Sometimes there’s nothing more satisfying than
painstakingly taking apart smashing up something you’ve made. Whether it’s a sandcastle on the beach as the tide is coming in, an origami sculpture that doesn’t look quite like the instructions would suggest it should, or a digital city that you’ve poured dozens of hours into creating which you want to see burn. Cities: Skylines’ next expansion will let you do at least one of those things.
Natural Disasters is an expansion that does pretty much what it says on the tin, adding one of the features most heavily requested by fans to the game some time toward the end of this year. Colossal Order are still rather tight lipped about all the natural disasters – emphasis on the natural, so don’t expect to see some kind of electoral Trumpocalypse here… sadly – but the one that they have revealed brings to mind a pair of 1998 summer blockbusters.
Dropping a great big, flaming ball of space rock onto your city can naturally have a pretty Deep Impact, but it’s hardly going to spell Armageddon for your city. As it hits the ground, the dirt and debris is kicked up into the air in a plume of smoke, as what was once a bustling neighbourhood is turned into a crater surrounded by wrecked buildings. Nothing that was there exists anymore, whether its roads, water pipes, tunnels or buildings, and the surrounding areas will almost certainly be hit by fires that spread from building to building. Hit next to a river, and a huge wave of water washes up and floods those parts of the city on the waterfront.
It’s a good looking disaster, if not quite as cataclysmic as it would be in reality, and you can probably guess some of the other disasters that will be included by flicking through the best disaster films of the 1970s. Except that adding half a dozen ways to blow up your city doesn’t really add much gameplay. Yes, they’ll look pretty, but the first two expansions – After Dark and Snowfall – built new gameplay ideas around their themes of a day night cycle and weather systems. The same is true for Natural Disasters.
When not triggering the event yourself or playing with disasters disabled, you’re given fair warning that a meteor strike is coming, to give you half a chance to prepare yourself for the inevitable fallout and potentially even prevent it from occurring. New units to help with this are the fire, police and ambulance helicopters, which also double up for duty during regular gameplay, but there’s also the Disaster Response Unit, which will start to sift through the rubble looking for survivors and help you get that part of the city back on track as soon as possible.
Beyond that – and this is part of a free update to the game, as is tradition for Cities and Paradox games in general – there’s a new scenario editor on the way, giving you or others extensive control to create a more mission based game to play. A handful of scenarios will also be built into the Natural Disasters expansion, but they’ll really be a guiding light for the community to head off and create all sorts of weird and wonderful situations to play through.
You set the victory and loss conditions, and at the most basic level, you could be handed a basic plot of land or a city and simply told to go and earn a certain amount of money. However, things get a little more devilish and compelling when you start to play with the different variables on the drop menu, perhaps challenging you to keep a high population life span and ensure the city is appealing enough that people don’t want to leave, or set a financial target with the added burden of only having a very small industrial zone.
You’ll be able to import a city that you’ve built into the scenario editor and then fiddle with the difficulty of what’s presented to others by bulldozing certain buildings – you can only build by playing the game – so that a rapidly ageing population might be handed to you with no cemeteries or crematoriums, forcing you to figure out how to cope once they all start popping their collective clogs. And that’s all before, bringing it back to the Natural Disasters expansion, you get to place and schedule meteor strikes and whatever other disasters Colossal Order have in mind.
There’s a certain cautiousness to what Colossal Order revealed at Gamescom, not going too deep into exactly what will be included simply because everything is still rather early in the development cycle. Yet it’s great to see that they’re continuing to think of new and interesting ways to add eye catching features but do so in a meaningful way. That’s a big part of why Cities: Skylines is growing, slowly but surely, into perhaps the best city building game ever made.