The Destinations expansion pack for SimCity Societies does more than you could have expected: It makes a decent game a good one. This is no mean feat, especially when you consider that the gameplay hasn't seen a drastic overhaul. Yet the additions and the changes make significant enhancements, and in turn, Destinations accomplishes something that the initial release couldn't: It draws you in. If you didn't like the original Societies, this add-on may very well change your mind.
The main focus of the game hasn't changed. You build a city by placing roads and plunking down structures of various sorts around them. To increase your population, you must build homes. In turn, your population requires jobs, which must be filled if you want to stuff your coffers. Unfortunately, your Sims want to be more than just productive; they want to be happy. And what better way to be happy than to shop for toys, ride a roller coaster, or belt out a tune in a karaoke bar? The more entertainment venues that you provide, the less likely your citizens are to become unhappy and "go rogue," as the game so pleasantly describes it.
The twist on these city-building standards is Societies' six "social energies," such as authority and prosperity, which are essentially additional currencies that you must keep an eye on. Structures may either add to or subtract from your total of a given social energy, and like before, the connections between buildings and the energies that they affect are unclear. For whatever reason, a trailer park will increase your levels of productivity; a town square makes your city more prosperous. In turn, if you find yourself in a deficit of a particular energy, you might suddenly be forced to scatter around a bunch of billboards or baroque fountains. It feels a bit arbitrary, and Destinations doesn't tweak energies in any noticeable way.
On the other hand, it does a much better job of keeping you distracted from these idiosyncrasies. As you can imagine, travel is a key focus of the expansion, so on top of juggling your population's social and economic needs, you also want make your city more attractive to visitors. Visitors need bigger, more dramatic attractions, such as ski resorts and brooding castles, to keep them happy. In some cases, you build these destinations; in others, the landmark is already on your map, and must be visited by your own Sims before you can open it to travelers. The mechanic seems simple enough, but by implementing a succession of traveler star ratings, it gives you a sense of focus and progression that was lacking before. This is an excellent layer of gameplay, deepening things without detracting from the game's intimate take on the genre. There are other key considerations as well, such as tourist transportation. That airport may look like a great way to invite sightseers, but it'll take a big bite out of your budget.
The expansion (along with the pre-expansion patches) has also introduced other important key elements, such as the Strategy mode. The original Societies was too simple and streamlined to keep you involved for long. Strategy mode tackles this issue head-on by providing you with economic sliders to adjust and various policy choices to make. These new features don't add the kind of complexity that we've seen in standard SimCity games; Destinations is still a relatively casual reimagining of the series, and thus feels a bit stripped. Nevertheless, these additions (along with others, such as new events and scenarios) extend the game in important ways, making it more enjoyable, more challenging, and more customizable.
On top of it all, the visuals are still lovely, but the engine performs much better, though it's still prone to a little chugging as you scroll across a city that is crammed with structures and decorations. With all of this content and more--new city themes, disasters, and so on--SimCity Societies: Destinations improves a game that had plenty of room to grow, and in the process, makes for a likable, charming experience that you can get lost in. It has its flaws, but it hits more than it misses.