Well this review is off to a brilliant start. I go into my screenshots directory, thinking that I’m all responsible and shit, only to find I haven’t got any of my own screenshots to use. Searching around I can’t find anything and suddenly I remember that, for whatever reason, the Nvidia panel wasn’t working with Cities Skylines II (probably due to me playing it on Gamepass, which means it’s a Windows Universal App, which has all sorts of implications). Usually I’d just burl up the game and take a few screenshots anyway but, honestly, I couldn’t be arsed. Try as I might to like Cities Skylines II I just… didn’t. Nothing really compelled me to keep building my city like the original did. Couple that with the performance issues and…yeah, I downloaded the press kit instead. You’re welcome.
I mean, the premise of the game is solid: take everything that made the original great, ramp it up to 11 and steal all the good ideas from the modding community and put it in there. So now you have a city simulator that’s all you could ever want right? Well, given as this likely isn’t the first review you’re seeing for this game I’m going to hazard a guess that the reaction to it has been…well shit. It’s not without merit too as it seems that, even taking away the most egregious error that the developers made here, the rest of the game just doesn’t feel as compelling as its predecessor did.
So let’s talk about the elephant in the room first off: the performance. It’s absolute shit, even on a pretty capable machine like mine. You don’t notice it when the game first starts out of course, but as things ramp up you slowly but inevitably start to drift towards a slideshow experience. This did not get any better during the time I was playing it, even though a couple patches came through. My initial reading on it pointed to a bad level of detail implementation which may have been exacerbated by the inclusion of details such as teeth. As to what the actual root cause is? Fuck knows, I couldn’t be bothered to see if they’ve fixed it in the last couple months since I stopped playing it.
The main drawcard here is supposed to be the more detailed simulation, giving you infinite more levers to tug and pull at in order to fully optimise your city. Thankfully the game doesn’t hit you with the full force of it’s galaxy brain simulation right off the bat, instead incrementally adding additional systems as you progress through. You might think then that the best thing to do for your city is to implement the best kinds of services upfront so that you’re not having to rebuild later on. Nope, wrong. Instead you should just not do that and instead import the vast majority of your stuff from…”somewhere else” lest you end up bankrupting yourself on overpaying on maintenance of services you built yourself. I’m not kidding either, it’s actually a net loss to you to build the services your town needs until it’s quite big, which doesn’t really fit the core game loop that city builders have adhered to for some time.
It also doesn’t help that the simulation is really buggy with certain things. I was forever getting “poor access to healthcare” warnings as a major impact to my citizen’s happiness but couldn’t for the life of me figure out why. Coverage was good, there wasn’t a backlog of patients waiting to get in, I wasn’t dealing with an outbreak of some plague or anything. No my citizens just wanted to bitch about it. Apparently it might have been a bug relating to them wanting hospitals, something which requires investing a ton of technology points into getting to unlock, and then not to mention the amount it’ll cost you to keep it up afterwards.
Indeed all the unlocks felt like a trick for newcomers: things that look like something cool you should get but really aren’t useful until your city has really grown in size. So that’ll mean that most of your points have been spent unwisely, and you’ll be waiting a good long while before you unlock anymore to address a specific problem you have. Indeed that’s where the main game loop starts to really fall on its knees as you inevitably get to that point of simply waiting for time to pass so your population will grow enough so you can actually do something. When you get to that point it’s not really enjoyable.
If it sounds like I’m glossing over everything the game has to offer and only focusing on the stuff I can bitch about then congratulations, you figured me out. I spent maybe 4 hours total in the game and none of it was particularly enjoyable. I mean sure, I’ll appreciate the fact that there’s a good game in there somewhere, possibly a couple years down the road when the patches have worked out all the kinks and the modding community has added the stuff in that everyone actually wants, but at that point I’m not about to pick the game back up again. No I’ve got too many other games to play so I’m not going to bother revisiting a title unless there’s a very compelling reason to.
Cities Skylines II goes down as an unabashed disappointment. The fundamentals of what the devs wanted to achieve are all there, it just doesn’t come together as a cohesive, fun whole. The performance issues just seem like a massive misstep, something that must’ve come up in QA but wasn’t addressed due to resource constraints or something equally as boring. The core game loop just not being enthralling isn’t something I expected honestly, especially given how many times I restarted cities in the original just to learn the ropes. So yeah, it’s bad, I didn’t enjoy it and I don’t really recommend it.
Cities Skylines II is available on PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S right now for $69.95. Total playtime was 4 hours.