Cities: Skylines 2: A beginner’s guide to building a great city

Cities: Skylines 2 Guide – A beginner’s guide to building a great city

Cities Skylines 2 is finally upon us and this city-builder is packed full of features and customisation. Developed by Colossal Order and published by Paradox, the first game was a runaway success, and the second is just as enticing.

Starting a new city can be rather daunting, especially if you’ve never played this game before. How do you start out building a metropolis? What are the crucial fundamentals for building a successful city? Our guide should hopefully help you along the way to city greatness. 

Choose The Right Map

When you first start out in Cities: Skylines, it’s a good idea to go for a map that has a big buildable area and plenty of outside connections. The climate is another factor to consider here too, because you don’t want to have to deal with too much extreme weather when you first start out.

Most maps boast a playable area of 159km squared, something that the devs themselves have boasted is five times more than Cities: Skylines. However, only about half (or even less) of that will be buildable land.

You’ll also need to pay attention to the climate too, given weather will have a significant impact on how you plan your city. If you’re in a challenging area like the Fjords or a more temperate polar climate, expect to be battling the elements almost as much as building on the map itself. During colder weather, you’ll need to make sure you have a Road Maintenance Depot, given the roads will be damaged and need to be repaired. We actually go into specifics on each of the map types in a more in-depth article here:


Read More: Cities: Skylines 2 Guide: Which map should you choose?

Pause The Game Regularly & Go Through The Tutorials

When you first start Cities: Skylines II, it can be rather daunting to get to grips with the UI and the various different tools at your disposal. A good rule of thumb is to hit the spacebar (or pause button) and then read through each tutorial slowly, along with pausing while planning out specific water, electricity or even transport links. Each of these are essential to growing your city, and the added pressure of real-time events can be distracting.

Each of the tutorials will help guide you through the basics of planning out your city, and highlight the importance of separating out industrial from residential areas. When you first start, be sure to separate both of these a fair amount, potentially either side of a large busy road so you can branch both of these sections and expand them without ever crossing over or causing your residents to complain of pollution.

Start Small

It seems obvious but Cities: Skylines 2’s economy is very fragile and given the in-depth systems at play here, you want to make sure you’re expanding slowly. Don’t go crazy and start filling out huge squares of land right away. This will not only chew through your budget, but it’ll also cause an influx of residents that won’t have the necessary facilities to make their stay in your city a pleasurable one.

The smaller houses will generally have smaller amounts of rent, which are ideal when you first start to prevent houses from emptying out quickly. The larger properties come complete with back gardens and even balconies, which increase rent and the land value beyond what some residents will be able to live in.

Another point to note here comes in the form of your power plants and big polluters. These can have a massive impact on your city, and poor placement through either air, water or ground pollution can absolutely kill the attractiveness of your city.

The Progression System

Progression in Cities: Skylines 2 is locked behind a new feature this time around, coming in the form of Milestones and Development. These help to add new gameplay elements in over time and can help a lot with planning out your city.

We go into a lot of detail on this in our latest explainer article, which you can read more about here

Read More: Cities: Skylines 2 Guide: Progression System Explained

Pre-plan and deal with Pollution early on

For any heavy polluting plants, like that Gas and Coal Plants, you want to pay particular attention to the wind direction and speed. The fumes can carry from the wind and actually hit the residential areas, even if you’ve planned out your city for these to be further away than needed.

Out of all the different facilities, these are the ones that need to be planned out ahead of time with some thought put into where they should be situated.

This same rule of thumb applies to both sewage and water, along with recycling and garbage too. The latter of which we usually place in the center of Industrial zones, away from people, but with good transport links.

Sewage should be placed downstream, and if you can, on the far outskirts of your city. The last thing you need is your sewage pipes leaking into your fresh water supply and causing havoc to the health of your residents!

In fact, we’d actually recommend that alongside the sewage, fresh water pumping stations should be upgraded early on if you can to make sure you have a steady stream of water that’s not polluted or liable to make your residents sick.

To combat some of the pollution generated by this, the game has an array of renewable energy sources. However, do be aware that these can be easier or harder to maintain depending on your map type. Those maps with high wind speeds and lots of sunlight will benefit greatly from solar panels and wind turbines, than those without.

Be Reactive Rather Than Active To Zoning Demands

It’s incredibly tempting when you start playing Cities: Skylines II to immediately launch into dropping tiles all over the place and waiting for the city to build quickly on its own. However, this is also a recipe for disaster, for some of the reasons alluded to above.

Instead, what you want to do is pay attention to the bars in the bottom left hand side of the screen (pictured above). This will tell you exactly what zones your city needs and will help you grow your city at a decent pace.

Furthermore, selecting the different zones will give you a heatmap of where the best places are to place the grids down on your city. This is especially useful when it comes to commercial zoning for your shops, while residential zones separated away from industrial hubs also work really well.

If you want further information on this, you can actually select the City Information tab, which helps to point out the pros and cons of different demands for your city. These zoning areas will respond positively or negatively to your action too, depending on what you do in the surrounding area.

If you place down a Hospital or a police station, the entire community will gain a positive reaction. However, switching from a simple road over to a busy highway or polluting the area with a new power plant is going to annoy a lot of residents, so it’s a constant balancing act to make sure everyone is happy.

