Why the Cities: Skylines DLC isn't all that impressive.

Cities: Skylines is one of those fascinating games that attempts to expand on some amazing concepts for a city builder, but frequently falls flat on their face in the implementation. Knowing that I’ve played the game quite a bit and own all the major DLC, I’ve been asked repeatedly whether I recommend getting all the DLC or just certain ones. It’s easy to give the straight answer but explaining the why takes a bit more detail that doesn’t really fit into a chat message. Here, I’m just going to stroll through all the DLC that’s been released so far, in order of release.

After Dark

The most exciting aspect of this release was the day-night cycle they added to the game, which was actually released as a free update that coincided with the release of the DLC. Past the free part of the update, I can’t say I was ever too enthusiastic about the DLC itself. The brunt of this DLC is essentially just two new zone types for your commercial districts, which allow you to set them to leisure or tourism and alter the buildings that grow there.

One of the annoying parts of that is that whether you place them on low-density or high-density commercial, the same buildings always grow. I was sort of hoping that the low-density tourism would at least spawn smaller tourism shops and standard sized hotels rather than skyscrapers, but everything just seems to be mixed into one bucket.

Past that, it also adds a bunch of “parks” – primarily coastal things that drive tourism and are frustrating to place because they won’t auto-snap to roads and you may end up having to replace them several times in order for them to start “operating normally” because they’re finally close enough to the road. This is one of those instances where I wish Cities: Skylines supported sidewalks as a snap point.

It’s not uncommon for modern-day cities to have all-walking avenues where shops exist. Requiring everything to always be on roads, combined with the crappy traffic mechanics, makes sidewalks basically just a decoration that don’t have much of a functional use in the game. I can’t think of many places that actually allow people to drive right up to the coast in order to access shops and services along the coast. Many places have parking lots further away and everyone needs to get out and walk along the coast to see all the shops. Just the first of many lazy implementations that tend to reduce the reality of the game.

Snowfall

I was truly excited for snowfall, but my expectations for it were extremely misaligned with what the developers had in mind. I was expecting it to simply add a new weather pattern to the game, allowing your city to get colder at certain times similar to how it would rain or storm on occasion. This would have been a great game dynamic more consistent with how most cities are affected by snow – the occasional snowstorm that required additional road maintenance (through plows) and heating for your residences. They could have even tied this in easily with their later Natural Disasters DLC in order to implement the occasional blizzard which wreaked snowy havoc upon your city.

Instead, they went with a new map type: snow terrain. Your city always required heating, and the new buildings could only be built on a snowy map. This is possibly the laziest way they could have ever implemented a snow feature and forces the player to choose between always having snow or never having snow. In that regard, the snow DLC is essentially just a difficulty modifier. It does not add anything interesting to the game aside from a way to make a city more difficult to maintain by playing on a snow terrain. Many opportunities missed here.

Match Day

This was an entirely free DLC that added a new football stadium. The stadium is actually a cool idea that I rather enjoyed. It’s not just a building, but also has a full scheduling system for games to be played there that increases your tourism during game times among other small city effects. The fact that it was free means you probably already have it integrated into your game.

Natural Disasters

What is there to really say about the natural disasters? You either like them or you don’t. This DLC was somewhat unique in that it didn’t only have the disasters, but also a bunch of disaster response and prevention buildings. Being able to build emergency shelters across your city and design evacuation routes was a neat idea I wasn’t expecting from the DLC.

The only disaster that seems completely unreal to me was the flooding from a coastal typhoon. No surprise there, Cities: Skylines has always been very bad at simulating how water actually flows through things. If you’ve ever deleted a hydroelectric dam and watched how the water behaves post-deletion, you’d see exactly such oddities. Just… What the hell…

If you’re wanting a return to Sim City, this is the DLC for you. You can even manually trigger all the disasters, though the triggers are somewhat confusingly hidden away in a tab under the landscaping tools.

