Cities: Skylines 2 gets real as hell with welfare offices, prison labor

Over the past few weeks we've been getting an inside look at some of the new features coming to Cities: Skylines 2, like the road and traffic tools, changes to public transportation, and more. Today, Paradox Interactive pulled back the curtain on city services, and some of the new features look impressive. Some of them are also depressingly real.

The good news first: the video above and accompanying devblog highlight improvements over the original Cities: Skylines when it comes to the services available to your growing city. For instance, rather than building additional schools and hospitals when your population outgrows them, you'll be able to upgrade those buildings to create a wider circle of influence and cater to a larger population. That's a relief for anyone who's ever spammed a bunch of brand new elementary schools into a sprawling neighborhood in a desperate attempt to elicit a higher satisfaction score.

In addition to improvements on old features, completely new features are shown in the video, like the telecommunications service, which includes cell towers and server farms. It makes perfect sense—internet and phone service are incredibly important to any modern city alongside traditional services like trash removal and electrical grids. Residences and businesses alike will benefit from an expansive and well-managed telecom service.

But when it comes to city building, the closer you get to realism the darker things can get. "Life might still take a turn for the worse for some people," the video's cheerful voiceover says before introducing the welfare office coming to Cities: Skylines 2. Oh, right. As lovely as my city looks from a god's-eye view, there's probably a lot of tiny little citizens struggling, just like in real life.

The blog gives a little more information and makes the system sound a bit more videogamey. "The Welfare Office helps people down on their luck and boosts their Well-being if their Happiness is below half," it reads. 

I guess "down on their luck" is one way of describing people who have been chewed up and spit out by a system designed to keep a few people rich and the rest of the population fighting to afford basic necessities like food and rent. Darker still is small detail in the devblog about crime and punishment: 

"Arrested criminals are put in jail, and some criminals are sentenced to serve prison time," the blog reads. "These prisoners are then transported either to a local Prison or to an Outside Connection to serve their sentence if a local prison is not available. After serving their time, their criminal status is reset and they return to the city."

It continues: "Prisons function also as production facilities, producing resources used by manufacturing companies in the city."

Yeah, that's pretty grim, too. As the ACLU puts it, incarcerated workers in the US "are under the complete control of their employers," the for-profit industries they've been leased to, and "have been stripped of even the most minimal protections against labor exploitation and abuse." They're paid next to nothing, and who benefits the most? Those billionaire rascals, of course!

So, yeah. Some pretty sobering stuff, but that's the price of designing a realistic city builder. On the other hand, Cities: Skylines 2 will give you the chance to improve on reality. Maybe you'll be able to design a city that works so well there's no need for a prison system that forces inmates to give cheap labor to billionaires who pay their legitimate employees so little they're forced to collect welfare. We can only hope!

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.