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After six months of renovations, Cities: Skylines 2 performance is considerably less terrible

Some GPUs get more than double the frames since launch

The sun rises on a pair of skyscrapers in Cities: Skylines 2.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

Six months is a long time. In that half-year you could fully grow a patch of delicious strawberries, plant the seeds, then grow another. Or you could squirm through three and a half successive Liz Truss premierships. Or, as Cities: Skylines 2 developers Colossal Order have done, you could take the technical mess of your long-awaited citybuilding game and reconstruct it into something that performs... okay, not well, but better.

Since we’re approaching that six-month milestone since its contentious October 2023 launch, I figured it was a good time to stop by and see if Colossal Order’s promised speed 'n' stability improvements have taken shape. And, to an honestly surprising extent, they have. While some stuttering issues remain, no longer does Skylines 2 leave the mightiest graphics cards weeping in the bathtub, and it seems to cope better with CPUs that come in below the recommend Intel Core i5-12600K.

A patch that added character LODs (level of detail, basically lower-res civilian models that appear when they’re far away) was also released in December 2023. You might recall that the missing LODs, which were definitely an issue, sparked rumours of civvies killing performance with their terrifyingly over-detailed teeth, which may not have been.

Here's how a few different GPUs fared at launch versus the current 1.1.1f1 version, all sharing the RPS test rig’s Core i5-11600K and 16GB of RAM:

A bar graph showing how Cities: Skylines 2 performs on various graphics cards, both at launch and after six months of updates.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun

There are significant upgrades across low-end and luxury cards alike, with presets that would be downright unplayable last year – like Low on the GTX 1060, or High on the RTX 4060 – now knocking on the door of relative smoothness. There are multiple cases of average performance more than doubling, while premium kit like the RTX 4070 Ti is finally allowed to spread its wings. Encouraging stuff, even if one, it shouldn’t have been that bad in the first place, and two, it’s still a tough game to get steady at 60fps without dropping quality. Just, now it’s not a particularly egregious offender, by 2024 standards.

This is also not to say that Colossal Order can ditch the hi-vis jackets and call their performance works finished. Average framerates aside, Cities: Skylines 2 still suffers from plenty of stuttering, especially when zooming in to admire all your busy little denizens and their reassuringly normal teeth. And maybe it’s not as high-priority, but it befuddles me that a game of Skylines 2’s stature still only offers AMD FSR 1.0 as a third-party upscaling options. Never mind DLSS, there are currently two, both much better versions of FSR to upgrade to. Two and a bit, even, once FSR 3.1 launches later this year.

A street-level view of a city at night in Cities: Skylines 2.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Paradox Interactive

I was also surprised to find that, despite the proportionally mahoosive performance gains since launch, making individual settings changes (as opposed to just flicking through the presets) is a less effective tactic for wringing out higher framerates. Back in October, swapping High quality for the optimal settings I’d picked out could get the RTX 4060 from 17fps to 36fps at 1080p. As of this morning, the same settings got it from 36fps to 49fps, a smaller improvement in both percentage and straight FPS terms.

Still, at least the overall polishing job makes such tactical tweaking less vital to begin with. As a citybuilding scrub whose utility management game is kinda weak, I can’t best say if the past six months have healed the more fundamental issues that players have had had with Cities: Skylines 2, which our reviewer Sin said "offers little that feels substantially new or improved enough to warrant a sequel." But performance, for sure, is getting the improvements it so desperately needed.

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