Cities: Skylines II – PC Review

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Despite being released at the end of October, I have purposely held off from writing the review of Cities: Skylines II. A follow-up to the long-reigning hit from 2015, Cities: Skylines, devs Colossal Order and publisher Paradox Interactive have been working hard to make this installment better.

Initially thwarted by graphical bugs, I have found it hard to get to grips with the new iteration, having stooped as low as 7fps despite running the graphics on low. Thankfully there have been a few updates along the way that have addressed some of the issues and made Cities: Skylines II playable.

Ruling The City Once More

Are you ready to see what the changes are and ultimately what Cities: Skylines II is like to play? Let’s get building!

screenshot showing dawn in my city. The skyline is yellow and the camera is looking along a road that has small residential buildings along one side.
Dawn in the city.


Going straight in and creating a new game, there are 10 maps to start building your vision within. From Archipelago Haven which will test your bridge-building skills to the mountainous Windy Fjords, there is a wide choice of terrain types that offer different climates as well as resource sizes. Once you have input your city’s name, chosen your European or American theme, side of the road for vehicles to drive on, natural disasters and whether you want to build up using the allotted starter resources or simply have it all, it’s time to get building.

While map tiles are 1/3 smaller than in the previous iteration, you are no longer restricted to a playable area of 5×5 tiles. Now you have 441 map tiles available, allowing you to expand dramatically. Creating connected small towns along the highways is a great opportunity to manage the various zones and create pockets of more manageable areas.

screenshot showing a grey grid with over 400 squares. Each square is a piece of land that you can utilise to expand your city.
The sheer scale of the playable map is phenomenal.

Road building is one feature that has been greatly bettered. Now you can draw out a huge road grid to allow the creation of blocks of residential, commercial and industrial zones. Adding curved roads as well as junctions is fairly effortless now thanks to the new tools on offer. I really enjoyed that the underground services are included below the road. Electricity, water and sewage are all present allowing you to simply make the main connections and see your city quickly grow.

Hitting those goals

While milestones for population size was the focus of Cities: Skylines, this has now been replaced by an XP system that allows for far more city aspects in order to achieve the milestones and unlock new buildings and tools. You are now rewarded for the level of happiness that your population boasts as well as size and types of buildings that you constructed. It gives a bit more objective to ensure that you are creating a happy city, meaning that you need to focus on all areas of your city as you construct. There is definitely more of a sense of achievement this way.

screenshot showing one of the many skill trees. Here a grey window is overlaid across the green landscape below. The skill tree is for Fire and Rescue and shows several upgrades that you can unlock using points. The column to the left shows the many sectors that can be upgraded.
Skill trees are an innovative way of unlocking new buildings and concepts.

Points mean prizes

In addition to hitting the milestones, you now earn upgrade points that aid the unlocking of development trees. From roads and electricity through to fire & rescue and the police, each discipline can be enhanced and upgraded. For example, from a basic fire fighting service you can work up to a helicopter depot and also construct large emergency bunkers for refuge from natural disasters. It is all certainly involved as far as the simulation builder goes.

The changeable seasons are a nice touch. Previously it was in a DLC on the previous iteration but now features as standard. Snow and rain can dramatically change the look of the city as well as the citizen’s daily lives. There appears to be a lot more focus on the NPCs in this game. I quite enjoyed stalking a person to see what they do all day and learn more about them. I used to have fun back in the day with Sim Tower. Yes, sad I know, but you kinda use them to gauge how you are doing as this god-like figure who is creating the environment around them.

The way the economy works has been overhauled in Cities: Skylines II. Now local businesses have requirements and are actively after resources from other businesses while commercial offices and residential buildings also have their own wants. Thankfully you can choose to delve into the economic side as little or as deep as you wish, if you know what you’re doing of course! There are many tutorials to guide you I will add.

While the construction of the city services, demarking of the zones and laying of the roads is the crux of the game; Cities: Skylines II lacks the multitude of available DLC upon launch that its predecessor had built up. this will no doubt change in the future.

Graphics & Audio

Overall I feel that at the moment Cities: Skylines II does not look as great as Cities: Skylines. The models look basic at times as does the terrain. I was running the game with an RTX 3070 at 1440p and it struggled unless at a low graphics settings until the more recent patches. The lighting and shadows seem to have a bug whereby objects are constantly being redrawn, causing them to flicker rapidly on the screen. While this could be put down to the movement of the sun during the day cycle, however, it is really off-putting, to the point that I had to turn them off. Fences, cranes, and trees, all were shimmering repeatedly. I am hoping that in the future these bugs will be addressed.

screenshot showing the low res graphics that were needed to play the game when it first launched. The city is blurry and not sharp at all.
On first launch I could only play on low settings. Resulting in the screenshot you see here.

Zooming in all the way down to ground level to interrogate NPCs, and also using the cinematic camera, are good touches that show off the intricacy that the game tries to get to. I did read a rumour that every NPC’s teeth are constantly rendered, which led to slow frame rates, however, I feel that was a bit of an exaggeration!

The soundscape is good, featuring original music by Finnish composer Jonne Valtonen. He also did the music alongside Jani Laaksonen in the first game. Each building has its own short audio to help you focus quickly on its use while the ambiance that is based on zone type as well as weather dependant helps to immerse you into the city. The levels of audio mechanics are wild with bird song for example being linked not only to the dawn and dusk but also the temperature!

NPCs also each have their own sound byte when clicked on that help to quickly identify their gender, age and mood. Oh and animals also have similar!

screenshot showing a night scene above the city. Plumes of grey smoke are seen against the dark skyline from the factories. Meanwhile streetlights illuminate the roadways.
Night time is pretty and makes use of the illumination from the streetlights well.


Being a city builder, that is probably the most intricate on the gaming market other than real life, the longevity is immensely high. You can play for hours and create wild and sporadic cities before going back and fine-tuning each area as you attempt to make the citizens happy and appease all of the commercial and industrial wants. There are mods out there that you can bring in, and as previously mentioned, there will be DLCs to carry on bringing in new elements.

Final Thoughts

While I absolutely enjoy Cities: Skylines and have seen the features that really make Cities: Skylines II a more enhanced version in terms of game mechanics, it is severely let down in my opinion with its graphics. I found myself getting frustrated that I could not have a smooth experience if I had the graphics even on medium. Against the previous game, graphically Cities: Skylines wins. I started to question why this second iteration was needed. Could they have not just upgraded the game mechanics in the first one and carried on building on what they had? I guess maybe it was not possible and perhaps the changes were too much for any existing cities to handle. It’s a shame as my experience has not been a massively positive one and despite having some better features and ways of doing things, it feels like a backward step in user experience at the moment. Let’s hope for some serious optimization to happen! For now, I would hold off from buying and maybe play it through the Xbox game pass library if you want to have a dabble.

Cities: Skylines II gets a Thumb Culture Bronze Award.

Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.

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