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Cities: Skylines (PC) artwork

Cities: Skylines (PC) review

"This game is a required slot in any gamerís library."

I first reviewed Cities: Skylines on March 28, 2015. Thatís just over two weeks after the game was initially released and as a result, my initial review was fairly short at a rather pathetic ~380 or so words. Come now, I can do so much better. More than two years later thereís a whole host of DLC and encounters I can talk about.

I will reiterate a few things so bear with me. Iíve never actually been any good at Simulation games as a genre. I donít like the ďSimsĒ franchise because I do enough working and peeing on my own, I donít need to watch pixellated lemmings do the same on my behalf. I also generally find they require too much patience to actually get anything done. As far as city builders go, Iíve dabbled in the Sims City franchise for a game or two but most of my memory is loading up pre-built or template cities for starting newbies, and then just nuking them with on-demand disasters. It was a lot of fun back then, but at my age I demand something a bit more concrete and satisfying.

The great news is that Cities: Skylines is fairly friendly to new players. A lot of features are population-locked. In the sense that, thereís a lot of services you donít even need to worry about. In a simple example, you donít typically need a police station until you get a few hundred people. You also donít really need a university until a few thousand. That kind of thing. It does a good job of making sure you just get some basic roads down, zone some residential and commercial and then youíll slowly begin to see a variety of ďCrime rate is high!Ē and ďNeed more educated workersĒ blips pop up over your buildings, and you can adjust accordingly.

If I was obligated to find a complaint, it lies solely on the vanilla version of the game and it is immediately alleviated by the the wide availability of the workshop, which Iíll get to shortly. Basically, after a few hours youíll find yourself more or less looking at the same few types of buildings with the same boring plots to build towards efficiency and making sure your people donít suffocate to death from your nearby industrial zones.

Even this got a little better as I became more experienced with the game. I stopped being afraid of flowing, uneven areas. I let my roads bend and flow with the land around them and started to give my cities a more natural flow. I started formulating my industry towards the land it was around. I focused on farmland and forestry, two types of industry that donít pollute my areas nearly as much.

A second complaint I find myself having, is partly self imposed but is still ever present in usual gameplay. There is typically a lot of busywork that doesnít feel as satisfying. In two ways, you need to make sure power and water are making it to every inch of your zones. Now, I typically play with the unlimited money modification (which is in the vanilla game and not modded in) because I have city-shape ideas I want to get to immediately. I want a circular modular city. I want that beautiful beachfront and I want to get there now, rather than having my ugly little hamlet in a corner while I build my way up to buying map zones. As a result, a lot of my first hour of gameplay is just plopping pipes everywhere I plan on building and making sure powerlines connect to some pre-prepared services so they function once my population explodes. Itís an irritating obstacle I have to get through but once Iím done with all of that, I can reap the benefits and enjoy the parts of the game that really come alive.

There is, of course, the steam workshop. The game has tools that allow you to make your own maps, building assets, and road intersections where you can plug-and-play at your own leisure. Most of the best have been updated for After Dark (which weíll get to shortly) so even downloaded assets will light up right along everything else.

The first DLC that was released was After Dark. It quickly became apparent that the developers and otherwise had a really great idea and it became the foundation for further released. Every DLC from this one onwards came with a sort of ďfreeĒ set of bonuses for all players, even those with the base game. If youíre a more economically challenged gamer, youíd still find your game constantly evolving over time. I wonít list everything that free players get for every DLC, but I was very happy to learn that you didnít even need to buy After Dark to get the day/night cycle. Everyone got it, and it was glorious.

Alongside that, After Dark rehauled night life and commercial zoning. As night falls over your city, so do higher crime rates. It also introduced a prison building you can plop somewhere, much to the spam of unhappiness from your citizens if you place it too close to a residential area. I typically add it to my industrial area and then name that district ďGothamĒ. Because of course. Alongside this update was allowing you to adjust budgets for both day and night cycles, as some services are not as important on certain hours of the day. Tank your police budget a certain percentage for the day and spike it a bit at night to offset that. Youíll make a profit and your city will be more adequately protected. Youíre a good mayor!

But wait, thereís more! It also brought two new district types; tourism and leisure. Both had their ups and downs, as one type will give you more tax income but another will bring more noise pollution which your residents may not appreciate as much. It has never been easier to recreate New York City. Overall, this was essentially a commercial rehaul.

After that came Snowfall, easily one of my favorites. Iíve always enjoyed the snow in real life, albeit the fact I donít like being out in it for more than ten minutes as it gets really uncomfortable really quickly. Despite this, Iíve always loved the crunch beneath my shoes and the smell of pine in the area. Thereís always been something about snow that made the air feel so pure.

With great beauty comes greater challenges. This update introduces road maintenance, and not just for snowy maps. Theyíll run around and collect snow and youíll have to plop them in snow dumps akin to early game trash collection, though they obviously donít pollute as much. Thereís also some new water pipes you will have to consider; installing some geothermal plants and connect everyone to them so that they can stay heated or nobody will move into your town. This ties into my earlier mention of pace-killing busywork but itís for a good cause when you can get great screenshots like the one above. All of these screenshots are my own, by the way.