Mass Transit

Having been a past fan of the Cities in Motion games, I was excited to see new options for mass transit. However, just having the options doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll ever get used. Blimps and chairlifts are cool, but there are very few cases you’d ever use them. I can’t think of a single time I’ve been in a city and there’s been a tourism blimp up in the air somewhere. I would have happily foregone these odd antique features in favor of better improvements to the existing transit systems.

One extreme disappointment with this DLC was the lack of anything new for airports. Airports are quickly becoming central pieces to major cities that pretty much determine their ability to attract tourism, and they have been woefully ignored in this game. There are workshop mods out there that let you literally design an airport to your exact specifications if you’re into that sort of thing. I’ve played around with one such modular airport mod, and it was a lot of fun to implement in my city.

The weirdest thing implemented in this DLC was the giant rail terminals. So many rails going into one terminal! I literally could never figure out a good use for having that in one of my cities, but maybe some of the rail enthusiasts out there have a different view on it. To me, it just seemed like complete overkill and I could not imagine why a single city would ever want to have more than one of those.

The only thing I ended up particularly enjoying out of this DLC was the addition of monorails. I went crazy with the monorails in my cities. The ferries are also a nice touch that can be very valuable if you have large bodies of water to move around or long rivers, which many of the base maps have at least one.

Concerts

This one is very similar to the Match Day DLC. Instead of a stadium, you get an event venue where the city can hold concerts and music festivals. However, this one isn’t free. For some reason they decided another simply building with city modifiers was somehow worth extra money, though I’d describe this addition as just another workshop item that shouldn’t cost anything and doesn’t enhance the game enough to warrant a price tag. It really feels like something you should be able to download from the workshop.

Green Cities

Yes, going green! I was extremely excited about this DLC release, and it was probably the most disappointing out of all of them. The only particularly useful things the DLC added were the sewage treatment plants and the recycling centers, which both helped to reduce your pollution from sewage and trash to practically nothing.

However, there were a lot of missed opportunities here. In particular, a recycling center cannot possibly handle all trash in a city, but the game allows for you to have only recycling centers in your city – no trash services whatsoever. What happens to actual trash that cannot be recycled? They could have made this much more realistic by splitting trash into the three common types: generic trash, recyclables, and compost. Each household would produce all three, and you’d need facilities to accommodate all three. If you didn’t have enough facilities to handle all the recycling and compost, they would default shift back to trash until you resolved that problem. Sounds like a much more interesting and realistic system for trash service, yea? Too bad we’ll probably never get it. Maybe someone will mod it and add it for free to the workshop. That seems to be the place to get all the actually good stuff anyways.

Parklife

This DLC expands upon parks by adding three distinct types of parks that you can hand-build: regular parks, zoos, and amusement parks. At first sight, this seemed like an interesting expansion into the zoo and amusement park areas that have been coveted by other games. Obviously, this is still a city builder and you’re not going to get full roller coaster editing tools, but it was still nice to see something more than just a building that was an amusement park.

You can plop all the separate rides, animal exhibits, and park objects to customize each park to your desire. You can only place the relevant objects into the appropriate park type, so you can’t mix your national park, zoo, and rides all into one area. You can, however, connect all the park zones with a path so visitors can freely move between them, if you’re so inclined and willing to take the monetary hit from not collecting entry fees for each individual park.

One of the biggest irritants here was the inconsistency within the zoos and amusement park rides, as well as the general lack of many options. Some of the buildings has integrated paths around them, while others did not, which made placing some of them a bit annoying. Overall, this is a neat idea that doesn’t have too many complications, assuming you are fine with your city having a rather pathetic zoo and amusement park with very few animals or rides.

If you were a particular fan of the Mass Transit DLC and having tons of options available, the Parklife DLC also adds in sightseeing tours and hot air balloons.

Industries

This DLC gets to me the most, simply because it was the biggest punch in the face I could have ever imagined from the developers. Instead of fixing the existing industry system that already existed in the game, they went and full-out built a second one on top of it that duplicated a ton of features for no good reason. What. The. Fuck.

