If my nearly 10 years as a small-town mayor in Canada have taught me anything, it is that bringing in industrial growth is an extremely demanding task. So much production has moved offshore in recent decades that it has become tough to keep the industries that we still have, let alone add new ones. But this isn't quite the case in Industries, the new expansion for Cities: Skylines that adds character to your carefully crafted municipalities without much in the way of difficulty. While being able to concentrate on specific industries adds an involving and entertaining new dimension to city creation, the lack of challenge and reward when building these new districts makes the add-on less than essential.
With that said, this enhanced industrial focus has been seamlessly incorporated into the base Cities: Skylines game as if it had always been there. In addition to still being able to zone properties for random industrial use, there is a new option to paint part of your municipality as an industrial district specifically for forest, farming, ore, or oil. It is very easy to establish these zones. Mark them out, drop a main building to get started, and then lay down facilities to gather resources. You instantly start rolling in the logs, crops, rocks, and black gold. Levels are then gained based on the number of materials produced and employees hired, which unlocks new buildings. These industrial districts soon turn into into beehives of activity.
Getting these industrial districts up and running is satisfying, as it is the one employment area in Cities: Skylines where you directly construct industries and create jobs. As such, building industrial districts is more hands-on, as opposed to the usual "zone it and let it go" approach in the game's standard industrial, commercial, and residential development. The process is still straightforward, though. While industrial districts require a certain amount of micro-management, creating and running them is relatively easy to handle, especially for Cities: Skylines veterans. Start with something like a main forestry building and a few tree plantations and you can soon expand into sawmills, storage yards, biomass wood pellet plants, planed wood production, pulp mills, and factories making finished goods like furniture and paper products at a printing press.
Industrial districts add character to cities, making them more products of their environment than the mostly generic burgs of the original Cities: Skylines. Everything looks and feels more natural. Have a city surrounded by trees? Industries based on wood products are the only sensible option. There is also a lot to be said for finally taking full advantage of the natural resources on city maps, as previously there was little way to commodify what was all around you. Now, for example, a forest map plays like a forest map should play, with industries based on what is right in the neighborhood.
Playing on a map with multiple resource types makes things even better, as you can set up numerous industrial districts that feed into specific unique factories. The toy factory, for instance, needs both the plastic that comes from oil and the paper that comes from wood, so you need both to make sure junior is happy on Christmas morning. Districts tie into each other, making the entire industrial process operate as something of a mini-game; resource gathering, production, and warehousing all form a chain with these factories at the end of the line.
Just two minor drawbacks cause issues. First up is the need to reserve a ton of room on the map for industrial districts, as you have to build a lot of resource-gathering facilities and storage yards/warehouses to keep production humming and raw materials on hand. Second is the way that managing industries can become so involved that you forget about the rest of your city. I had a number of occasions where I spent so much attention on an industrial district that I didn't notice garbage piling up elsewhere or corpses going unclaimed in homes because I neglected to keep pace with population growth. Still, spending time dealing solely with industries is a welcome break from the other aspects of the game. As great as Cities: Skylines is, it has also become pretty familiar for those of us who have been with it since the beginning. A little micro-management isn't a bad thing in this case.
Industrial districts also never seem entirely necessary. While they are always enjoyable to plan out, and it is pretty easy to turn them into serious money-making machines, just about anyone who has played Cities: Skylines for a dozen hours or so likely has little trouble staying in the black with the original industrial zoning options. I really enjoyed turning forests into furniture and playing J.R. Ewing with oil, but I never needed the extra cash that these businesses generated. So as much as I appreciated the novelty, running these industries also seemed like extra work with questionable end benefit.
Other features added to Cities: Skylines are fairly minor. Snail mail has finally come to residents. Postal services operate much like other regional city facilities such as police stations, bus stops, and so on. Set up a post office or postal sorting station and watch happy faces sprout up all over a neighborhood. Toll booths can now be installed on city roads, letting you earn extra revenue from vehicular traffic at the small price of slowing everybody down a bit.
Industries somehow feels like both a worthwhile and an unnecessary addition to the Cities: Skylines family. Requiring direct management of industrial development definitely adds dimension to budding metropolises. Paying attention to nothing but smokestacks and jobs for a while also represents a needed change of pace from what has become a familiar city-building experience. Still, there are no significant new gameplay challenges to overcome here or enough unique rewards that make it an absolute must to create industries like an oil patch or ore mines. While this expansion provides a better, more involved experience when it comes to industry, virtual mayors can give this one a pass if they're satisfied with the factories of the original game.