A City of Broken Dreams: A review of Cities Skylines 2

A City of Broken Dreams: A review of Cities Skylines 2

tl;dr Felt like I had too high expectations but that was quite shattered just by launching the game, feels early access and rushed out. Would have preferred honesty. C rank.


Upon its tumultuous arrival on the 25th of October—time zones notwithstanding—'Cities Skylines 2' by Colossal Order, an “indie” company that seems to want to descent into avarice reminiscent of horrendous companies like EA—a fall from grace as disappointing as it is unsurprising.

I had the impression this would be a sophisticated urban simulation, it instead delivered an experience so skeletal, one might mistake it for an early-access title begging for the lifeblood of mods. Let us dissect this lackluster offering and lay bare the bones of what could have been a worthy successor but instead stands as a testament to lost potential and actually releasing a finished product. However not yet a “soulless” sequel but defiantly on the edge.

First impression: A rough start

Stepping into 'Cities Skylines 2' for the first time was akin to wading through molasses, both in terms of performance and visual appeal. Greeted by lag before I could even place a single road was not just disappointing; it felt like an ominous portent of the gameplay experience to come. Yes, graphic settings are there to be tweaked, but needing to fiddle with them right from the get-go to achieve a barely tolerable frame rate is a far cry from user-friendly.

After reluctantly lowering the settings to escape the digital quagmire, the game clawed its way past the 30fps mark. 'Playable' is a term I use generously here—the performance still stuttered like a nervous actor on opening night. The experience still feels quite “muddy”, nothing feel snappy and responsive. Some might argue that a city-building game like 'Cities Skylines 2' chugging along at 30fps isn't a cardinal sin. But don't be fooled—when the lag is as noticeable as a crack in a mirror, it becomes more than just a slight annoyance. It's the pebble in the shoe, the mosquito in the room.

Visually, the game's map is as vibrant as a concrete slab. The buildings and assets seem to be in a competition for 'Most Mundane,' contributing to an overall ambiance that could dampen the spirits of even the most ardent urban planner.

The original Cities Skylines' "LUT" feature, which allowed players to adjust the visual flair to their liking, is conspicuously absent, leaving us with a world that's dull and uninspiring as day-old soda.

However, not everything is as bleak as the game's colour palette. The unlock and level up system sprinkles a dash of spice onto an otherwise bland dish, offering a progression that at least provides some semblance of accomplishment amidst the grey.

The Good: Glimmers of Brilliance

In a surprising twist, 'Cities Skylines 2' isn't a complete train wreck, contrary to what its initial shortcomings may suggest. The road system is where the game begins to redeem itself, significantly improved from the first iteration, offering a complexity and flexibility that urban planners' dreams are made of.

Although the production system feels like an unfulfilled promise right now, it's like a well-intended New Year's resolution—great in theory but currently more of a decorative feature. Let's hand out a gold star for ambition, though. It’s the thought that counts, right?

Service buildings have been buffed to superhero status with extended reach and modular upgrades, a welcome evolution from the 'clinic on every corner' strategy that 'Cities Skylines 1' often resorted to. It's like they've finally been given a GPS and a full tank of fuel.

The scale has undergone a much-needed reality check. Train stations have shrunk from their former Godzilla-like proportions to a more Godzilla's-pet-lizard size. Their integration with the city's infrastructure, including options for elevated tracks, adds layers to your urban planning cake.

Road tools are a standout feature. The default measurements and improved curve tools are like going from a flip phone to the latest smartphone—it's just that satisfying.

Stacked roads—because who doesn't love a good sandwich, especially when it’s made of asphalt? This feature allows for a delightful vertical complexity, adding a third dimension to our two-dimensional city planning. This feature taps into the bold idea of vertical cityscapes that have long captivated the minds of sci-fi aficionados and city planners alike. It hints at a world where the urban sprawl stretches not just across the horizon, but towards the skies, embodying the relentless upward thrust of human ambition and architectural innovation.

