Developer: Colossal Order
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Cities Skylines After Dark is a humble expansion. It doesn’t take you to Mars, or transport your city under the sea, or allow you to build your utopian or dystopian fantasy. It doesn’t subvert any of its core assumptions about urban planning, nor does it let you share your urban world with your friends. It doesn’t, unfortunately, change the way you play.
What it does do is provide a number of well-implemented tweaks and tools to an already impressive city-builder. Many of these are focused on detail-oriented players, so if you’re more of a big-picture kind of player, you may find most of the new options fly under your radar. The one truly large change at its core is the new day/night cycle, which includes an impressive new skinning of the entire city at night so that your buildings and bridges light up in the dark. Along with a new dynamic skybox, this can create some truly pretty scenes.
However, this day/night cycle will be available to all players, regardless of purchasing the expansion, which cuts away a significant amount of what makes After Dark worthwhile. Of course, the practical effects of this diurnal cycle are unlocked only for those who purchase After Dark. Those that do will see altered traffic patterns and increased crime rates during the night, and they’ll be able to set different budget levels for city services between the daytime and night time. That way you can increase your police budget in the evening to handle the rising crime rates, or boost your public transportation budget when it’s most needed. It’s an option that allows you to control your city at greater resolution, but if these sorts of things are a little too inside-baseball, you can safely ignore them, leaving them set to their default level.
The expansion also boasts new tourism and leisure specializations for your commercial districts. Leisure will flourish at night, keeping your citizens partying until the break of dawn, while tourism will help you raise your city’s profile and draw more money into your borders. One of the new buildings, the international airport, will also help bring in more people and immediately connect them to your transit network with its combined metro station.
A few other new transit options are also available, with taxi depots and stands ready to shuttle your passengers around the city and bus terminals, allowing citizens to transfer lines within a single building. Bikes are one of the larger additions, and the game allows the creation of roads with bike lanes and bike paths that can meander across open terrain, allowing former pedestrians a faster method of travel while being environmentally conscious.The beach front has also received a number of new options, allowing you to give your city a bit of a Santa Monica vibe with beach front businesses like fishing tours, marinas, and tourist piers.
While there are a handful of other assorted additions like prisons and the combined cargo rail and shipping hub, this expansion is more an incremental increase in content than a broad-strokes overhaul in play style. If you’ve burned out exploring all of your options in city building in the base game, it’s unlikely that the expansion will provide enough new content to entice you back. The night-time visuals are ultimately the highlight here, making your city shine beautifully under the moonlight.
Otherwise, this is an exercise in increasing your fundamental city building options, none of which are essential to experiencing the game. In truth, in building my most recent megalopolis, I found little use for taxis or cargo hubs or bike lanes. The leisure and tourism specializations are fun to play with, but for someone who plays the game at a largely zoomed out level, they did little to improve my experience. It’s great that these options are there, but the expansion has the feeling of a bundle of small mods, rather than a coherent expansion.
It would have been nice to see a bit more innovation in core play styles, or in defining what your city is about. Universities remain tiny single-plop down buildings, with no opportunity to design a campus and build a university town. Port options are limited, making it difficult to create a spectacular port and cargo network. The monuments remain unchanged, giving you fairly early access to some super-powerful buildings. Even the new international airport can’t be customized with more runways or terminals. A little bit more specialization would be wonderful, even if entirely new systems aren’t introduced.
The Bottom Line
One of my principal concerns with Cities Skylines has always been that building a standard, multi-purpose megalopolis is relatively simple. The game throws few meaningful challenges at the player, so long as they follow some very basic urban planning guidelines. Unfortunately, After Dark doesn’t do anything to change this, and it’s hard not to feel let down by the potential here.
Fortunately, Cities Skylines has always been largely about the modding community and the customization options that that brings. I look forward to seeing what people are able to do with the new content in After Dark. At the same time, the large modding community is one of the reasons that After Dark is so disappointing. It doesn’t seem like the developers have stepped up to provide something more than what a community of talented individuals are giving out for free.