An abundance of video games task you with destroying, while very few have you create in meaningful ways. With city-building games, developers have taken different paths to create this rewarding experience, but they’ve always stood in the shadow of the king of city-building franchises: SimCity.

Cities: Skylines not only elevates past the canopy set by SimCity’s once-towering reputation, it casts a massive shadow of its own. Cities: Skylines is a single-player experience (with no online requirement) that allows players to build the city of their dreams – provided they have the skills to make it last.

Each city starts with a small plot of land to develop with nothing in place but the area’s natural resources and a nearby highway. Paving roads and placing power and water grids is priority, and while a somewhat common glitch sometimes requires you to back out of the utility drawing tool, the construction of this infrastructure is intuitive and enjoyable – a perfect way to start a city. 

The tutorial pop-ups instruct how to perform essential actions without holding your hand, setting an appropriate tone for the rest of the experience. Cities: Skylines provides the tools needed to be a successful mayor, but it’s up to you to put them to use. Don’t disregard the various statistics, charts, and social-media posts at your disposal, or things may go downhill in a hurry. It took me nearly a dozen attempts to create a city with longevity after I finally found my bearings and developed a strong budget.

My city truly felt alive. Whether you’re zoomed out to view a large chunk of land or pulled up to a single building, the visuals and ambient sounds give the world character. People move from place to place, airplanes fly by, and traffic behaves in a realistic manner (developer Colossal Order also made the transportation-focused sim Cities in Motion). The more citizens you have in your city, the more personality it brings.

Once I built my viable city, I was able to explore the deep leveling system, which is tied to the number of residents you oversee. Each new level grants additional zoning options, buildings, and policy options that you can set. It is slightly annoying that so much of the content is locked behind this leveling system, but its rewarding nature kept me playing long after I told myself I would stop.

Unfortunately, my desire to hastily unlock the next level made me overly ambitious, and my citizens paid the price. As I continued expanding my city through purchasable adjacent plots of land, I panned back over to find my once-bustling metropolis all but wiped out thanks to a poorly planned dam. The city’s most valuable resource – its river – was dry, and its economy was sent to unrecoverable depths.

Despite my frustration with that situation, it demonstrates Cities: Skylines’ most positive aspect: Every success and failure is thanks to your action. Once you’re familiar with the mechanics, you know how to avoid making the same mistakes next time. Each fallen city represents potential for the next one to be better, giving players strong reason to start a new city immediately after ending another.

Through deep and rewarding gameplay, Colossal Order’s new simulation fills the increasingly noticeable void in the genre. Where others have failed, Cities: Skyline excels and delivers the new gold standard of modern city-builders.

Mod-Friendly
The mod-friendly nature of Cities: Skylines sets it apart from other notable city-builders. As of now, the mod tools merely allow for creation of new assets and plots of land, but with these custom items and maps shareable through Steam, the replayability could shoot through the roof if it gains traction within the community.