The city simulation remains as intricate as a spider's web, with citizens (adorably dubbed 'cims') embarking on their little digital lives with purpose. Although it's like trying to read a book in the dark for now—with much of their logic shrouded in mystery—it's an aspect that holds promise.

The under-the-hood systems of 'Cities Skylines 2' work like a stealthy ninja—there, effective, but unseen. It's like knowing there's a party going on next door but not being invited. A little transparency would be nice, so we can join in the fun.

Road accidents add a dash of somber realism to the mix, an opportunity for mayhem and improvement—like a chaotic chef's spice to the urban stew.
Life is not a straight line.

Lastly, the map size is like upgrading from a goldfish bowl to an ocean. The larger maps and tiling system make city connections feel organic, providing a playground vast enough to let your urban fantasies run wild.

Let's not get too sentimental, though; it's not like the game's suddenly a masterpiece.

The Bad: Dusk Falls Over the Digital Concrete Jungle

The absence of a monorail system in 'Cities Skylines 2' sticks out like a sore thumb, especially when you're forced to jerry-rig tram tracks atop roads using the stacking feature. Sure, it's innovative, but also as finicky as trying to build a house of cards during an earthquake.

The game tantalizes us with the possibility of urban verticality but leaves us hanging without stairs, escalators, or elevators. It's like being promised a feast and getting a bowl of rice.

Ramps are another source of frustration; trying to build anything close to Tokyo's Expressway is like trying to teach a cat to swim. As for the buildings, 'lackluster' would be a compliment. The so-called 'medium density' buildings are as medium as my patience right now.

The urban landscape in 'Cities Skylines 2' presents a bizarre dichotomy—a city where architectural puberty seems to have been skipped. We have the ground-level shops, the imposing skyscrapers, but where's the in-between? Where are the adolescent buildings stretching their floors towards the sky?

The absence of medium-sized structures creates a visual and functional imbalance. It's like a growth spurt that only hits the toes and the nose—awkward and unsightly. Mixed-use commercial/residential buildings are a step in the right direction, but they're floating in a void between the minuscule and the massive. Defiantly needs mall assets and more futuristic type assets to fill in the architectural gaps.

This lack of intermediate structures isn’t just a cosmetic issue; it’s a missed opportunity for the organic development of city landscapes. It creates a peculiar skyline, one that lacks the gradual, realistic ascent from the humble shopfront to the cloud-piercing spire. It’s a city of extremes with no middle ground, and it feels as unnatural as a desert abruptly giving way to a dense jungle.

And don't get me started on the unique assets—or rather, the lack thereof. It’s as bare as a cupboard before payday.

Finally, the unlock conditions for buildings are asinine. It's like being told to wear two left shoes for a day to earn the right to buy a pair that actually fits. Organic gameplay gets tossed out the window when you're forced to tick arbitrary boxes, only to demolish your efforts afterward. It's about as rewarding as a pat on the back from a mannequin.

A carnival of bugs seems to have set up shop in 'Cities Skylines 2', from the mundane to the downright city-crippling. Encountering a broken budget screen is one of the last thing's you want to find.

As if balancing a city budget isn't hard enough, we have to deal with cims with the educational aspirations of a potato, schools as popular as a dentist's office, and a refuse management system that has your city importing trash faster than a gossip blog. A little more control over the nitty-gritty would be much appreciated—let us micromanage our way out of these trashy situations.

And let’s talk about leveling buildings. From level 1 to 5, it's like expecting a cake to rise without baking powder—no noticeable benefits or visual jazz to show for it. The under-the-hood mechanics are as obscure as the dark side of the moon, and while complexity can be delightful, a hint or two wouldn’t hurt.

Speaking of hurt, the performance is a slap in the face with a wet fish—sluggish, stinky, and something you want to forget immediately. Combine that with an aesthetic charm that rivals a mud hut, and you’ve got a recipe for dissatisfaction.

