Developer: Colossal Order Ltd.
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Release Date: February 18, 2016
Price: $12.99 [DLC], City Skylines ($29.99)
As someone who lives in the Great White North, I can tell you that real blizzards in the city aren’t half as enjoyable as they are in the new expansion to Cities: Skylines, called Snowfall. The team at Finnish developer Colossal Order clearly enjoys their wintertime leisure activities, and that’s perhaps why Snowfall is largely about light-hearted fun. From snowman parks, to curling rinks, to ski-slopes, to picturesque vistas, Snowfall packs in everything that makes winter great. And there’s nothing better than watching your snow-covered city shine in the moonlight while the Northern Lights flicker overhead (assuming, of course, you also have the After Dark expansion).
But of course, the winter brings serious business for city management as well. And this is where the real meat of Snowfall lies. Temperature is now displayed in game, and ensuring everyone has proper heating is critical to success. While all cities will be affected by temperature, only cities on the new winter maps will have to seriously concern themselves with managing heat. Electricity will be used to heat buildings by default, but when the temperature drops, the electricity demand can soar.
A new policy lets you require heavier building insulation, but like all positive policies, it’ll cost you, and it won’t necessarily keep your citizens toasty on the coldest nights either. Therefore, a new method of heating buildings by hot water has been added. This hot water can be generated either from the new geothermal plants or boilers, the latter of which uses fossil fuels. You’ll also have to upgrade your pipe systems in order to be able to carry that hot water throughout your city. While the mechanic is fairly straight forward, properly managing temperature, especially early on in your city’s development, can be quite difficult.
Snowfall, unlike the previous expansion After Dark, will actually affect the way you play, assuming you choose to start on a winter map (and why wouldn’t you?). You’ll have to be far less aggressive in building your early cities to ensure that you have enough power. And, of course, you’ll need to make sure that the roads are clear of snow so that your power plants can get the fuel they need.
Snow clearing is the other new mechanic in Snowfall. While snow may be fun on the mountains and in the countryside, those of us that live in the north know it can wreak havoc in the city. Clearing your streets of snow requires building snow dumps, which will send plows out to ensure that traffic keeps moving smoothly. Absent snow-clearing, your citizens will still carry on with determination, but it’ll take them a lot longer to get where you want to go. While it’s fun to watch the plows move around your city, keeping your streets snow-free is very straightforward and doesn’t require much from the player. Here, it’s simply a case of building a snow dump or two, and forgetting that snow was ever an issue. For better or worse, you’re never going to have to declare a state of emergency and have the army dig you out.
While you’ll only have to worry about snow on the new winter maps, a few new transportation options have been added to all cities. Players now have the option to ensure that their road receive regular maintenance. Roads won’t deteriorate, but by building road maintenance buildings, your roads will get a traffic boost that will keeps things running a bit more smoothly.
The game also adds the much-asked-for trams, which sets aside part of your roads for surface-level mass transit. Like subway lines, you can create stops and design routes to ensure maximum efficiency for your virtual citizens. While these add a nice layer of verisimilitude to the city-building experience, I noticed few real advantages over the old bus lines. Tram tracks can be built off roads in order to avoid busy traffic zones, and they’re not affected by snowfall, but they also cost more and can be fiddly to build. Additionally, they aren’t affected by road maintenance, while buses are.
The real enjoyment in Snowfall, however, comes simply from the scenery, the new buildings, and the new leisure activities. The reward for a city well-made is to turn off the UI and float through your city watching your happy citizens and play. And Snowfall introduces lots of new ways for them to play, including skate parks, curling rinks, snowmen parks, ski hills and cross-country skiing parks. Additionally, many of the buildings have been changed to reflect the new theme, such as the inclusion of greenhouses for agriculture. You can now also build saunas, a health building that will improve the health of your nearby citizens.
The visuals here are a real treat, with snow gently flowing down onto a white landscape, while the Northern Lights ripple above the horizon. The new music sets a pleasant winter mood, creating a perfect atmosphere to play while enjoying a cup of hot chocolate.
The Bottom Line
Unfortunately, the vast majority of Snowfall‘s content is only accessible if you choose to build on one of the new maps. There’s no seasonal cycle, and the new maps are in a permanent state of winter. Sadly, your existing metropolises won’t see a single snowflake. This will encourage you to start from scratch (and you absolutely should, given the new heating challenge), but I would have liked to see what my old cities would look like after a blizzard. While you can use the new heating mechanics in any city, there’s little real value in doing so. Snowfall is really about creating a new city, rather than changing how you play your old ones.
Ultimately, Cities: Skylines Snowfall is an enjoyable expansion, and a good reason to return to this excellent city-builder. However, there’s not necessarily enough to the new expansion to make it a must-play for city-building fans, and the new mechanics, while having more of an impact than those in After Dark, don’t change enough to call this as a wholly new experience. I would have loved to see more depth to the new recreational activities and more of an impact from snow, but if you’re a Cities: Skylines fan and if you love winter, then put on your toque and dive in.