As you progress through the game, you’ll unlock new density zones which further complicate matters. Medium-density and high-density residential areas require a slightly different tactic and feed back into the aforementioned financial implications too.

Make sure you place these near enough to big public transport routes and strong roads, while simultaneously making sure there’s enough commercial districts around to keep people in the area.

Create Districts

Speaking of Districts, Cities: Skylines II has a great tool to allow you to build in different districts around your city. These can be as simple as just highlighting all your industrial and central hub of residential areas, but you can also go into the granular too. Maybe there are a particular set of roads clogging up all the traffic that you want to highlight ; you can do this too.

Ultimately, you want to create these districts for the sole purpose of implementing policies. These are unlocked at Level 4 and upwards, and can make a huge difference to your community.

Some of the more useful policies include no heavy-goods lorries from entering specific districts, adding speed bumps to roads to decrease speeding, and even adding parking ticket fees too. All of these can have a significant impact on your city and its economy, so it’s well worth implementing.

Add In Public Transport Early

As soon as you unlock public transport, you want to try and implement these immediately around your city. Not only will it help with traffic, but it’ll also cut down considerably on complaints from residents. It’s also super useful for when you get tourists come and visit, allowing them to hop about the city in a much easier fashion. Much like in real life, tourism can be a huge generator of revenue for any city or town.

A good rule of thumb is to begin with taxi stands and bus stops before branching out t implement big transport links. Not only are these non-intrusive on your city planning, they’re also super easy to pull off too, given you’re just using the existing roads.

Place down Taxi Stands at key points in the city, preferably those just off the side to a busy intersection or between commercial and residential districts. It’s also a good idea to add these in to Industrial areas as well, given that some workers will finish work and need to get a taxi or public transport home.

When it comes to buses, be sure to add in bus stops at key parts across your city. It’s an excellent idea to invest in decent bus-stops rather than flimsy stands. If you’re on a map that has temperate climates and lots of rain, your residents will thank you for this in the long run.

You can place down a whole bunch of different bus-stops if you wish, but make sure that they’re situated on either side of the road. You can make as intricate a loop as you wish, or you could just add in lots of little loops.

Personally, we like to add one big bus route that encompasses the main points across the map, and increase the price of this ticket more than the others, with a good 10-12 stops along the way. Alongside this, smaller routes with more intricate, connecting loops of industrial and residential in one district, for example, are also a good option.

Cargo Transportation is another key indicator to success too, with trains and ships in particular an absolute godsend when it comes to lowering the cost of shipping goods. This ties in nicely to Natural resources being used, which you unlock when reaching Milestone 5. These special zones will highlight natural resources that can be used to generate your own goods and resources.

Similarly, if you produce an over-abundance of energy or goods, these can be sold to neighbouring cities for a profit, helping to boost up your finances.

Taxes and Service Costs

One of the more important screens in Cities: Skylines is that of the City Economy (highlighted at the bottom of the menu by some notes and a C icon). Here, you can see how you’re getting on with your finances, service costs and more. You can also adjust the taxing for different residential types, while also finding out which resources are chewing through your finances.

As you can see from our city, our healthcare costs are way higher, so we can go in and reduce down the budget. This is especially prevalent when it comes to upgrading different facilities too. Don’t go overboard and upgrade everything fully immediately, as your finances will come back to bite you later on (as evidenced from our own experiences with the screenshots below!)

You can also use this screen to check out the resources that you’re importing in too, along with what resources you’re generating, which contributes toward the costs your city is generating. If you’re in a map that has a lot of greenery and trees around, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to import logs and wood from neighbouring cities! Get those loggers out there to chop them down!

On that same note, it’s a good idea to try and place down some farms on fertile land too. Not only does this offer more biodiversity for your city, any surplus resources will be sold off for additional money, which can help dramatically.

This also ties into taxation too, where you can racket up the price of parking in heavy commercial or wealthy residential areas, and it’s especially effective in areas with heavy traffic, which does actually reduce down the flow of traffic. Coinciding this with placing some parking lots down in these areas can have a noticeable impact on your finances.

Natural Disasters

Cities: Skylines II has three predominant natural disasters to handle at launch – Forest Fires, Hail Storms and Tornadoes. The latter is by far the most difficult and devastating to your city.

Make sure you place down Emergency Shelters and Early Disaster Warning Systems early into your game. This is especially prevalent for areas prone to wild climate swings and lots of natural resources (like trees) as thesecan strike at any time.

If you’re unprepared, your healthcare and death care services will take an absolute battering.

Place Parks and Landmarks to Raise Happiness

Much like in the previous Cities: Skyline game (along with other city builders), your residents will want places of leisure to help unwind and chill after a hard day’s work.

Early on there won’t be a whole lot of choice but as soon as you can, it’s a great idea to start placing parks around residential areas. This will boost the land value and also keep a lot of your residents happy. This happiness, of course, translates to higher XP and faster achievement of higher Milestones. 



And that’s pretty much it for the tips around building a successful city. There are, of course, way more in-depth guides on the topic but when you first start out, these tips should helpfully help on your journey toward building a successful city!

You can check out our full walkthrough and game guide here!

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