks, plus European and North American varieties for all residential and commercial zones. And even mixed use zoning, finally! So you can place small businesses underneath residential in a single building, ya love to see it. And practically every building, from homes to offices, factories to skyscrapers, feels visually cohesive and closer to reality. Compared to CS1, where it felt like looking at a bunch of mismatched playsets all crammed together with different sizes and art styles. There’s also more complexity on buildings now, with better textures and detail work, well-lit windows and glimpses at interiors, and lots of clutter objects scattered around. About the only complaint I have
with buildings comes from the ploppable ones, where many of them seem utterly gigantic and look out of place in a smaller town. Like sure, I’ve seen elementary schools this size in real life cities. But this is a tiny town with a thousand people, why is this the only option in the game? Ah well, at least they had the good sense to rip off one of SimCity 2013’s best ideas: modular upgrades! So now you can increase a ploppable building’s capabilities by purchasing add-ons and dropping them either nearby or on the structure itself. Water, sewage, power, garbage, healthcare, deathcare, the new communications buildings – pretty much every city service building can be elegantly upgraded, without being forced to buy another oversized monstrosity! Wait, if you commission a huge building is a that a colossal order? It all makes sense now. But yeah, you’ll want things working at peak performance, particular with the new service trading system.
Now whenever you generate a surplus of some resource or service, you can sell it back to the grid, so to speak. As long as your city has an outside connection, selling happens automatically whenever you have a surplus. The opposite is also true, if you have a deficit then outside connections are used to import those services. Power, water, garbage and fire trucks, industrial supplies, whatever, it’s all potentially being traded in the background, and there’s no control over how much you buy or sell or how much it costs. Early on this really caused me some grief with things like my water system not being fully connected but I had no idea, cuz the game automatically imported tons of expensive water to compensate. And I built a nice big landfill, which is fun due to the new draggable boundaries tool that lets you create custom shapes and sizes! But it was constantly being filled to the brim even though I had a small town, which made no sense. Until I realized it was automatically importing garbage. So pay attention to that
Economy Panel, because it’s too easy to let cashflow go bananas early on. This is also where you take out loans, adjust individual city service budgets, see what’s being produced, and adjust tax levels with all-new granularity. You can even change precisely how much tax is collected from individual types of products and resources, and which types of commercial and office businesses will get what kinds of tax breaks or hikes. The residential side of things threw me for a loop though, taxing citizens based on education level? What the heck, what municipality does that? But yep, citizens are taxed based not on how much money they make, but on how much schooling they have. I assume as a proxy for income level, or potential upward mobility, assuming that higher education always means higher-paying jobs? I dunno, seems odd. As does the way trending gains and losses are displayed, because my city budget was constantly “in the red” for the first couple dozen hours. Which is weird because I was also constantly turning a profit.
And then after 20,000 citizens or so I was “making money,” even though I had been for years, I don’t get it. I also don’t fully understand the new RCI demand system, which has been logically expanded to include individual demand for residential densities as well as offices separate from industry. That combined with how demand adjustment is immediate after placing new zones made me think this was all an improvement, but as time went on? I was baffled by how certain demands constantly stayed at a hundred percent while others remained at 50 or even zero. And on top of that,
there’s an issue with citizens not treating commercial businesses correctly leading to an inordinate number of them failing, it’s all kinds of frustrating. Some of this results from bugs, some of it’s simply obtuse, but either way there’s not enough in-game info revealing how zone demand is calculated, and without knowing the simulation’s economic assumptions, you’re left making trial and error assumptions yourself. And this vagueness is not what I want in a city sim. I also found the new radio announcements and Chirper to be utterly useless, since they keep telling me the exact same issues over and over and over in a loop, regardless of what I do to address them. At least with Chirper you can click on who’s causing a fuss, track them down, see where they live, and enact some petty vengeance from on high. Mm, the Orwellian future,
isn’t it great? You know, I feel like I’d be better equipped to actually handle people’s problems if I could enact the right policies, but again Skylines 2 disappoints. Both citywide and district policies are severely limited compared to CS1, there’s like a fifth of what we used to have here. You only get basics like incentivizing recycling and green energy, limiting traffic, placing ads, educating prisoners, and charging for taxis and parking. That’s it, it’s pathetic. Now,
you can at least complete objectives to unlock signature buildings, and in a way these offer policy-like functionality. Placing these one-off buildings in your city will affect the way things operate, boosting certain zone types, education levels, service efficiencies, or even bringing in tourist traffic. On that note, Skylines 2 seems to be somewhat more forgiving in terms of traffic flow, at least while your city’s still gaining its footing. But oh-hoo-boy does traffic get
very real, very quickly after reaching a certain population level, which for me was around 25k. Car wrecks, pile-ups, vehicles setting on fire and mowing down pedestrians, rush hour traffic, and massive highway traffic jams? Yeah it’s all here and it is delightfully time-consuming to deal with. I mean, to me it is anyway, I dunno why but I rather enjoy it, each traffic issue is its own puzzle to solve. Often as simple as placing a new highway, other times it’s limiting turning lanes and traffic lights. I really wish you could place individual lights and stop signs, instead of only an entire intersection at once though. Parking lots are also a thing now,
and they’re a nightmare if you place them in the wrong spots since driving in and out of them causes everyone to lose their mind. Still, I found it gratifying to solve parking issues and get as many people away from street parking as possible. Somethin’ about that depressing suburban sprawl and outdated car-focused urban design that just makes my day. About the only thing
