It's easy when playing a city builder to focus on the grander scale: electrical grids, traffic patterns, resource management, the economy. Even the happiness level of your citizens can be summarized with a simple, aggregate smiley face that prevents you from having to zoom in to see their actual faces.
But the best city builders give you a reason to stop thinking about the big picture and focus on the finer details. In my current Cities: Skylines 2 mid-size city of 25,000 citizens, I decided to pick one jerk out of the crowd and obsessively observe every facet of his existence.
Rather than pick an existing citizen, I build a new house and wait for a bit. Eventually, three people called "The Gould Family" move in. The Goulds have a teenager named Archibald, so I decide to follow young Archie around my city for roughly the entirety of his life.
Here are 9 things I learned about Cities: Skylines 2 from following this one particular citizen around for years.
1. People like entertainment but don't really use it
I figured I'd be following teenage Archie as he went to high school, visited some parks or stores, maybe walked a dog or explored his new neighborhood. No. Archie, essentially, does nothing. He stands out in the front yard with his dad for a bit, then sits on some lawn furniture for a while, then goes inside the house. And there he stays. For ages. Some of it is due to the nighttime cycle, when you'd expect most citizens to sleep, but even in the daytime he doesn't budge. His parents aren't much different. One goes to work, sometimes, the other pretty much just sits in the house with Archie.
It's boring. Really boring. I had planned to act like Uatu (The Watcher) from Marvel comics and not interfere with anything while following Archie, but I'm so bored I have to do something (and honestly, Uatu pretty much always interferes, too). In hopes of coaxing Archie out of his house I build a city park nearby, a skate park even more nearby, a dog park smack dab at the end of his block, and—this might be overkill—the game's version of The Statue of Liberty right around the corner.
Archie doesn't come outside to enjoy any of that stuff. He's wasting his life sitting inside and I'm wasting mine by watching him.
2. Parents are terrible
Finally, something happens: Archie gets sick. He posts on social media that he's "not feeling normal at all" and then leaves the house and starts walking to the hospital. Where are his parents? Well, one is at work but the other is home. Neither offer to give him a ride. He walks past the multiple parks and the giant statue I built specifically for him, and eventually reaches the hospital. He remains there for the next couple of months.
On the plus side, the hospital must have pretty good wifi because while he's being treated he graduates high school and announces he's got a job at an electronics store. Then he changes his mind and says he's going to college. He leaves the hospital and begins walking back home, posting on Chirper that he's going to work at a restaurant. Then he posts again to say going to a technical university.
His mind isn't the only thing that changes a lot:
3. Every time a citizen enters and exits a building their entire appearance changes
I'm not saying a citizen's appearance wouldn't change gradually over the span of their life, but this isn't a matter of Archie just growing older and changing his hairstyle. A completely randomized new body appears every single time he enters and leaves a building! It's jarring. And somehow no matter how many times he changes, he always winds up ugly.
I assume it would be a waste of electrons for the game to remember what every single citizen looks like at all times, but it feels weird when Cities: Skylines 2 made a big deal about citizen lifepaths before launch. If we're supposed to feel like each citizen has a real life, constantly changing how they look isn't a great way to convince me. Maybe the game should at least preserve the looks of the citizens you add to your follow list? Here's a gallery of just a few of the different bodies Archie has had:
4. Their names change a lot, too
Archie, now an adult, moves out of his parents' house and bizarrely disowns them by changing his last name. He's no longer Archibald Gould, he's now Archibald Jennings, head of "The Jennings Family" which consists of just him.
This is just something that happens in the weird world of Cities: Skylines 2. Leave the family you're in, and you invent a new last name. If a citizen moves in with someone they'll change their name to match, and if they move out they'll switch it again. There must be a stack of paperwork at the local courthouse a mile high. No wonder the lumber industry is so important.
5. Following someone will quickly show you how horrible your city is
I'll say this for Archie the body-swapper: he's highlighting my city's weaknesses better than any overlay could. While I'm watching him walk to his new home, he approaches a bus stop where a crowd of what looks like hundreds of people are waiting.
Having watched this jerk sit motionless at home and in a hospital for more time than I'd care to admit, I cannot fathom the thought of now having to watch him wait for a goddamn bus. I pause the game and leap into action, quickly building eight more bus depots in the immediate area, wiping out most of a residential neighborhood to do so. There's still a long wait because the crowd has grown so huge it is now blocking traffic, preventing my fleet of brand new buses from getting there quickly.