It was at this point a few updates came and went, passing me by as other games maintained my attention more than Skylines did. However on a recent Halloween steam sale I was able to nab most of the rest on a discount, save for one. I will make a mention of the Mass Transit DLC. They were released in this order; Natural Disasters, Mass Transit, and Green Cities being the newest. I will avoid Mass Transit until the end of time. At best I tend to plop a few taxi depots around but ultimately the whole traffic mechanic is too beyond me. I am not a civil engineer and cannot for the life of me understand why my citizens only ever use one lane most of the time, when in real life people will go back and forth depending on what suits them. Iíve taken longer routes to get to my destination if there was some roadwork being done, or any number of things. People claim the AI is damn near perfect for this but itís clearly not when the AI is designed around point A and B and nothing else.

I donít know how any of that works. The Mass Transit DLC adds blimps, monorails, canals, buildings and all manner of things to help control traffic a bit better. If that sounds exciting to you, then we areÖ very different people. I will admit despite my ďend of timeĒ comment that I will probably end up purchasing it some day on another sale, if nothing else to support the developers for this great and constantly evolving game.

After that I experienced both Green Cities and Natural Disasters in unison, and I have more to say about one than the other.

Green Cities is currently the newest and it adds a lot of residential and commercial flavor. You can zone some residential areas to be ďself sufficientĒ and will have grasstops and solar panels to reflect this. Literally! (Get it? Because solar panelsÖ)

There is a slight, dark undercurrent of this concept. These buildings typically produce less tax income so if youíre playing on a normal save (no mods) then youíll eventually have to work your way up to maintaining this kind of district. That means ugly industrial areas and poor areas until you get enough revenue to earn a nice eco-friendly district that is likely further away. You can also zone commercial areas to serve organic produce and the like, so all of these people are just eating and living healthier while other districts are pumping out more taxes. Thereís certainly some commentary to be made here, but Iím not learned enough on the subject to do so. Instead, I just activate my unlimited money and start my utopia from scratch. Iím sure my sims are grateful.

So far, the Natural Disasters update has given me my biggest ďHoly ShitĒ moment. Itís pretty much the only DLC that gives you real problems beyond simple management. Under the firefighter service tab I found a new section devoted to disaster prevention services. Several of them. Earthquake sensors, emergency shelters, tsunami buoys and more. You wonít likely be able to afford all of them right away (those buoys are four thousand a pop!) and they donít happen too terribly often. Iím not sure theyíre even population gated like I mentioned early in this review but if your city lasts long enough, youíll definitely get hit by a few.

I was hopping between two or three different maps, DLC-given or workshop downloaded I like to at least load them in and see how cool they look once I get some roads down. Between these I usually got hit with some pretty harmless stuff. A meteor struck an ocean, making some waves against a mountain I was nowhere near. An earthquake happened under another mountain and just gave it a valley-like dent. I saw a tornado spawn in the ocean and drifted away on the map, hitting nothing at all. Iíve seen three sinkholes that I was nowhere near. Then I got a Tsunami warning.

See, I tend to gravitate towards coastal towns. Theyíre my favorite things to do other than circular designs. I wasnít sure how severe it would become so I just evacuated everyone towards a few of the emergency shelters (you can see them highlighted above). I clearly didnít plan it well, as most of them werenít any further than the coast than anything else. My simple defenses were no match for a tsunami that didnít actually look too impressive at first glance. Like real ones, you can see the water drain slightly from the coast before it actually hits but at a certain angle it didnít even look too bad. Instead I was treated to a heavy dose of reality, this thing swept far and beyond some of my tallest hotels and apartments. It took buses and cars along with it. It wiped out every power grid and service I had, eventually even reaching a major emergency service building I had plopped way in the back near my airport, the furthest from the coast than anything I had. I didnít even do that on purpose, it just seemed logical at the time. Still, regardless of their jobs thereís not much they can do without power.

Strictly speaking they are capable of recovering. With the right services you can bounce back from something this devastating as the services will survey the area and then mark buildings with a little blip saying that the building has been searched and has been marked. However I was so aghast that it was a game ender, turning my 12,000 population down to 200. I felt helpless, and just like that I will make sure every coastal town I have in the future will have some flood walls as a defense.

There are other DLCs of minor note, most of them cosmetic that will add some radio stations and buildings (and some of them are free!) so the game is not lacking in content. It got me wondering about the recent craze for constant DLC and the industry bubble bursting with loot boxes and the like, but I feel the developers have really found something here that works. Every DLC comes with a free update giving everyone a taste. They seem to really enjoy their work and it has just resulted in a great game that excelled where larger studios just could not.

Indeed, it has been one of the first (and rather, only) simulation games Iíve been able to succeed at. For a quaint thirty dollar game, this is an impressive feat and it has earned every penny I have put into it. Iíd even go so far as to say that this game is a required slot in any gamerís library regardless of your preference for the genre. This is a short list to me and this is definitely on there. Buy this game!


Zydrate's avatar
Community review by Zydrate (November 04, 2017)

Zydrate is most active on Steam and Tumblr.

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