It took me longer than I care to admit to even realize that they added a second type of district that you draw on top of your existing districts that is specific to only the new industry features. That made zero sense. Why would you not just continue using the existing specialized industry zones? Why create brand new industry buildings that must be placed manually instead of just expanding on the existing road system to allow more than four squares to be built away from a road so that industries actually build decent sized buildings that make sense contextually?

Not only that, but the two types of industrial zones do not work together in any way. Zoning a district as farming industry will not interact with a farming zone built around it. Nothing. Adding insult to injury, the buildings for each industry type aren’t even that special. At level one, you can build a few types of buildings. All excited to expand, you get to level two to find… the exact same types of buildings, just in a bigger size. Could it be so bad at the next level? Yup, more of the same buildings in an even bigger size. Why the hell am I doing this shit manually?

Then you finally get to the final level to unlock one unique building, that is probably about three or four times the size of the next largest building in the game. A completely absurd building that is unrealistically oversized compared to all the other buildings that exist in the game and you will probably have a hell of a time finding a place to put somewhere in your city. No thanks. I’ll just stick to the crappy default industry zones that at least grow on their own.

Campus

At the time of writing this, Campus hasn’t yet been released, but I have little hope remaining that it will be anything good. One article I read mentioned it adding a college, a university, and a new sports complex. Quite honestly, that’s pretty much the entirety of what I’d expect out of a new DLC for this game. I have a hard time believing that list to be “some of the things” rather than “all of the things.”

Conclusions

I’ve said this many times in the past: Cities: Skylines is excellent at thinking up innovative new ideas to put into their games but absolutely terrible at following through on a correct implementation. Each DLC they release tends to be two steps forward and three steps backward. “Here’s a bunch of new stuff that will break your game and frustrate you even more.” As a fan of the game that’s just frustrated with the details, I’d really appreciate if they took the time to go back and fix a lot of the issues with their game.

Most notably, their traffic system absolutely sucks. The game constantly advertises using traffic circles to improve traffic flow, but the way their traffic actually moves along roads makes traffic circles utterly useless. In particular, cars seem not to want to ever change lanes to go around. Whatever lane they need to be in in order to reach their very final destination, no matter how far away that destination is, they stick to it. But that’s not how real traffic works. And if real traffic did work that way, our cities would be standstill by now.

I manage to bypass a lot of the traffic problems the base game has by using the Traffic Manager: President Edition workshop mod, which allows you to do so many cool things with your roads to alleviate the idiotic driving AI. I very frequently use the tools to manually change which lanes go where at intersections, adding yield signs instead of stop signs, and setting up my own timed traffic lights at some intersections that have congestion problems. How has this not been fully implemented into the game yet?

Another area that is critically lacking in this game is a better scenario system or a story line. This is one of the areas that Anno excels at. It’s not just building a city, but following a full campaign with side quests. These bonus activities make the game infinitely more fun and allow you to play for hours at a time without realizing it. Ok, I guess Anno responsibly alerts you every two hours of gameplay.

Cities: Skylines does have some scenarios, but they are some of the laziest scenarios ever created. Most of them are quite literally just maps with win criteria attached to them. They need more scenarios like the traffic scenario, where you actually start with a decent sized city and are tasked with fixing the traffic problem the city has. Don’t just throw the player into another empty map – that’s boring as hell and not truly what a scenario is meant to be.

It’s not a popular opinion for video games, but the developers need to slow down. I feel like part of why we keep getting all these half-baked DLC features is because they’re rushing them all out the door without putting much thought into them. Like someone just blurted out an idea in a meeting, the team ran with it in a couple months, and it hit the store. The developers need to refocus their attention on the details that make good games great. Otherwise, they’re just going to remain that average city builder game and someone else is going to swoop in and steal all of their cake.

If you’re curious, some other mods I use and love outside of the Traffic Manager mod include the Network Extensions 2 mod, which massively expands the number and types of roads you have available to build your city with. I also particularly enjoy the Real Time mod which makes your days and nights run at a smoother interval and shuts down certain buildings that wouldn’t normally operate at night. Of course, if you really hate that damn bird that never gives you any useful information EVER, then Chirpy Exterminator is definitely for you.