I am a bad mayor, and I must grudgingly admit that following Archie has at least opened my eyes to some of my city's problems. Archie eventually reaches his new apartment, immediately changes his mind (and body, again) and decides he's going to live somewhere else. He gets in line at another overcrowded bus stop. I want to kill him.
6. Couples break up over social media
At this point Archie is supposed to be in "technical university" but once again he sits home at yet another new apartment doing nothing, until this strategy somehow pays off and he falls in love with someone. Her name is Ida Jennings—they have immediately tied the knot and she's taken his name, even though she is only now just walking to his apartment for the first time—and now they're both sitting at home all day doing nothing (nothing I can see, at least).
Then one day they both leave the house together. Exciting! They're headed for the harbor to take a cruise. Even more exciting! He gets in line at another overcrowded bus stop while she continues walking, eventually reaching an entirely different crowded bus stop.
Why are they taking separate buses to the same place? Then I notice her name is not Ida Jennings, it's Ida Yardley. They've split up. On social media, they both claim to have dumped the other one. "We've had a good time together, but sorry, I'm breaking up with you," he Chirps. "Sorry to do it like this, but I'm leaving you," she Chirps.
I'm definitely taking her side. Archie sucks. Ida can do better.
7. Watching a broken-up couple is the most exciting part of Cities: Skylines 2
I notice that even though Archie and Ida are kaput, they're still both headed toward the harbor to take the cruise. I also notice they're on completely opposite sides of the city due to taking different buses that slowly brought them barely any closer to their destination (reminder: I'm a bad mayor). What happens next is the most exciting thing I've ever experienced in this game: keeping tabs on both of them to see who arrives at the cruise ship first.
It's thrilling—and I'm not joking! She's further away but has a more direct route, and he's closer but has to make his way through a snarl of twisting, turning roads. Both are slowly headed toward the single, narrow, crowded road that leads to the harbor (bad mayor again). They reach it just about simultaneously, only separated by a single intersection, and then begin walking toward the harbor on opposite sides of the street in lockstep. The long, slow race across the city is now tied. Amazing!
At one point Ida chooses to cross the street and loses about a dozen yards to Archie, but then he stops to take out his phone and take a few selfies, so she's gaining on him. She is so close! These two were married a few hours ago, split up, went in completely separate directions, and have now wound up just feet apart in my huge, ugly, poorly planned city. If he stops again, she has the chance to overtake him.
Alas, as they pass the airport, Ida goes inside while Archie continues to the harbor. Ida's status briefly and weirdly reads "Happy, Homeless, Shopping" before she gets onto an airplane and just… leaves my city. She's gone, forever. Farewell, Ida. I'm once again stuck just watching… him.
8. Jobs pay you in full before you even start them
Archie takes a cruise alone, visiting two cities off the map. What does he do on that cruise? I have no damn idea. The guy who dumps his wife on social media says nothing about the two cities he just visited for the first time in his life. Do you see why I hate Archie so much?
My biggest worry with this dope was that he would go broke—he's been a perpetual student with no job and living on his own, so his economic situation has been, and I'm quoting the game here: "Wretched." But I noticed suddenly his status is now "Wealthy." What the heck happened?
Well, Archie got another job, and it sounds pretty fitting because the guy who has been in school forever is now working at a college. Not yet, though—he's got another full day of sitting at home alone doing nothing. But apparently he's already cashing their checks. He's instantly rich, and changes his address yet again before slowly walking to his first day of work at the college. After work he walks to his new home in his new body and does nothing again. Screw this guy!
9. Your city will go to absolute hell if you spend all your time focused on a single jerk
Watching over Archie's weird life means rarely zooming out far enough to examine the city as a whole. The most I ever did was rush around placing bus depots and a few parks and one giant statue. But now that I'm leaving Archie to live out his final handful of years without my prying, I can finally zoom out and take a look at the big picture again.
The big picture is a huge goddamn mess. I don't want to say that every single one of the thousands of buildings in my city has a warning icon over it, but… just about? The entire industrial zone of my city has a massive worker crisis. Half of the residential areas comprising roughly 10,000 citizens have groundwater contamination, the other half are complaining about high rent. While I stare blankly at this soon-to-be post-apocalyptic cityscape, an abandoned skyscraper simply collapses into rubble.
The moral: It's sometimes boring, occasionally exciting, and genuinely informative to follow some jerk around your city for years. Just remember to look up once in a while.