During my hands-on session with Cities: Skylines 2 at Gamescom 2023, I'm taken to a pre-built, bustling metropolis that gives me the chance to see what you can create given enough time and resources. It's immediately apparent that the map here is considerably larger than those found in Paradox and Colossal Order's first city builder, and I'm instantly impressed by the creator's handiwork. Areas have been segmented into industrial, commercial, and residential zones, and everything has been placed down in an aesthetically pleasing and well thought-out fashion. The industrial area, for example, sits in a pocketed area all by itself, well away from the residents who might suffer from the rising smoke and air pollution it brings.
This is how it's done, I think to myself. If only I'd had the same kind of city building prowess at the beginning of my demo. Prior to seeing this impressive cityscape, I had the opportunity to start mapping and creating my own little town. Much like the first game, it begins by placing down roads, setting up power lines, and laying down the basics to start populating the area. A helpful tutorial is there to guide you, too. When I place down a row of homes to bring in some citizens, I give half of them a European theme, and the other a North American theme which gives the place an interesting stylistic vibe.
I'm feeling quite pleased with myself as I look over my tiny town in action, which I've quickly slapped together in a circular layout. But to my great shame, my rushed job has led to some pretty bad consequences. A Paradox team member points out that I'm already polluting my new residents, who have only just moved in. What a warm welcome, right? With the noise and water pollution meters on the rise, I realize I've thoughtlessly placed my sewage outlet right next to my water pumping station, and I look in horror as toxic sludge begins to spread across the water's surface. With the desire to go green, I also added wind turbines, but even then, I'd managed to mess that up by putting them right next to the homes of my citizens. There's nothing like contaminating your water and disturbing the peace in the space of ten minutes… just call me a city planner extraordinaire.
Despite my failings at speed running together a city without polluting it, Cities: Skylines 2 does a great job of teaching you the ropes if you haven't played the first game – and the tutorial is also a useful refresher if you're a bit rusty like me. Since I don't have much time to correct my rookie mistakes or develop my town further, I switch over to the ready-made metropolis where I get to experience what is, personally speaking, the biggest draw of the upcoming sequel for me: Citizen Lifepaths.
Of course I want to know what my citizens are up to, and now I can follow individuals around the city, keeping track of any major life events, and seeing where their path takes them. It caters to my nosy side, but it also makes the city come alive when you can see a life play out first-hand in the world you've created. On the bustling streets of this built up city, I click on one of the little citizens walking over to their car, which tells me some information about them such as their name, where they reside and work, and how happy they are in this city. I can then add them to people I'm keeping track of by hitting the follow button, and I'll start to see them appear on my Chirper feed – which acts as Cities: Skylines take on social media.
Clicking on my followed citizens takes me to them, and I can then actually go around with them in the city and get a bit of day-in-the-life experience from watching them. The first fellow I choose to watch spends a long stretch of time stuck in traffic, going through a congested road that leads out from the residential district to the commercial one. It's oddly relaxing to just sit back and follow them around, taking in the sights of the city as they eventually get through the queue of cars. It soon becomes clear that they're actually looking for a place to park up.
After they arrive in a parking lot and circle around, they drive right back again after seemingly failing to find a spot, and carry on driving quite a distance before pulling up beside a path. While I'm told you might catch citizens getting up to something juicier like committing crimes, I actually enjoyed seeing someone do something that seemed so true to life - like struggling to find somewhere to park.
Then, much to my excitement, I also see several dogs dotted around the street that I have to click on and get a closer look at. When my demo came to an end, I was left with the impression that this really is expanding on what came before it, both in terms of the scale of maps we'll have to build on, and in its features too. While I only got to scratch the surface in the time I had, I absolutely know I'll be the kind of player that gets wrapped up in the lives of my citizens when Cities: Skylines 2 releases.
Cities: Skylines 2 is set to release on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S on October 24, 2023.