At Gamescom in Cologne, I played a preview build of Colossal Order and Paradox's Cities: Skylines 2. I played the original Cities: Skylines for more hours than I dare to admit, so my excitement and expectations for its sequel are through the roof.
Once you start a new game, fans of the original won't be too disoriented as you'll find similar options when picking a map. Yet, the climate information for each map is more important, this time around, because the game has dynamic seasons.
This is a massive game-changer. In the original game, the presence of snow was permanent if you picked a map that had it after it was introduced by one of its DLCs. If the climate of your map includes temperatures under 0°C, you'll see snow appear dynamically, so you need to make preparations for it even if there's none when you start your game.
Themes are back, and you can pick between American and European. This won't just affect the look of your buildings, but also that of your emergency service vehicles, road markings, and signs.
Cities: Skylines 2 Feels Familiar but Much Improved
It won't take fans long to notice just how much has changed in the game. It's fairly obvious that the developers at Colossal Order have paid attention to the most popular mods for Skylines.
There is a new tool to create roundabouts, and laying down roads almost feels like you have the ultra-popular Road Anarchy mod for the original game. It's not quite that extreme, but it feels great.
Another big new feature you'll immediately notice is mixed housing, including shops at the bottom of residential buildings for that smattering of commercial availability that your residents can enjoy.
This is a big one for me, as I'm mostly used to European and Japanese cities in real life, where mixed housing is prevalent. Having commercial and residential buildings zoned separately almost felt unnatural in the original game.
Speaking of new features inspired by mods, if you're familiar with Ploppable RICO, Cities: Skylines 2 comes with something similar out of the box. Besides landmarks, you have signature buildings that can be placed deliberately and will contribute to your zoning needs.
Many Cities: Skylines players start their new cities by placing their industrial zone, but you'll need to be more careful this time around as the maps have fully simulated winds and groundwater.
If you position your industry upwind from where you plan to build residential, your citizens will suffer from the pollution carried by the wind.
By the same token, building polluting buildings near groundwater sources will taint them, meaning that you won't be able to use them for your water system (or better, you can, but you won't like the effects unless you're a sadist).
The way you build your energy grid is also considerably different. You can start a new city without any power generation, simply by importing energy from an outside connection. It's a bit more pricey per watt, but it saves you from the initial investment.
This is only one of several services that can be imported from and exported to your imaginary neighbors, increasing the flexibility and the options at your disposal.
Going back to energy for a moment, the power lines are built into the roads, but they have capacity limits. This likely won't be all that important for a fledging town, but the bigger you build, the more relevant it'll become.
At some point, to avoid bottlenecks you'll have to use high-voltage power lines from your source to busy districts, where you'll have to build transformers to distribute energy to the local population. It's a relatively small touch, but a nice genuflection in the direction of realism.
Cities: Skylines 2 Proves The Value of Listening to the Community
Speaking of city services, the ability to expand them instead of having to build 25 elementary schools and 30 fire stations to keep your megalopolis covered is very nice. You'll probably still need to do a mix between expanding and building new ones, but the added flexibility is fantastic.
I really love the new district design tool. Now you have a polygonal tool that lets you set the vertices of your districts very precisely, and it's a massive improvement from the awkward district painter we had in Cities: Skylines.
Incidentally, once you have your districts nice and set up, you can assign which ones will take advantage of the public services from specific buildings, which lets you micromanage things much more effectively.
Having effective public services management certainly helps with traffic, but do you know what helps the most in keeping things working well? Traffic that isn't completely stupid (and in the original game, unless you used mods, it really was).
While I did not have the time to test this extensively, since I couldn't build a true megalopolis, I certainly had the chance to notice that road vehicles do use the roads and all their lines in a much more efficient and rational way. The jury is still out on whether this will fix the issues of the first game completely, but so far, so good.
Speaking of building a megalopolis, I've been told by the developers that this time around the game doesn't have agent limits for your cities, so you won't run into issues on this side.
While my time with the game was indeed limited, I started to see people dying of old age and requiring deathcare services very soon. This speaks to the fact that, as Colossal Order claimed, the infamous deathwaves are gone.
It Doesn't Just Play Better, it Also Looks Better
Of course, the improvements brought by this new game aren't just functional but also graphical. The visuals are much improved, especially in terms of style. The original Cities: Skylines was a bit too cartoony for my taste. Its sequel has a more realistic vibe.
Among other things, you'll notice this by looking at the overall scale of items, the looks of the commercial signs on buildings, and vehicles. They look quite realistic and you won't need mods to make your city look more grounded and similar to what you could see in real life.
Unfortunately, I could play Cities: Skylines 2 only for a single hour, but I'll tell the world that if they hadn't kicked me out of the room and if I didn't have more appointments myself, I'd have happily stayed for the whole afternoon (and longer) to continue building up my fledgling town.
While the time I had wasn't enough to really gauge how much the game has evolved from its predecessor, considering just how deep the systems go, what I saw was extremely promising, especially due to the fact that the developers seem to have paid very close attention to community feedback and what was previously achieved via mods.
Cities: Skylines was a very good game that I personally loved, but it also had massive, glaring issues, and owes at least part of its success to the fact that a certain big competitor abandoned the genre.
Cities: Skylines 2 seems to have gone a long way to address these issues and idiosyncrasies, and I came out from my hands-on session confident that it'll consume my life when it releases for PC, Xbox Series X|S, and PS5 on October 24, 2023.
Listening to your community, giving them exactly what they want, on top of watching closely what your modders do works, fellas. Who'd have thought?
Cities: Skylines 2 was previewed in person at Gamescom 2023 with Paradox and Colossal Order.