A few days before the launch of Cities: Skylines 2, Paradox Interactive issued a warning about the game's performance—specifically, that it might be a little less than ideal, especially on lower-end hardware. Sure enough, this was our experience: "random fps dips, slowdowns and hitches, and sometimes complete freezes that lasted a few seconds," along with graphical glitches and outright crashes. The bigger the city, the worse the problems.
If you're struggling, we have a guide to five graphics options changes that will provide a big boost to Cities: Skyline 2 performance, but hopefully the need for those tweaks will lessen in the relatively near future. In a "post-release plans and goals" update posted today, developer Colossal Order said Cities: Skylines 2 "is built for the future with modern hardware in mind," essentially repeating the statement it made in the pre-release performance warning, but committed to improving the situation in future updates—and, importantly, assured players that the issues can be fixed.
"Firstly, we want to assure you that the issues are not deeply rooted in the game’s foundation, so we fully expect to be able to improve performance going forward," the studio said. "The issues we are currently facing are tied to the rendering of the game, and decreasing the quality of visual effects such as Depth of Field, Global Illumination, and Volumetrics will get you a fair performance without affecting simulation - at the cost of some eye candy."
The studio has "identified some issues tied to certain hardware setups that yielded unexpected results," and said it is now working on updates that aim to make specific improvements:
- Remove stutters, generally caused by some synchronization condition in the simulation. They can vary greatly from one CPU to another, as well as how your city is built.
- Optimize and balance GPU performances by reducing the number of vertices processed per frame and optimizing/balancing the effects that affect fillrate (mainly Depth of Field, Global Illumination, and Volumetrics), which you can turn off or reduce in the settings for the time being to get a decent FPS.
- Pushing any CPU optimizations that are not already done that we come across in this process.
Colossal Order said the upcoming patches will "largely improve" the game's performance at default settings, but also warned fans of high framerates that its target is "a steady 30 fps." Optimization efforts won't be limited to that cap, but "there is no real benefit in a city builder to aim for higher FPS (unlike a multiplayer shooter) as a growing city will inevitably become CPU-bound," the studio said. "What matters more with this type of game is to avoid stutters and have a responsive UI."
As for why Colossal Order and Paradox opted to release Cities: Skylines 2 in its current dodgy state, the answer is simple: "We concluded the performance is not a dealbreaker for all the players."
"For us, the number one priority is for the players to have fun with the game, and we had seen enough feedback from players enjoying the game that it would be more unfair to postpone," Colossal Order said. "We know we will keep working on the game and do our best to fix issues as fast as possible, so we wanted to respect the announced release date and allow people to start playing the game."
That's an interestingly frank admission, and I think it's borne out in our review, in which we noted that the original Cities: Skylines also "improved massively" through various post-release updates and mods, and on Steam, where the user reviews are currently split almost 50-50 between positive and negative. Not everyone is happy with Paradox's choice, though: A lengthy thread on Steam in response to the update is a predictable mix of complaints, anger, insults, pleas for patience, and even some support for the developers and the choice to release the game despite knowing that it wasn't fully baked. In other words, it's the internet.
There's no word at this point on when the first Cities: Skylines 2 update is expected to arrive, but hopefully we'll see patches start to roll out soon.