If there is a gaming genre that has always been my go-to genre for spending my leisure time, then that would be simulation games. I have played almost all Sims games, and my inner megalomaniac of sorts thrives whenever I get the chance to play a city-building simulation game. The amount of time I have invested in games such as SimCity, Aven Colony, and even Frostpunk — I’ve never felt as useless as I did when I play Frostpunk — could have easily made me the next multimillionaire if invested in more productive areas of life. Well, too bad, I’m a gamer, and that’s just how life is, especially now that it has become my career to write about them.
While playing games and writing about them is an activity that I love profusely, some things will make me question my life choices or even life as a whole. Broken games at launch, red flags regarding the game’s development, disregard for your audience, and almost selling your soul to the devil of gaming: greed. While I cannot say in good conscience that this all applies, Cities: Skylines II is the perfect storm with only one victim demographic: the fans.
An impressive and realistic experience
Let’s start things on the right foot. Contrary to what I have already said, Cities: Skylines II is a content-filled game that I had the chance to enjoy. I didn’t have the chance to play the early stages of the first game, so when I tried the latest version of Cities: Skylines, the original, I felt a bit overwhelmed by the sheer number of options and mechanics. I’ve got to say that the tutorial implementation during the first hours of Cities: Skylines II is a great achievement.
My initial builds were bad, to say the least. However, once I got the grasp of things, I had a better idea of how to take care of the citizens’ basic needs and happiness; I gave much greater importance to city design and even experimented more with the more complex tools in the game. I was blown away by the flexibility of the road tools, the realistic aspects of citizen simulation, and the implementation of different climates and seasons. This game has a lot of things coming, and contrary to the first game, it already packs a huge amount of content from the get-go. Let’s face it, to have it otherwise would have been a total capital sin.
Overall, a very complex yet intuitive experience made me want to invest more time in the game. I was having fun, and to have fun while also learning about a practically new franchise is a really rare occurrence for me. It is either one way or the other. And while I would have loved to play much more than what I ended up playing, I just couldn’t. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I was prevented from doing so.
They warned us, we weren’t prepared
Now, I am not an FPS — frames per second — radical. I do realize that 60 fps is a standard that I hope all games aim for, but whenever I review a game, I usually leave this aspect behind in favor of the experience. However, when the performance of the game starts hindering the overall enjoyment of the game, well, it would be a mistake to just give the game a pass. One would expect a PC with a 4090 and an i9 13900k to be able to run a game of the size of Cities: Skylines II, but yet again, life is full of surprises, which in this case come in the form of a major lack of optimization.
While my quick fix to turn the quality down to 2k improved my performance, I cannot imagine players using a 3060 or a 1650 — the most used GPUs by Steam players — to run this game properly. Remember when I said that I wanted to continue playing this game and I couldn’t? It wasn’t because of the lack of optimization, but due to the constant crashes that came at the most inconvenient moments, forcing me to start from zero. All because I didn’t enable auto-save, which would have been a great option to offer whenever you start the game for the first time or in a new city. Moreover, after these crashes, neither of my graphics settings were saved at all, so I would have to reconfigure them to have a more stable game, which inevitably ended up in a crash again.
The good news is that the graphics are good. I wouldn’t say that Cities: Skylines II has the best graphics of all time since I found them underwhelming at times — maybe the optimization issues didn’t allow me to experience them as the developers intended. I have seen what this game is capable of and I was looking forward to replicating the cities I have seen before. However, I never got to see what I was hoping for. The music and sound design was great, though, even becoming one of the best aspects of the game.
And to address the elephant in the room, yes, the developers said that the game wasn’t going to run perfectly. In fact, they are straight-up accepting there are performance issues that are taking over the game. I don’t know about you, but I rather prefer a game delay than a tainted reputation by launching it in a deplorable state. Maybe you get to experience the game a lot better than me, who knows, but releasing this game in the state it is — I was even given a new build that promised to improve performance but did nothing for me — is just one of the red flags that concern me. And now that we are talking about red flags…
The modding scene under fire
Cities: Skylines didn’t release to be or become an extremely realistic city-building game. The responsibility behind its slow transformation to the game that the community treasures and loves now falls on the modding community. The Steam Workshop was a blessing for the folks over at Colossal Order, and Paradox benefited from it. Naturally, one could expect the same to happen for Cities: Skylines II. After all, imagine the possibilities of an already huge game that brings forth a lot more content than the release version of Cities: Skylines propelled to the stratosphere by the hands and wit of the best modders in the scene.
Well, not only will Steam Workshop support disappear, but the mods will come directly from Paradox, under the exclusive mantle of Paradox Mods. Now, if history has told us anything, it’s that restricting creativity to only a group of people who also happen to have the power and authority to approve and shelve any idea on the spot is a bad idea and a perfect concoction for failure. Using the cross-platform stability concern may be a valid point. However, limiting the modding community, the one responsible for what the franchise has become, makes this more of a scapegoat than a reason. Also, to say that Paradox Mods will become available “shortly” after release is something that makes me feel uneasy and worried, to say the least.
Cities: Skylines II is the best example of a decent game being hindered by questionable decisions and an apparent inability to even handle the hardest ones. While the backlash of delaying the game’s release could be a setback for the developers, releasing a game with the issues that it has and with the limitations they are willing to keep will be a stake in the hearts of fans waiting for the sequel of a game they love.
The game is good, if I’m being generous — “acceptable” could be a better word — but how many good games have we seen come and go without even attempting to go the extra mile? I don’t think expecting a game to run well is outrageous or picky. I think it is a responsibility the developers should undertake. To say, “Oh, well, just release it as it is,” is the middle-school mentality we don’t need or deserve.
I just hope the developers take care of this game as much as their fans love it and open up the modding capabilities the community used to have so we can see the game we were all hoping for. For now, it isn’t there, and while the skyline could look promising, just like Icarus, it just flew too close to the sun.