Cities: Skylines is a hugely popular city-building simulation game that allows players to develop bustling metropolises from the ground up. With deep simulation mechanics, robust public services, transportation systems and endless customization through user-created mods, Skylines offers an addictive gameplay loop that has enamored over 6 million players globally.
But before you dive in to creating the next great digital city, an obvious question arises – is City Skylines available for free? Or do you have to purchase it? Let‘s find out!
An Overview of City Skylines
First released in 2015 for Windows, City Skylines is developed by Colossal Order and published by Paradox Interactive. It offers players a sandbox experience to build livable cities from scratch while managing elements like public services, zoning, transportation, healthcare, education, utilities and more.
Some key features and gameplay elements of City Skylines:
Deep and engaging simulation that models urban growth and city management systems realistically. Everything from traffic congestion to pollution and crime needs active management.
Zoning and district planning allowing customization of residential, commercial and industrial areas. Unique building styles emerge based on zones.
Infrastructure building with roads, public transit, power plants, water pipes and other services needed for an operational city.
Financial and population management through taxation, budgeting, policies and more to keep city finances and residents happy.
Environmental impact management like pollution, waste processing, water resources etc.
Customization through policies, taxation, road types, public services and amenities. Make each city distinct.
Day-night cycle with city activity varying realistically across the day.
Disasters like flooding, fires and meteor strikes for added challenge.
Mod support to enhance gameplay via custom assets, buildings, maps and more.
The core gameplay revolves around balancing city functionality, needs of cizitens, urban planning policies and environmental management in a simulated model of an expanding metropolis. It provides an incredible amount of depth not just for city building, but also for urban management.
Is the Base Game Free?
The base game of City Skylines is not free. It is a paid game that must be purchased to play the full version on PC via Steam or other platforms like Epic Games Store.
The standard edition of City Skylines costs $29.99 USD on Steam. There is also a Deluxe Edition that includes 5 in-game content packs, priced at $39.99.
So if you want to play City Skylines properly on PC, you will need to buy the game. It is not free-to-play.
Limited Time Free Promotions
However, City Skylines has been offered for free for limited periods by certain gaming platforms occasionally.
For example, the Epic Games Store gave away City Skylines for free in May 2021 for 1 week as part of their weekly free games promotion. Players could claim and keep the game permanently during that period.
Similarly, Steam has hosted free weekends for the game during which it was free to play for a couple of days.
But such promotions are limited time events. Once the free period expires, you will need to buy the game. So it‘s worth grabbing the chance to get City Skylines for free when such offers are live!
Before you download City Skylines, it‘s important to ensure your PC hardware meets the minimum system requirements to run the game properly:
Minimum System Requirements:
- OS: Microsoft Windows 7/8/10 (64-bit)
- Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo, AMD Athlon 64 X2 or better
- Memory: 4 GB RAM
- Graphics: nVIDIA GeForce GTX 260, ATI Radeon HD 5670 or better
- Storage: 4 GB available space
Recommended System Requirements:
- OS: Microsoft Windows 10 (64-bit)
- Processor: Intel Core i5 3470, AMD FX 6350 or better
- Memory: 6 GB RAM
- Graphics: nVIDIA GeForce GTX 660, AMD Radeon R7 260X or better
- Storage: 4 GB available space
City Skylines is not too demanding at minimum specs, but you will need a dedicated mid-range gaming PC to run it smoothly at high graphics settings. SSD storage is also recommended for faster load times when loading saves or assets.
For playing heavily modded games, 16-32GB RAM is ideal. Overall, make sure you cross-check your system against the requirements before downloading City Skylines.
On Steam, the initial download size for City Skylines is around 4GB. However, this install size will increase over time as you add mods, custom assets and DLC expansions.
Heavy modding can inflate the game‘s install folder to 15GB or even more. So factor in sufficient SSD space if you plan to build huge cities and use a lot of mods.
The base game itself offers hundreds of hours of vanilla gameplay even without mods or DLCs though!
City Skylines has released multiple paid DLC expansions that add new features and content:
- After Dark (Sept 2015) – Adds day-night cycle, tourism specialization, leisure zones
- Snowfall (Feb 2016) – Adds seasons and weather, including snow maps and trams
- Natural Disasters (Nov 2016) – Adds disasters like flooding, forest fires, meteor strikes etc.
- Mass Transit (May 2017) – Expands transportation options like ferries, blimps, cable cars and more
- Green Cities (Oct 2017) – Focuses on environmentally friendly city design
- Parklife (May 2018) – Lets you create custom city parks and nature reserves
- Industries (Oct 2018) – Expands industrial zoning with supply chains and resource extraction
- Campus (May 2019) – Lets you create university campuses that integrate with city districts
- Sunset Harbor (March 2020) – Adds fishing industry, inter-city buses and more
- Airports (Jan 2022) – Allows building custom airports and passenger aviation network
These DLCs provide vital additions to the base gameplay. Popular picks like After Dark, Mass Transit and Industries add key layers of depth.
