Eight years ago, Colossal Order hit a home run with Cities Skylines at a time when a true city builder was needed. The game was a smashing success, blowing away the expectations of gamers and skyrocketing the small developer into the spotlight. Several DLCs were launched and, eventually, it was confirmed that a sequel to the hit game was in the works. Like many others, I’ve been excited for Cities Skylines II because building upon a successful title should be quite possible. Instead, I’m here to share my disappointment and utter disbelief at how such a promising franchise hit the largest brick wall in the worst way.
When it works, the gameplay is good.
Cities Skylines II builds upon, or at least tries to, the success of the original by opening up the map so larger cities can be built. Added into the game is a more robust road, power, water, and general services system that to the naked eye seems like an improvement. The problem is that most of the execution of this game falls flat and causes some issues. While laying out power grids wasn’t too difficult in the original game, one of the complaints I had was that the power line system could get a little annoying, and I always questioned why we couldn’t run those lines underground. The good news is that underground power exists in the sequel. The bad news is that unless you have your road system well built out, you’re still going to be running power lines that get in the way of everything. I almost preferred the original system because at least all I had to do was run the line to one part of the grid and a big area got power. In this system, the only way you can run underground power is to ensure you build your power source on a road. If you don’t and want to keep it well away from the bulk of your city, you have to run standard lines, and if your city is already booming? Something’s going to be deleted or you have to come up with a Plan B. It’s extremely frustrating.
Being fair, I will say that the UI in this game made proper changes and is fairly easy to navigate. Figuring out the road system and how to do complicated options such as S-Curves, underground roads, and bridges is still a bit of a challenge, but will help you overall in your building. The upgrade system is very good too, as you can click on some buildings like high schools and hospitals, and upgrade them to make the more efficient or extend them out with add-ons. This requires some future planning as you must have the room to build them, or else you’re stuck with the base models unless you bulldoze some existing infrastructure. If you manage to make it this far in your games, you get used to it and learn to plan accordingly. Earning those upgrades means expanding your city and earning points to unlock on a skill tree, which is fine enough, but this doesn’t have the amount of freedom a player thinks they have. Going down one specific path can bottleneck a city and prevent it from growing based upon the needs of citizens. It needed better execution.
One thing that got terribly annoying quickly is the radio chats in this game. They’re cheesy, ridiculous, and extremely repetitive. The professor who has the extremely annoying accent telling everyone why the housing market is in terrible shape is funny the first time, and maybe a little bit the second time, but to hear this many, many times? Any sane person is going to turn that radio off in a hurry. I wish the broadcasts weren’t so comical and had more variety to them. It’s one of those things that’s a great idea in theory, but the execution was awful.
This game has a lot of problems, especially with performance.
I’m playing this game on a Ryzen 5800X with a RTX 3080 Founders Edition. Essentially, I have a system that is powerful enough to run most any game I want at max or near max graphics. Cities Skylines II, however, needed more time to cook. With my base settings, which does include max graphics, this is my performance readout from my overlay:
Not great, to say the least. Playing around with settings didn’t matter much, and while turning off Depth to Field yielded a slight boost, it wasn’t much better.
And this is just standing still. If I dared to move anything or build something? My framerate took a nosedive.
I could get to 60 FPS if I turned my graphics settings down, but why should I have to do that? The first game runs perfectly fine because it had proper optimization and didn’t try to eat every last resource I had from my GPU. On top of this, once I started getting some buildings down, my computer suffered from various issues including freezing and lag spikes as if I was in an online competitive match. That shouldn’t happen, and it’s incredibly disappointing for this game. Since release, a couple of patches have come out that has - kind of - helped with this, but it still suffers and the developers are saying that a city builder game doesn’t need 4K and that1080p is perfectly fine. This is one of the few things you do not want to say to a PC gaming community and, really, the best option here was to kick the release date down the road six months and work on optimization. Instead? We add this game to the growing list of games that either had Day Zero patches or needed them badly.
There’s not much in the way of options or scenarios, but that’s okay?
So….okay, let’s talk about scenarios in building-style games.
As someone who thoroughly enjoys games like this, I’m one of those that believes pre-made scenarios like in Roller Coaster Tycoon and Planet Coaster aren’t great. They pigeon-hole you into digging yourself out of a hole, but that’s not the issue I have with them. I hate that things are built for you already and you’re essentially forced to build out from something that isn’t a creation from your own mind.
Cities Skylines II opts to give you ten maps, says “figure it out yourself, bud,” and calls it a day. Honestly? I prefer this, especially because the amount of space available to purchase as your city grows is incredible. Each of the ten maps that are currently available allow you to expand the city by more than 400 quadrants. When you first load into a map, you have a measly nine quadrant area to work with, but quickly you’ll run out of space if you don’t expand. The game makes it fairly easy to expand, but the balance comes from making sure you don’t overextend and end up with an astronomical budget to manage and balance. This is ultimately the biggest challenge of Cities Skylines II: Being the accountant of a city while approving every last purchase there is. It’s extremely easy to get carried away and suddenly you have a $20,000/day deficit that’s draining your funds. With the delicate balance that this game requires, being forced into a scenario where a city is running with an asinine deficit or has more services missing than one can fathom would only add to the frustration.
Sometimes, keeping it simple is the best option.
That’s a lot to take in. Is this game fun or not?
I know I’ve spent a good chunk of this review railing on a game for being terrible with optimization and some questionable decisions on how to make materials work, but I’ll stand by this statement:
Somewhere in here is a good and fun game. It’s just not there yet.
The game has already experienced a patch that’s helped out with performance, and it’s definitely noticeable! Even through all of this frustration, I still wanted to build my city. I ran into the issues that every city builder causes in a player that makes you either wipe the map or hastily build something you can’t afford, and that’s how I know I was at least enjoying the experience in some way.
The quality of life changes really shine in some spots, like how water pipes are auto-run (still have to connect them under bridges) or how landfills and farms can have their service areas manually changed to be larger or smaller while you rack up money to get more efficient systems in place. I still think some of the alerts that come up are annoying, reminding me that noise pollution is very much a thing, but early on there’s very little you can do to get around that. You need industrial zones, you need the power grid, and you need all of those services.
And all of that is why I hope this game patches itself up in a few months and unlocks just how good it can be. There are plenty of glimpses, and that’s what’s frustrating! It’s like they were just figuring out everything and were in the stages of making it all work together but launch day was coming and they were unable to push it back. Would it be disappointing to all of the fans of the first game to have to wait? Absolutely, but sometimes it’s better to get it right than to get it out. I feel this is the situation that we have here, and unfortunately the game will have a tough time shaking off that initial bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
So….should I buy it or not?
Not right now, no.
Cities Skylines II currently sells for $49.99 on Steam, and given the promises from the developer and publisher that patches are coming, I’d wait to let this one cook a bit more. If you have the first game, I strongly recommend playing that one for a while longer and let the sequel get patched up. The upgrades to the UI and quality of life certainly make it tempting, but even those running the beefiest of gaming setups are struggling to truly get the most out of this game. That, in itself, is enough to make you smash the pause button. I’d say check back in three months, maybe six months, and see what the word is then.
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.
Sean is a 15 year veteran of gaming and technology writing with an unhealthy obsession for Final Fantasy, soccer, and chocolate.View Profile