12 Months Later, How Is Cities: Skylines Doing?

12 Months Later, How Is Cities: Skylines Doing?

This time last year, I reviewed Cities: Skylines. I played it, I loved it, I tried some early mods and then I moved onto other games, never to return (or so I thought). Now, with a big expansion out today, I’ve decided to head back to Corpsetown and see how everything has been shaping up in my absence.

Given the problems I had with traffic and, well, corpses in my original city, and with my memory foggy on the state I’d left the joint in, I feared opening my save to find an Animal Crossing-style apocalypse, every house filled with dead bodies, every industrial building rotting and vacated. And, even though this game doesn’t run on a persistent real-world clock like AC does… that’s exactly what I got. I’d left my city in ruins, and returned to it in ruins.

While I could have just scrapped it and started over, I’d sunk a lot of time into that city! And being a resident of planned city Canberra myself, I trusted my own designs more than the quirks of the game’s AI, so instead of starting anew I methodically bulldozed thousands of individual buildings (the game’s mods for this weirdly never work properly for me), some because they were empty, others because they were full of the dead and dying.

Let it never be said I was a merciful ruler. My quest here is to build a pretty city, not a caring one.

By hacking away at the dead, I was hoping that any and all improvements and additions to the game’s AI in the year I’ve been away, whether as part of patches or updates, would grow back in their place. And hey, whaddya know, that’s exactly what happened.

Mere minutes after my ruthless urban renewal project, new homes, offices, shops and factories were springing up in their place, only this time — even though I intentionally didn’t touch my roads or services, as part of the experiment — they housed the living, and not the dead.

Sure, Corpsetown would still have problems with traffic, and sickness, and crime, but this is part of living in a big city! Any incidents or outbreaks that went down from here on in were easily fixed, unlike the great plagues and traffic snarls that so marred my great city courtesy of the game’s launch AI.

So, 12 months on and we were off to a good start. The game’s improved code was a lot smoother (and less apocalyptic) than the old. Excellent. But that was only part of the deal of revisiting the game. What about the new stuff.

I’d missed one big expansion (After Dark) and was getting hold of a brand new one (Snowfall), so there wasn’t just new code to play with, but a range of new buildings, considerations and effects. Many of the things you notice immediately are simply cosmetic, throwing in a range of weather types (like rain) and lighting conditions (like darkness). Snow aside, they don’t really do anything, but it’s nice having them there to break up the monotony of staring at the same light and colours forever. The sunsets are particularly glorious.

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

There’s now a temperature gauge in the game that tells you how hot or cold things are getting. Nice for smalltalk around the office, sure, but it also drastically effects things like power usage, as people rush for their air conditioners in the middle of summer. Heating is especially a concern in winter, and there’s now a whole new building tab for pipes and boilers you can run across your city to keep people warm.

Which brings us to snow. It’s a disaster, in the best way possible. I briefly started up a new alpine city just to get a taste for it (It Never Snows In Corpsetown, as it’s on the beach; you only get downfalls in winter landscapes), and it’s a lot more than a cosmetic effect. As mentioned, there are heating costs involved, and their drain on your power (and finances) during snowfall is considerable. Snow also clogs up the roads, bringing back those inescapable traffic snarls.

Yet none of this feels like a drag. It feels like a challenge, like a very gentle form of SimCity’s disasters, a wrench thrown in your plans that can actually be solved through planning (and a fleet of snowplows). Cities: Skylines has always been a great plaything, but its management — especially testing the player’s ability to react to things out of their control — has always been a bit lacking. Snow goes some way towards addressing this, provided you actually play on a map that supports snow.

Going back to After Dark, which first introduced the shift from day to night, I’m actually not a fan of the evening colour change, since it can make some aspects of the game harder to see. I did, however, appreciate the ways that expansion went directly after the vanilla game’s biggest shortfall — transport — by adding a ton of new stuff like bike lanes and taxis. Snowfall also adds trams, which are great.