However, all DLCs require separate purchase. You can get them discounted as part of bundles, season passes or during Steam sales to save money.
The Role of Mods and Custom Content
One of the standout features of City Skylines is extensive mod support. The Steam Workshop integration allows players to browse and add thousands of user-created mods that add new buildings, assets, gameplay tweaks, maps, vehicles, custom music and much more.
Mods breathe endless life into the game by letting you customize and enhance it as per your exact needs and preferences. They fix bugs, unlock creative tools, add quality of life improvements and enable you to achieve visuals otherwise not possible in the base game.
From simple mods that let you adjust traffic flow or control population growth, to extensive city transformation packs comprising thousands of custom assets – mods elevate City Skylines to new heights.
However, all mods are created by the player community. The base game alone offers ample scope for building cities creatively even without mods. But modding pushes the game to its full potential for advanced players.
Gameplay and Learning Curve
City Skylines offers a complex, deep simulation that models the intricacies of urban design, societal needs, geographical constraints and municipal management. As such, the game can be quite challenging even on lower difficulties.
When starting out, it‘s helpful to take things slowly. Start with basic roads and zones, get a solid income flow, and gradually expand services and infrastructure. Let districts develop organically rather than blindly filling space.
Pay close attention to traffic flow, pollution, availability of services, and happiness parameters to spot issues before they spiral. It takes a bit of practice to get a handle on City Skylines‘ extensive systems. But once you understand the core loops, it becomes highly gripping and addictive.
The game offers ample in-game tips and an excellent beginner-friendly tutorial scenario to get you started. There are also many online guides with tips tailored to new players. While complex, City Skylines rewards your perseverance with an immensely satisfying gameplay experience.
City Skylines offers dozens if not hundreds of hours of engaging gameplay. According to HowLongToBeat, players have clocked the following gameplay durations:
- Main Story – 19 Hours
- Main + Extras – 251⁄2 Hours
- Completionist – 127 Hours
Obviously, gameplay length depends heavily on your pace, city size goals, usage of mods etc. Many players have spent 500+ hours building their dream cities across years.
The deep simulation, mods and optional challenges like achievements can keep you hooked for as long as you like. City Skylines is definitely a game that rewards long-term, dedicated play rather than brief bursts.
Suitability for Kids
City Skylines is appropriate for kids and younger audiences. It contains no graphic violence, blood, gore, sexual content or profanity.
The game has an ESRB Rating of E for Everyone and PEGI 7 Rating in Europe. Its only focus is good-natured city building gameplay.
Younger kids may find City Skylines too complex to grasp or lack the patience for its strategic, slower pace. But with parental guidance, children 10+ can benefit greatly from the educational insights into urban design and management.
For an easier introduction, the City Skylines Xbox version offers a special tutorial mode aimed at younger players. But overall, Skylines is absolutely family-friendly entertainment.
Getting Started with City Skylines
If the complexities of City Skylines seem intimidating as a new player, have no fear. Here are some tips and resources to help you get started on the right foot:
Play the in-game tutorials – City Skylines has excellent interactive introductory scenarios that teach core concepts at a gentle pace.
Start on easier modes – When first starting out, pick an easier map with generous starting money. This lets you experiment freely.
Expand gradually – Start small and keep things simple. Slowly zone new areas and add infrastructure. Don‘t overextend early on.
Watch beginner guide videos – There are fantastic YouTube guides on traffic management, zoning, policies and layouts to learn from.
Consult the Wiki – The Cities Skylines wiki has a wealth of text and video guides to answer any questions you might have.
Subreddit – Join r/CitiesSkylines and read advice threads from fellow new players. Veterans are very helpful!
Asset guides – Use curated Steam asset lists so you don‘t get overwhelmed when picking mods. Focus on essentials first.
Take it easy – Don‘t stress. City Skylines is meant to be played casually. Enjoy the journey and your unique city will take shape over time!
So, Can You Get City Skylines For Free?
City Skylines is not a free game. You need to purchase it to play the full PC version.
It costs $29.99 USD for the base game on Steam, more for Deluxe edition.
Occasionally it may be given away for free temporarily on some platforms during promotions.
You require a sufficiently strong PC meeting minimum specs to run the game.
Hundreds of excellent mods are available to enhance the gameplay.
It offers complex but rewarding simulation that takes time and patience to master.
City Skylines is appropriate for kids and families given its educational nature.
While not free, City Skylines is frequently discounted during Steam sales. You can add it to your wishlist and grab it the next time it goes on sale to get the full experience at a reduced price.
With its rich simulation and endless customization through mods, City Skylines offers hundreds if not thousands of hours of exciting gameplay and is considered a must-play title for city builder fans.