Cities: Skylines and the definition of an "expansion" haven't always seen eye to eye. Fortunately for Colossal Order and the thousands of fans of the wildly popular city simulator, Cities: Skylines - Natural Disasters has certainly added enough and changed the framework enough to make itself distinct as a true expansion.
But, for the purposes of review, simply being an expansion isn't enough to warrant unabashed positivity; it also has to be fun to play. While the titular catastrophes of Cities Skylines: Natural Disasters are gripping and original, the expansion is held back by a few minor flaws that keep it from being truly great.
A Whirlwind Tour
For a game that calls itself a simulation, this expansion seems to go out of its way to avoid that designation. This comes with the addition of Scenarios that add win/loss conditions. Before, the only way to "lose" a city simulator would be to delete the game from your harddrive, and the only way to win would be to expand your city to its outermost limits and maintain a level of success high enough until you personally die of old age.
This is no longer the case with Natural Disasters. This addition gives you the chance to play five pre-made Scenarios, each of which focus on a different type of disaster. I chose what was billed as an "easy" scenario where all you have to do is not get freaking destroyed by tornadoes half the size of your city. No biggie, I got this.
Well, before I could even get enough people to unlock emergency preparedness buildings, such as a shelter, my city was hit by a tornado on two separate occasions, wiping out half my population each time. Is this a problem with the game? Not at all. You just really need to emphasize rapid population growth in the early goings. Don't get me wrong, your city will still get destroyed, but at least your people won't die.
It's sort of a catch-22, though. If you're using a scenario, your disasters will mostly be isolated to that one particular type. But, if you'd rather just play the game with random disasters enabled, allowing you to experience sinkholes, forest fires, etcetera, you'll find that they are a minor nuisance at worst, occurring too infrequently to really change the game. Fortunately, you can increase the frequency at which these disasters occur, and you can do so right from the in-game options menu.
What's the Scenario?
Like the disaster frequency, it seems every major problem with Natural Disasters also has a readily-available solution, but the result is still not fully satisfying. The scenarios themselves are incredibly entertaining and challenging, but their limited scope will have you searching for something more and migrating to the more-eclectic random disaster settings.
But more than just scope, though, the appeal of scenarios is to give your game a start and an end, a victory or defeat, rather than have you play until your eyes bleed. Unfortunately, though, these scenarios are designed to give you a win condition, but only after you play until your eyes bleed. The win condition I played through required, among other things, "20,000 full lifespans lived in the city." After six hours of playtime, I was up to 2. While I'm sure that number would increase exponentially, I still don't want to do the math to figure out how long it would take me.
But, again, the solution is provided in the form of the Scenario Editor. Rather than play the given scenarios, you can simply create your own, which can be just slight offshoots of ones that already exist. This will let you play with disasters as much or as little as you like and, perhaps more importantly, as long as you'd like.
Now, this scenario editor is quite robust and impressive in all the different ways you can tailor your game to a desired challenge level, setting tornados to repeat every few weeks, for example. However, I do wish the premade scenarios were as game-changing as they were advertised to be. And, while I do find the editor to be a great addition with a lot of attention to detail, I don't think you should be required to use it in order to enjoy this new addition to the game.
While the additions to the base game in Cities: Skylines - Natural Disasters are manifold and offer deep gameplay challenges, it doesn't seem as thought they're being used to their fullest potential. Colossal Order does offer workarounds for these issues, but that raises the question of why there are things in the game that need to be worked around?
All that being said, with a disaster scenario in hand, or perhaps one created with their easy-to-use scenario editor, you'll get more than enough enjoyment out of Cities: Skylines - Natural Disasters to both consider it a true expansion and make it worth its asking price.