While most forms of transport in the vanilla game could easily be built on and around your existing road network, trams require a very distinct set of planning and management, as you need to build entirely new roads and ramps to accommodate them. This was a bit much for me as far as Corpsetown went, but the little winter hamlet I built to test snow ended up being quite the idyllic Swiss retreat, with its cute lil’ tram system winding its way down the streets (and doing a great job of shuffling passengers around, leaving the roads free for garbage trucks and snowplows).

As the sun sets, the temperature drops

However, the biggest change I noticed 12 months on was how the game’s mod scene has simply gone from strength to strength. Whether it be maps, cosmetic landmarks or buildings that help overcome AI shortfalls (or create new challenges of their own), if there’s anything you feel the core Cities: Skylines experience is lacking, chances are there’s a very professional, polished mod out there that’s got your back.

Which, duh, that happens with a lot of games, but it’s so central to the Skylines experience (and it’s a credit to developers Colossal Order and Paradox that this was such a big deal) that access to mods is baked right into the game’s main menu. Need a church? Type of road? Custom fast food joint? Underground car park? Designer crematorium? They’re all there, a few clicks away, an endless sea of tiny expansions and updates that don’t cost you a cent. Mods may have been there on day one, but now, one year later, there are thousands of them.

Aside from messing with the snow, I spent most of my time back in Cities Skylines with both After Dark and Snowfall in Corpsetown, testing how much benefit/challenge all this new stuff brought to my existing city, since I’d built that using the vanilla game.

I’m pretty happy with how it all turned out.

When I reviewed Skylines, I didn’t necessarily love it as a city management game, but as a giant toybox, the best game on the market for people who just wanted to build cool shit, rather than spend hours adjusting budget sliders. One year on, my opinion stands, if a little enhanced.

This was already one of video gaming’s great sandboxes. Now, thanks to its raft of additions — both official and unofficial — it’s a little bit greater.


  • So…. would you say to someone incredibly disappointed with Simshitty after loving that series before it went downhill, that this is a mustbuy?

    • If you like the Simcity formula, then yes this is a must-buy. It’s everything we wanted Simcity 2013 to be.
      I haven’t played it for a while now, but when it first came out I was hooked. I still watch Fluxtrance and Yuttho’s videos. They are masters of creating beautiful cities.

      • Original simcity, most definitely but the last two games, Simcity and “Simcity: Societies” completely lost me. Ta for the info 🙂

        • I liked both of those for the perverse reason that I didnt have to give a rats. They were so far away from the original SimCity (or, more importantly, SC4, the peak of the franchise) that I mentally separated them as different games. At which point they became popcorn games I could come back to every now and then and not care.

          Kinda like playing a short session of Civ games. You know you aint gonna save, you know your civ aint gonna survive past that session, so you can go and play it in a far different way to normal. Which can be fun for totally different reasons to a normal playthrough.

    • It takes a lot of the best parts from Sim City 2013 (not all the best parts) and fills in a lot of the problem areas. There are still some things I think Sim City did better (industry, customising buildings) but this is the better game overall.

      Free weekend this weekend anyway so give it a try. If you enjoy it like I did you’ll be playing all weekend.

  • I’ve actually gone back to playing the vanilla version for a while to see how the loss of the various mods affected the gameplay. So far I’m definitely missing some of more advanced micromanaging and automation features of the mods I had loaded earlier (road intersection customisation, abandoned & burnt building removal, chirp management(!), etc.), but all said and done, I’m still having a blast and my city is thriving, despite a couple of bad decisions I made along the way.

    It’s such a great game, and I love that the devs have allowed and even embraced the mod community. That, I think, is a big part of what has made this game so successful.

  • If you liked SimCity back when it was great … buy this now. You will not regret it.

    It’s like the good Simcity’s got together and Game of Thrones executed all the red headed step children and made progeny out of the best of them … before riding into the sunset wishing us well on our new journey.

    Oh come on. It’s Friday, I’m feeling poetic and hanging for the weekend.

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