Cities: Skylines 2 review: Building a better sequel

Cities: Skylines 2 introduces a suite of small, but meaningful changes.


The Chirper notifications went off again, and with a weary sigh, I panned around the city to see what people were complaining about this time. There wasn’t a problem. There were half a dozen. My sewage lines backed up after I forgot to expand the system with the new residential block. Noise pollution from the coal factory angered residents, and housing space was running out as well. The only spots left were by the sewage factories and the cemetery, so I quickly zoned them for residential use and waited for a health crisis to ensue.

My city turned into a nightmare. I was having so much fun. 

Cities: Skylines 2 is the rare kind of game where you learn and feel like you’re progressing even when everything violently explodes around you. It’s, admittedly, not a massive upgrade from the original game, and there are some missing features. However, the changes that developer Colossal Order implemented make it a more tightly connected network of systems and processes that feels more natural and rewarding to experiment and create with.

Familiar features

Cars line a busy street under a cloudy sky, as the setting sun illuminates a row of apartment houses

Cities: Skylines 2 pulls off a balancing act with its fresh additions. Most of the DLC from the original game is here in some form – seasons, disasters, hotels, and expanded roles for tourism. The original Cities arguably should’ve launched with these. Having them at launch in Skylines 2 is meeting a bare-minimum standard, though it still feels like a fuller, more robust launch as a result.

Yet some of the options Skylines players likely grew used to are gone. Green Cities and eco options aside from electric busses are gone entirely, and there’s no in-depth finance system either. The original game’s DLC introduced expanded options for your college plans, your industry, and even your parks. Some of that survives. You can unlock improvements for higher education that attract high-paying science and software jobs, but you can’t invest in sports or even host book fairs anymore. 

Between these missing features and a comparatively spartan set of upgrade trees, it seems pretty evident that Colossal Order is planning on more DLC to fill some of the gaps. I’m not thrilled over the prospect of rebuying features that probably should’ve launched with the sequel, though if the new systems and fresh changes Colossal Order added are any indication, it’ll probably be worth the wait.

For every feature Skylines 2 takes away – well, maybe “every other” would be more accurate – it adds something new and helpful. Fans wanted mixed use zoning for years. Skylines 2 adds mixed zoning for commercial use at the ground floor and residential use above. Transportation is streamlined, economic simulation grew more complex with commercial subsidies and a number of other small additions, and resource management feels more robust this time. It’s almost like, well, building a proper city.

Small, but mighty

A road overlay stretches across a busy city block, as the player creates a street between two housing complexes

One of the biggest new features seems small unless you’re familiar with old Cities: Skylines. Roads have power and water lines built in. That removes a whole layer of extra, tedious work, since you can just build a road and zone for construction without having to create separate networks for power and water. You still need to connect water and power lines to the road on occasion, and you sometimes need to get a bit creative to get around bottlenecks or move supply more efficiently. However, in general, there’s just a lot less friction in Skylines 2.

Another small, but excellent change is your relationship with the environment. Maps have groundwater resources and live wind now, which means you have to put in a whole lot more thought into how you plan your industrial zones. Polluted groundwater might seem unimportant if your map gives access to rivers and seas. Take that away, and suddenly you have to start importing water at high costs. Winds make turbine power viable depending on the location and helps reduce noise and waste pollution. It also carries sources of pollution into your residential areas and essentially suffocates your city if you’re careless.

Citizens Lifepath is yet another deceptively simple addition, which functions like social research. It lets you follow individual citizens and track their happiness and life progress over time. The idea is that you gain deeper insight into daily life at the street level and the relationship between a person’s environment and their health, wealth, and happiness. It’s a nice little touch of public health theory, and the information you learn from it helps guide zoning and education decisions to help improve everyone’s quality of life. 

An overlay shows education information for the surrounding district as the player places a new elementary school

The downside is that the actual life updates feel repetitive and flat, without much personality or character. That’s hardly surprising, given the sheer number of updates and notifications the team likely had to write. Still, since Colossal Order decided to take this route instead of condensing the information into charts and tables, a more personal touch would help it feel more like a fully fleshed out mechanic.

