Managing a city is a complex affair even if you don’t have a grand vision. Cities: Skylines II takes that complexity and turns it up a notch by putting you in charge of every system you can think of. From managing the sewer system to creating new jobs, you are in charge of making sure this city works great. Thanks to the myriad of systems you control, it’s possible to build a city however you like. The downside is that the complexity of the systems quickly runs away from you. Your city’s growth can be exponential leading to the illusion of success. Unfortunately, it’s easy for the city’s problems to stay hidden until it’s too late to do anything about it. You must be willing to spend time and learn how to play the game, accepting that you will fail multiple times. It’s not a game for the faint of heart, but the responsibility falling solely on your hands is a fun experience.
Just like other city builders, Cities: Skylines II makes you start from scratch, choosing a map type to start building. You must build a power source, take care of the city’s water needs, and build infrastructure to let people move in. As your city grows, you must manage their safety, transport, and health needs as well.
While the systems are gradually introduced to give you some breathing room, it’s great to see the level of depth for the city. This isn’t a simple game where the services are done and you are just growing a city. You decide how the funding is distributed, how high the taxes are, and where everything is positioned. As your city grows, you add public transportation options and decide how the city expands.
Seeing your city come to life is rewarding, especially when you gradually learn how to play. There are different choices for buildings that let you customize what type of city you want. You control how many people move in, the businesses created, and the city’s attractiveness. If you feel a city should be adopting green policies, you can put that into play. A city where trains are your only form of transport? Make it a reality. The level of customization lets you create whatever city you like and encourages experimentation. Testing out different facilities and seeing what you like gives you a good starting point. If you want to adjust your strategy and build new layouts for your city, go ahead and see what works. Having that level of control makes the experience intriguing because you want to see if your ideas pay off.
Expanding your city and establishing trade with other cities is also nice. You don’t get the feeling that you are alone and it’s great to provide other locations for citizens to travel to. Helping out other cities also makes you feel good because you are actively benefiting the world around you. Or go at it alone and leave the other cities to suffer. Cities: Skyline II is freeing in that aspect, though you are encouraged to establish contact with other cities.
However, Cities: Skyline II also increases in complexity as you begin growing. Your finances are constantly dwindling without tax revenue which is a topic that isn’t discussed much during the tutorial. Citizens frequently complain about problems such as lack of healthcare facilities despite one or two built nearby. You should know how to make your citizens aware of issues or if the complaints are delayed. It’s hard to keep up or diagnose what’s going wrong when your citizens are complaining about existing facilities they don’t use. You can’t keep building hospitals if people don’t visit them but you don’t know how to coerce visits. This is especially prominent when your city alerts you about power or water shortages, despite funneling an abundance of resources This presents one of Cities: Skyline II’s biggest weaknesses; its inability to recognize or alert you to problems. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be vigilant or proactively solve problems when there’s an actual need. But it does feel weird for you to build facilities and your citizens actively don’t use them.
Cities: Skyline II also struggles to help you properly fit pipes and wiring. When you are trying to make connections, it can be hard to get a perfect match that the game recognizes as a connection. This means spending lots of time figuring out how to connect water mains or sewage pipes properly. Veterans of the series or city builders can quickly figure out strategies to adapt or understand the actual urgency. But newer players will struggle to understand why citizens aren’t satisfied with new housing options or cries for help. Even if you funnel more power and water than the city can use or create more housing, you are always critical.
The lack of explanation surrounding the balance sheet is another big misstep. It’s easy to get carried away and believe that everything’s fine in the beginning. Your accomplishments give you large amounts of money which is generous. Unfortunately, it hides the fact that your cities are loss-making machines in the beginning. This is dangerous for new players because they are stuck in a Catch-22. They can’t spend more on education or vital public services or they get stuck with debt they can’t pay off. But not building those facilities makes it harder for you to earn taxes and start making profits. There’s no alert to this situation either or an explanation, making it tough to recover.
While trial-and-error is always part of the city-building formula, it does feel unfair to put players in such a position early on. Figuring your way out isn’t easy, especially if the requirements for the next milestone are far off. Even worse, you can’t continually fund yourself through milestones as the debt gets bigger. It feels like Cities: Skyline II’s learning curve is steep, which can turn players away.
Experimenting your way to a better city looks fantastic with the visuals, letting you see your city come to life. The buildings and facilities are designed well, looking as realistic as you would imagine in an actual city. However, the visuals have a noticeable effect on game speed which may require lowering the graphics. This is especially true when the game gives you a notice that it performs better on an SSD. The sounds make you feel like you are building a city from the ground up, with a radio station that keeps you notified of any problems. It’s a pity that your game might be too slow to respond, forcing you to pause almost every other moment.
Cities: Skylines II has great potential and it gives you intricate control over the city you are building. Its high difficulty and lack of explanation over funding can make the game harder than intended. If you are going to play this game, getting an SSD is highly recommended to make loading times better. Otherwise, it could be a struggle to play the game.
Victor played Cities: Skylines II on PC with his own bought copy.