that doesn’t ruin traffic is traveling wildlife, for whatever reason. The moose remain unfazed. [assorted moose, traffic sounds] On that note, it’s amusing how we get fully animated forest creatures and bizarrely high-poly character models for every single person in the game. Yet things that you see all the time, like ambulances picking up patients and fire trucks responding to raging infernos? Yeah there’s simply no animation there at all anymore. They lazily pull up to a location and sit there until whatever’s happening stops happening. Ugh. And while I’m on petty gripes, let’s point out a few more! Like how DARK it is when it’s... dark. Cuz man, as much as I like admiring a city at night,
it is absolutely atrocious for getting anything done. Darkness is dark, I get it, but am I supposed to just not do anything at night? CS1 not only had more forgiving darkness, but the cursor lit things up so you could see what’s around it. Not so here, and I end up disabling the cycle entirely. And what’s going on with elevated tram and train tracks? I love that you can build elevated rail, it’s one of my favorite features in any city. But since there aren’t any elevated rail stations or platforms, citizens simply walk along the railways to get to their stop, and then float up and down through the air to return to street level. Like there are supposed to be
stairs but there just, isn’t. And nope, you can’t connect pedestrian pathways either. Not unless you make a jerry-rigged pseudo platform using elevated streets in addition to rail. Finally, modding things are no longer built in, there’s no Steam Workshop and no mod menu. There are plans to
include mods, but c’mon! Mods were such a capstone of the original Skylines from the word go, and leaving out such a key aspect on launch just adds to everything else that feels rushed. I certainly look forward to trying out whatever the Paradox Mods system ends up being, but in the meantime I’m really missing that community. At the very least, I can say that the performance isn’t as horrendous as reported early on, and for me it’s even better after the first patch! There are plenty of online guides about what’s best to adjust and disable so I won’t go into details, but these are the settings I’ve been using with the 1.0.11f1 version throughout this video. PC specs are in the video
description. And with all that, I get between 35 and 60 fps, mostly hovering around 50 but often dipping into the forties during normal gameplay. This seems to be the case regardless of city size, and I’ve tested two save files with over 100k population, one from the channel City Planner Plays and another from GameStar Magazine. And yep, whether it’s a megalopolis like those or a
city half the size, the performance really doesn’t vary much. At least it’s quote unquote “fine” for a city builder, and on-par with what I got in the first game, but no doubt improvements can be made. And gosh does that statement sum things up! So for now I think I’m done with Cities Skylines II, as it stands here in early November 2023. It’s a game that irritates, amuses, confuses, impresses, falls short, compels, and repels with its mishmash of great ideas and wonky execution. And considering
it costs 20 dollars more than the OG Skylines, it’s a bit of a hard sell. Fifty US dollars for the base game, and ninety dollars for the Ultimate Edition, which includes additional assets and the Expansion Pass for future DLC. And I dunno man, my first impressions were strong and my overall feeling is positive, even hopeful! But it’s such a back and forth thing the longer I play, where despite the cracks continuing to show, I still like learning the new systems and using improved features. CS2 is full of lovely things, heck I haven’t even mentioned the new photo mode and camera system, which gives you an absurd amount of lens and environment options, plus a system for programming camera moves. And all the other great stuff like mixed zoning, underground power, modular service buildings, fantastic road tools, and a better sense of scale. And due to how The
Sims burned me, I truly appreciate that they didn’t yank out features like weather, hubs, and public transit to sell back to us through expansions. Yet for every welcome upgrade, there’s also an area of confusion where I can’t tell if something is an oversight, or bugging out, or if it’s missing entirely. And for as much as it seems to love micromanagement, there are plenty of things you can’t manage at all, macro or micro. Like, why can’t we see pedestrian routes and individual traffic paths anymore when you click on ‘em? You can see their ultimate destination but not the path they’re taking to get there, making traffic flow troubleshooting a pain. Before long it’s all a visually cluttered mess of translucent buildings, grids, and infrastructure, and it’s tough to decipher what’s what when attempting renovation or detail work. Not
that there’s much detail work you can actually do compared to CS1, since things like props, fences, and decor items are by default inaccessible. There are trees and shrubs of course, though they’re trickier to place since you plant saplings that grow into full-sized plants over time. I do love the flora brush tool at least, that’s nice to have. But why the heck do we have to enable developer mode to access everyday props and do basic scenery adjustments? And why can’t pedestrian paths connect to parks anymore? There are these lovely parks and the pathway tools are so much better now, but there are no longer any nodes to directly connect pathways to parks. So much of the game is like this: step forward, step backward. Then add on all the reports online of economic balancing issues and broken supply chains, largely surrounding features I haven’t fully explored yet, and... yeah. It makes me not wanna spend time with CS2 until a few more patches
and modding opens up. Honestly, if they’d released it in this state as early access, or a public beta or something? I wouldn’t be bothered, and I could’ve happily ignored it until the game was finished. Instead, we’ve got a flawed yet promising foundation that’s just itching to be fixed up and built into something superb. I’m truly rooting for a heroic rise from disappointment to greatness here, it’d be wonderful to see Skylines 2 become the game I know Colossal Order sought out to make. For now though, perhaps give this one a pass until things improve. [downtempo music intensifies] Heh, “give this a pass,” it’s available on Game Pass right? Not what I meant but hey whatever. Anyway, I know this video was a bit of a downer but I hope it was enlightening
or entertaining at least! And I plan to cover the first couple CS2 expansions, but, beyond that? We’ll have to see. Till next time though, thank you for watching LGR!