Colossal Order also said they improved pathing in Skylines 2. I think it’s true. Mostly. Pathing seemed to run along more sensible lines in my experience, though I did run into a few instances where emergency vehicles took an awfully long time to drive two streets away. Granted, I also forgot to place traffic lights at nearby intersections and defunded the city’s health- and deathcare functions to pay for my overinvestment in the power grid. That might explain the delay. Most services run smoothly, though, assuming you put the right number of them in the right places, and I didn’t run into any of the baffling feats of driving logic that plagued the original game at launch.

Well done, you failed

A complex network of roads winds its way through a densely populated area

When you do run into issues, Skylines 2 is gracious in how it lets you handle them. Your electric trains still glide across the sewage-soaked fields as the heavy-duty chicken farms paint the sky black with fumes – at least for a little while. Terrible decisions catch up pretty quickly as your city grows, though, and Skylines 2’s smart, organic set of warnings that let you know problems are on the way before they get out of control remain mostly unchanged from the first game. 

People express concerns on Chirper – Skylines’ version of Twitter – which gives you time to identify and correct problems before they affect happiness. Once happiness starts tanking, people leave. Or die. Or both. When people leave (or die, or both), businesses flee. Then your tax revenue crashes, services implode, and it’s time to run away and try again somewhere else. There’s a dozen points of convergence along the way where you can figure out where you went wrong, and Cities: Skylines 2 excels at teaching you through failure.

That’s a good thing, since it also suffers from the usual Paradox problem – tutorials of questionable value. They cover the basics and little more. Take one of the new features inspired by a popular mod for the original game: importing and exporting electricity, water, and sewage. The feature pops up during the water tutorial, but how to actually make income from this former mod-turned-feature is something you just sort of have to stumble along and piece together yourself. 

The “have fun figuring it out” applies to other features as well. For example, adding police stations made my citizens happy, but caused commercial displeasure. There’s nothing about that in tutorials. Maybe business owners like crime in Skylines 2? They didn’t like the welfare office I opened either. I eventually learned to plan around these issues, but knowing why they existed to begin with would’ve been nice.

These are comparatively minor complaints that gradually vanish the more time you spend with the game. Once you get the hang of it all, everything just works so well – and then it doesn’t, once your city gets bigger.

I ran into some performance problems with the original build I received, mostly centered on lag and high memory usage. Other reviewers I know encountered far worse problems, though some had none at all. Colossal Order sent an in-progress build of a performance update, and it fixed my issues and even seemed to reduce how much memory the game used by a small amount. This update should go live at or shortly after launch. You probably won’t run into the issues I did, but if you do, Colossal Order is aware of them and has fixes in the works.

There’s still work to be done, but Cities: Skylines 2 is an impressive improvement over the original. Its systems work together seamlessly, and you have more control over how your city develops without it feeling overwhelming or intimidating. It's a shame some features like green building are gone, but I'm looking forward to seeing how Colossal Order keeps building Skylines 2 in the future.

This review is based on a Steam review code provided by Colossal Order. Cities: Skylines 2 releases on October 24, 2023, for  PC via Windows 11 and Steam. It will launch on PS5 and Xbox Series X|S in summer 2024.

Contributing Editor

Josh is a freelance writer and reporter who specializes in guides, reviews, and whatever else he can convince someone to commission. You may have seen him on NPR, IGN, Polygon, or VG 24/7 or on Twitter, shouting about Trails. When he isn’t working, you’ll likely find him outside with his Belgian Malinois and Australian Shepherd or curled up with an RPG of some description.

Review for
Cities: Skylines 2
  • Small, but meaningful improvements reduce friction and add welcome features
  • More complex, realistic simulations
  • Extensive design freedom
  • Greater control over your city's development
  • Loose tutorials
  • Some pared back features from the original game
  • Limited technology trees
From The Chatty
Hello, Meet Lola