Coming to Cities: Skylines II as a newcomer, I expected to be completely in over my head. I’ve not played the first and it’s been several years since I’ve lost myself in any city building sim, let alone anything as rich and deep as Cities. It’s that richness and deepness that had me anticipating a very steep learning curve. Imagine my excitement, then, when I was able to hit the ground running, building a perfectly flowing city within minutes of launching the game for the first time.
Part of it is down to Cities: Skylines II having an in-depth tutorial built in. You can of course skip it completely if you want, but for a newbie like me it’s absolutely essential. Not only does it talk you through how to use each and every function in the game – paced to as and when you need them – it also prompts you to use features, working with you to grow a city. It’s like having stabilisers on a bike: it helps you out when you’re not quite sure, before giving you the confidence to run free.
Okay, cheesy metaphors aside, to see my city grow in Cities: Skylines II with minimal effort was a thrill. Despite being perhaps the most in-depth city-building game on the market right now, Colossal Order and Paradox have made some wise choices that make the game more accessible and user-friendly. I remember the days of SimCity 2000, having to carefully ensure power lines and water pipes are manually connected to each and every property. Not here: as long as you’ve got roads, you’ve got pipes and cables. Such a timesaver. Simply ensure you’ve got a primary water and electricity supply, then hook it up to your road network. Bob’s your uncle, and your city has power and water.
Starting out in a new city for the first time, you don’t have much granular control over the buildings that appear. After building a road, you can set “zones” around it – choosing between residential, commercial and industrial. As you progress through the game, gaining more XP as your city grows, you’ll unlock different types of those zones: for instance, to begin with our residential zones were comprised solely of neat, detached surburban homes. Over time, however, we unlocked townhouses, higher density buildings and even low-cost housing.
Gaining XP is the key to everything in Cities: Skylines II, in fact. Without reaching the required level you can’t even build schools, hospitals or police stations: they all come later. Thankfully, you’ll level up pretty quickly as long as you keep building new zones to your city and ensure you have an adequate water and electricity supply. It’s once you’ve gained a few levels that Cities starts to get a little bit more complex.
The first indication that things might not be going as well in your city as you’d hoped is, of all things, social media. You’ll see Twitter-type messages pop up in the bottom-right corner of the screen, giving you some indication of how well your city is doing. Some might be good: I had a lot of praise for my school system. Hooray! Others will cause some concern: I had a lot of complaints about healthcare. There was also a lot of chatter about the weather popping up: not much I can do about that, my fellow citizens.
Of course, like any complaint on social media, those complaints aren’t always founded. It’s up to you to do some digging into your city states to see if there’s an issue that needs addressing. Still, it’s a good way to see at-a-glance what the general feeling of the people in your city is. This isn’t like The Sims: you can’t measure each individual person’s happiness. You won’t know their names, and you won’t even really see them. Instead, it’s all about making sure your city is operating to the best of its ability. You’re never going to be able to make everyone happy: there’ll always be some nay-sayer who wants to complain.
There are things in Cities: Skylines II that you can only really learn by trial and error: as in-depth as the tutorial is, it doesn’t hold your hand through everything. Past a certain point, you’re on your own – but you’ll have enough knowledge to know what you’re doing. When your roads start getting congested, for example, you know that you need to build more of them, and in different varieties. Regular two-way streets might have been fine when you had “small village” status. But as your city grows and your population becomes more dense, you’re going to need multi-lane highways, viaducts and more. Expect to make mistakes, especially as you grow your first city, but learning the ropes and seeing your city’s problems slowly get fixed feels hugely rewarding.
If you like the idea of building your own hustling-and-bustling city, but most city-building simulator have always looked too daunting and complex, consider giving Cities: Skylines II a go. Although it’s only on PC for now (a console version is coming in 2024), it already has full controller support, making its controls super easy to get to grips: there’s no memorising of twenty-seven different keyboard shortcuts needed here! With a robust tutorial to ease you in gently, you’ll be lording over your own thriving city in no time – and seeing it grow truly is a joy.
Cities: Skylines II is available now on PC via Steam. Thanks to the publisher for providing us with a code.