Ever since I added the finishing touches to my bustling metropolis in Cities: Skylines, I’ve longed to return to the architectural roots of Paradox Interactive’s ever-popular city-building series. I’ve since been so preoccupied with other, less-needy IPs of the same genre, however, that I almost forgot to gather my blueprints and tools for 2023’s Cities: Skylines 2—the souped-up version of the original. Needless to say that, once the realization of this came knocking on my psyche, I immediately parted ways with the worlds I had only half molded. The sledgehammer was well and truly out, and before long I found myself back at the helm for Colossal Order’s latest build.
It’s been a fair few days since I first booted (or at least attempted to boot up) Cities: Skylines 2, and to say that I’m suddenly all the wiser when it comes to the niche realm of city-building wouldn’t be far from the truth. And while I’m certainly no Michelangelo, I am, for lack of a better word, ambitious. Turns out, being ambitious is something of a double-edged sword when it comes to shaping worlds from the grassy roots up; it’s rewarding enough to keep you moving forward, but also tedious enough to know that, no matter how much you pour your heart and soul into the blueprint, you’ll never quite feel the satisfaction from your efforts.
So, is Cities: Skylines 2 worth the trouble of pouring endless hours into a sandbox that has next to no borders? Well, if you just so happen to be teetering around the possibility of picking up a copy of Paradox Interactive’s newest chapter, then read on. Here’s everything you need to know about it, and the tall order (or Colossal, in this instance) that the devs set out to accomplish.
A Tall Order, Barely Met
On paper, it should’ve been a total knockout. For what it’s worth, Cities: Skylines 2 looks pretty fantastic, though it doesn’t win itself any favors due to the fact that, to see such stunning visuals in all their glory, you’re going to need either the greatest graphics card on the net, or lower your expectations until they’re next to non-existent. Simply put, the optimization is bad — terrible, even, which means even the most simplest of tasks or modules are often laced with poor loading times and frame rates that dip well below the belt. And when I say below the belt, I’m talking 15 frames per second, or something along those lines, anyway.
Starting out in Cities: Skylines 2 is no different from the first: you inherit an enormous plot of land, and you’re essentially given the keys to transform it into a bustling empire. Easier said than done, what with the frame rate being so low, that even the smallest blade of grass can take several seconds to load in. And that’s before you start putting pen to paper and building network after network of towering skyscrapers and highways. To think, you’ve got to build yourself an entire metropolis out of this — so if this grass can’t hack it, then what’s to say a love letter to Tokyo city will?
Of course, there is the option to tweak the settings and squeeze out a few more frames for the sake of ushering in a durable experience. However, even with the lowest settings enabled, you’ll often struggle to grasp a smooth, stress-free interface that’s short on bugs and half-baked on-screen clutter. That said, there’s nothing to say that such UI-related issues are likely to persist for the duration of the roll-out process. Give it time, basically.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
”If you can dream it, you can build it,” reads the slogan. Well, technically, you can’t. Having said that, you can more or less conjure up enough ideas to get the snowball rolling, so to speak. And while, in its current state, at least, you’ll struggle to capitalize on those dreams, you can certainly lay the foundations for a futuristic landmark that’s both economically viable and financially sound. It’s just that, well, certain technical mishaps won’t let you delve any deeper without stepping in to wake you.
Cities: Skylines 2 certainly has the tools to be the self-made GOAT of city-building simulation games, few of which even tower over the ones featured in the first game. The terraforming has been reworked, as have the visuals and overall design of the building experience. There’s also a new way to progress and unlock additional features, and that’s by earning XP. Due to this slight change, there’s definitely a lot more to grind for, and twice as many milestones to look forward to achieving. There’s a lot of replay value, is what I’m trying to say, and more than a handful of custom objectives and scenarios to keep you coming back time and time again to trial new blueprints and schemes, seasons and events.
Sure enough, the task of having to accrue more citizens for your future haven is still alive and present, though the newly implemented XP system does aim to emulate its progression format by having you complete certain objectives, as opposed to building enough settlements and businesses to accommodate new arrivals. Not a major thing by any means, but definitely something that’s been given some thought on Colossal Order’s part, at least.
An Empire Fit for an Ant
In the grand scheme of things, hawking over a large-scale map that’s rife with technical issues isn’t going to make me lose interest in the future of Cities: Skylines, as a whole. Sure it’s laden with performance issues in its current state, but that isn’t to say it won’t come back swinging in its next resurrection — and with all the bells and whistles to make a former bombshell a complete success, to boot. But for now, I’m all for the idea of leaving the seeds to idle, if only to give them the breathing room needed to flourish and thrive at a much, much later date.
Of course, I’m speaking from personal experience here, so don’t think that Cities: Skylines 2 is borderline unplayable for everyone. It is worth noting, however, that even with components that outweigh the minimal requirements set out by Colossal Order, it’s doubtful that you’ll have just enough to make the most of what the game has to offer. In other words, it’s better to leave it in the oven than it is to eat it half-cooked, because at the end of the day, nobody likes a lukewarm dinner — and Cities: Skylines 2 certainly isn’t exempt from that fact.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot to look forward to with this project of Colossal Order’s. What’s more, if you’ve the kit to spare, then there’s nothing to say you can’t enjoy dozens, perhaps even hundreds of quality hours as a fledgling architect right off the bat. For the majority, however, I’d suggest steering clear for a few more months. Sorry, Paradox, but my Windows ‘98 is now in flames because of you.
Let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room here: the optimization — it isn’t quite as fine-tuned as we would’ve liked it to have been. Moreover, it sadly spoils an otherwise fantastic follow-up excursion into the realm of Cities: Skylines and its rather impressive architectural features and designs. It’s a great city-building game by contrast, but with its current performance issues and poor frame rates, it’s hard to recommend it to anyone who’s settling for a rig that isn’t up to scratch with all the newest components. In other words, if you’re looking for a quality city-building game that’ll operate on your bog-standard PC — forget it. The sad reality is, most PCs will struggle to maintain enough frames to progress through the main menu, let alone the actual game itself.
Performance issues cast aside, Cities: Skylines 2 is definitely the better choice of the two installments. Sure enough, it comes loaded with a clean palette of customizable features, management tools, and enough space to unleash your inner architect, tenfold. What’s more, there’s a great deal of replay value to it, too—a factor that can honestly make any mediocre game slip into a higher pedigree of experiences. That is, of course, providing you can alter the settings enough to enjoy said endless replays.
I don’t know, maybe Cities: Skylines just jumped the gun a little too quickly, and maybe it could’ve been kept in the oven for another few months before releasing itself unto the world. For this reason alone, perhaps it’s best to keep it tabbed in the browser for a while — if only until Colossal Order finds the ingredients needed to make it truly shine. Either that, or the team decides to squelch it down for a console edition—a port that, quite frankly, would work regardless of its vessel.
Cities: Skylines 2 Review (PC)
An Empire of Faults
To set the record straight, I don’t own a copy of Windows ‘98. Not that it makes a difference, anyway, seeing as you’d need a super computer endorsed by MI5 to boot up Cities: Skylines 2. Don’t get me wrong, it has the potential to be something beautiful and truly authentic, but due to its shockingly low frame rates and technical limitations, it’s hard to recommend it in its current state.