Cities Skylines 2 review – just shy of a milestone

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Eight years after Cities Skylines nabbed the city builder crown from the troubled SimCity reboot, Colossal Order is back with a sequel. And with titles like Frostpunk and Anno 1800 keeping city builders well fed, it’s a different market to launch in. As with any sequel to a well-received title, it’s difficult to chart a course that pleases everyone. 

The real threat of Cities Skylines 2 is its predecessor, packed to the gills with quality-of-life mods and expansions. Compelling players to bid farewell to years of city-building while entertaining newcomers is no small ask. And how does it fare? Pretty well on most fronts.

A screenshot of a city at night with smoke coming out of the chimneys. The cityscape is beautifully illuminated, and the smoke adds a touch of mystique to the urban scene.

Even if you haven’t laid eyes on the original Cities Skylines, the massive improvement in visuals is evident. Colors are more accurate and buildings follow a more rigid scale in terms of size across road signs, apartments, and other services. Cities Skylines 2 nails its mammoth sense of scale as the mouse wheel takes you from scanning districts to a crowded taxi stand or a mourning elder at the cemetery. 

Picking your map dictates the kind of vistas you’ll be able to create, the resources at your disposal, and the modes of transport you can use. Difficulty modifiers would have been a nice touch here. Smaller map tiles pack more detail into Colossal Order’s busiest cities yet. Seasons and the weather cycle make a noticeable difference alongside the new day-night cycle, tempting me to slow down and explore every neighborhood. If you’ve got the graphics grunt to run the show, you’ll appreciate the game’s granular attention to detail. 

An Auto Draft of a 3D image featuring a cityscape adorned with towering buildings and an exhilarating roller coaster.

Cities Skylines 2’s claim to fame, however, is its palette of quality-of-life improvements across the entire city-building toolkit. Water and sewage pipes now run under roads automatically alongside cabling, freeing you up to oversee more pressing matters. It takes some busywork away and I love modern flourishes like these. While traffic signals and congestion can still be moderated, much of it works without intervention. Investing in taxi stands and bus stations can clear up the clogged arteries of your settlement.

Road placement is the most responsive it’s ever been, with roundabout and flyover options that allow elaborate yet functional highways that lead into arterial roads. This also tidies up the first steps of building a city as you place utilities for fresh water and sewage disposal. Speaking of utilities, you don’t need a dozen elementary schools and police stations now. Instead, upgrade them to serve more people. Electricity generation starts off with the predecessor’s wind turbines and coal plants but opens up to other alternatives. This happens as you ‘level up’ your city with milestones.

A screenshot of a computer screen showing the map of Cities Skylines 2, a city-building game.

While milestones were previously tied to population, Cities Skylines 2 uses an experience bar that fills up as you develop your city. The game rewards you as you satisfy citizens and welcome people into your residential areas. The sequel expands the familiar act of mapping residential, commercial, and industrial zones with unique visual flairs. Fulfil their needs and you’ll see individual buildings level up in real time. Clicking on nearly anything or anyone in the game gives you a look into the beating heart of your city. Set your camera to follow a vehicle, switch the in-game radio to some lo-fi beats, and enjoy the tour. The in-game social media platform fills a similar role alongside the well-meaning but repetitive radio presenters.

Signature buildings are another metric of success, unlocked by hitting specific goals in your city. A pop idol’s mansion next to the shore was a visual indicator that my city was thriving. And as it got bigger, so did its needs. Each milestone unlocks new buildings that conveniently address the city’s newfound interests. But not every building is tied to this progression system. Instead, you get progression points with each milestone that can be spent on developing essentials like parking spaces and universities. It’s a flexible tech tree that calls for sensible decision-making, particularly when it comes to transport. For instance, a bustling airport is going to make more sense than a port in a landlocked city.

An aerial view of a city at night, showcasing the impressive cityscape of Cities Skylines 2.

Marking districts lets you micromanage public transport routes and facility access even further. Renaming these regions and the streets that split them lends each city a personal touch. Growing a fledgling village into a town and then a sprawling metropolis is a rewarding experience. But while disasters and the occasional mishap can send you scurrying for a fix, it doesn’t escalate these hurdles into matters of grave concern. 

Even as I was pennies away from bankruptcy, I was able to turn things around by cranking up taxes and cutting funding across key development sectors. If you’re looking for more Cities Skylines, the sequel’s expansionism is a hearty meal. But as someone who braved the dystopian odds of Frostpunk and the guilt of a coloniser in Anno 1800, Colossal Order’s title lacks spice. After witnessing entire cities set ablaze and panic-inducing disasters in older games like Pharaoh and Emperor: Rise of the Middle Kingdom, Cities Skylines 2 feels like a safe space and not a rollercoaster. But as a safe space, it excels in what it sets out to do. 

What were once essential Cities Skylines mods are now baked into the game at launch, making it clear that community feedback has gone into every brick and tile. But without Steam Workshop and Paradox Mods integration at launch, expect basic mods at first. It’s no death blow and as an evolving platform, expect expansions and fixes in the vein of Colossal Order’s previous efforts. Despite performance concerns from the publisher, the game ran fairly well outside of occasional slowdowns. Glitches were rare and more than excusable given the scope of my ever-expanding city.

A remarkable 3D rendering of a building with cars parked in front, showcasing the breathtaking majesty of Cities Skylines 2.

Cities Skylines 2 is a well-loved home that picks smart renovation over a sweeping revolution. With incredible visuals and immaculate detailing, few cities can eclipse this colossal effort in terms of sheer freedom and choice. If you prefer the serene tasks of building up a city’s infrastructure over unexpected puzzles, Cities Skylines 2 is your comfort food. 

Reviewed on PC. Game provided by the publisher.

About the Author

Antony Terence

Antony Terence is a Guides Writer for VideoGamer. While he is particularly fond of city-builders, shooters, and strategy titles, he won’t turn down a good JRPG or a turn-based roguelike.

Cities Skylines 2

  • Release Date: October 24, 2023
  • Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series S, Xbox Series S/X, Xbox Series X
  • Genre(s): Simulation, Strategy
Cities Skylines 2 review: A stunning 3D rendering of a thriving cityscape filled with towering buildings and lush trees.

verdict

Cities Skylines 2 is a well-loved home that picks smart renovation over a sweeping revolution. With incredible visuals and immaculate detailing, few cities can eclipse this colossal effort in terms of sheer freedom and choice.
8 Stunning graphics and a convincing sense of scale Smart quality-of-life upgrades that simplify city planning An unparalleled degree of freedom in designing your city Unimpactful hurdles and obstacles Lack of mod support at launch Minor performance issues