The service buildings are as shallow as a kiddie pool, lacking the depth to keep a city-sculptor's attention. It's as if the developers forgot that sometimes, we like to roll up our sleeves and really get our hands dirty with the inner workings of our urban creations.

Traffic pathing is a mystery wrapped in an enigma—why are all these digital denizens flocking down one quiet residential street like it's the yellow brick road? And if you’re dreaming of building Tokyo-style highways, prepare for a nightmare. Ramps are finicky, and road stacking might just stack your stress levels.

In the seesaw of finances, the budget system feels like it’s being operated by a ghost. Numbers that don’t add up, positives where there should be negatives—it's financial chaos in numerical form.

As for features, we’re served a dish that feels half-baked, leaving us hungry for the full banquet we were promised. There's a sense of absence, like walking into a room and knowing something’s missing, but you can't quite put your finger on it.

Finally, tourism in this game is as underwhelming, it’s just crap. It's as if the developers retraced their steps to the forgettable, lackluster attractions of the first game instead of seizing the chance to reinvent and revitalize the experience for this new game.

Now, it’s a question of whether the developers will patch up these holes or let the city’s foundation crumble. Your move, Colossal Order. Shall we close out with a hopeful look to the future, or is there more to unpack in this box of broken dreams?

Minor Gripes

The nighttime mode in Cities: Skylines 2 is like looking into the abyss - it's so dark, it's as if the city’s been hit with an unscheduled eclipse. This is a cool feature but in it’s current implementation it is as useful as a silent alarm clock, making you fumble around blindly unless you've memorized your city's layout better than the back of your hand.

Then there’s traffic. In the first Cities: Skylines, cars followed the rules with the mindless obedience of a robot. Here, it’s anarchy. Cars merge with all the grace of a shopping cart with a wonky wheel, and pedestrians seem to have a death wish. It’s a headache-inducing mess.

Once the novelty of the progression system wears off and you’ve unlocked your skyscrapers, the game reveals its true colours—a monotonous wasteland where the most excitement you’ll get is battling with the road systems. Why this sequel can't hold a candle to its predecessor or even the tragically flawed SimCity 2013 is beyond me. It's as disappointing as receiving socks on your birthday when you were hoping for, I don’t know, something with a pulse.

Conclusion: A City Awaiting Its Renaissance

After the dwindling swan song of Cities: Skylines 1's DLCs, which left us all craving more, Cities: Skylines 2 comes out half-baked. It had big shoes to fill and could not meet the expectations.

One would have thought that after a year of radio silence post the last Cities: Skylines 1 expansion, the company would have had a Mona Lisa ready. Instead, we got the equivalent of a stick figure with a price tag. What exactly were they doing all this time? Playing darts with feature lists on the wall?

Calling this mess 'early access' would be a compliment it doesn't deserve.

There's no hook, no moment of awe—just the growing realization that you'd have more fun watching paint dry. The Steam reviews read like a crime report, and my advice? Hold onto your wallets and wait. Maybe in a few years, we'll get the game we were promised. But for now, if you've got an itch for urban planning, go play with some LEGO bricks. It'll be less buggy and probably more satisfying.

So, unless your idea of a good time includes navigating a buggy, unfinished mess, steer clear. Cities: Skylines 2 isn't just in a rough state—it's a slap in the face to anyone who expected a finished product. Shameful display.


My overall rating of everything packaged up, I'd give it a 'C,' and that's me being charitable. It's like handing a participation trophy to a kid who ate dirt instead of running the race. Sure, the complexity of the simulation teases a glimmer of potential—hidden deep, deep down where apparently nobody bothered to dig.

There is a lot of work to be done but I might concede to a 'B' rank—emphasis on 'might.' And by forcing the customers to throw more money at it, helping to fix this via expansions/dlcs it could become an 'A' but how much are they looking to siphon from each customer? At this rate, you might as well just direct deposit your salary into their accounts and call it a subscription to disappointment.

Don’t get swayed by the 'could-bes' and 'should-bes.' Right now, it's a 'shouldn't-have-been-released.' End of story.