I described Cities: Skylines' first expansion, After Dark, as " just tak[ing] the Cities: Skylines canvas, and offer[ing] the player a few more colors to optionally paint with." That expansion didn't really do much to change the way that the game is really played, but rather just focused on adding further specialization options for any city that you care to build. I wasn't too upset because the core game is still a phenomenal foundation to build upon, and the expansion just gave us more to play with within that same phenomenal foundation. Snowfall, however, is even more narrow in scope.
I got really excited when I loaded up Steam and saw the title of the new expansion. I had written a wishlist blog in which I specifically asked for the next expansion to offer seasonal weather changes and more recreational and transportation specializations suited to those different seasons. On the surface, Snowfall seemed to provide that. There's now a winter, and snow, and you can build a specialized winter wonderland. But that's the extent of what this expansion provides, and that's disappointing.
Snowfall doesn't provide a full season system or any real changes to the game's core economic loop. Instead, it has a few snowy, winter-themed maps in which you can build snow-themed cities. Those winter maps are always snowy, and the non-winter maps are never snowy (although they can see occasional rain and fog). Note: I'm going to get real tired of saying "non-winter maps", so henceforth, for the sake of simplicity, I will refer to them as "summer maps", even though summer isn't really a thing (yet). Your city doesn't progress from springing to summer to autumn to winter (or even just from summer to winter) and then back again, and you don't have to manage your economy so as to maximize profits during your tourist season and find a way to maintain employment and revenue during the off season. Depending on which map you select, it's either always winter, or it's always summer.
I complained about After Dark feeling like I had to go out of my way in order to use the expansions new features and specializations, but at least those features and specializations were available in all cities, and they could be applied to my existing cities from before the expansion. You have to go so far out of your way to use the Snowfall features that you have to start a whole new game on a specific subset of maps. It makes After Dark look like a broad game-changing expansion by comparison.
Only maps designated as "winter" maps will have snowfall, and they aren't very different from existing maps.
Disconnected from reality
The actual functionality of some of these winter buildings is also questionable. One of the first snow buildings that you'll unlock is the "snow dump", which is a landfill for snow. Snow plows in this game will drive around the city similar to garbage trucks, actually collecting the snow off the streets, and then taking them back to the snow dump building, which (according to its description) melts down the snow to make room for more snow. It seems like they just took the garbage truck functionality and copy-pasted it to apply to snow, only without the need for a separate incinerator building.
Snow can slow traffic and must be plowed.
The really weird thing is that there is also a new general road maintenance office that keeps the roads in good repair and traffic flowing smoothly. If you don't bother to build the road maintenance office, or build the snow dump or plow the snow, it will slow down your roads and eventually make them unusable. Why did these need to be two buildings? Why couldn't the road maintenance office also be the depot for snow plows?
And then there's the ski buildings, which also don't seem to work in any way comparable to real life. The ski resort is an artificial ramp that you build on flat ground. Again, that's not really how ski resorts work. Typically, a ski resort would be built high up on a mountain, where there's a natural slope and a lot of snow. The game does include a separate ski lodge building, which you could build up in a mountain, but it wouldn't work all that well. It seems to me that the Ski Resort shouldn't be a ramp, it should just be the ski lift that you build on inclined terrain, and the Ski Lodge should be built nearby and should enhance the functionality of the resort. In fact, the new snow maps don't even include mountainous terrain on which to build a more realistic ski resort and lodge. So this all seems to be a result of the game's underlying framework not having very good support for building on slopes, and Colossal Order didn't bother to design a system to allow such niche buildings like a ski resort to be built on a slope.
I may live in a desert, but I'm pretty sure that this isn't how snow plowing or ski resorts are supposed to work...
Look, I live in the desert of Las Vegas, where it was 80 degrees by mid-February, and air conditioning is not an "option" for a car. Maybe it's not my place to tell a development team in Finland how ski resorts and snow plowing are supposed to work, but I'm pretty sure that this isn't how ski resorts and snow plows work!
Don't get me wrong, these buildings are all functional, and they all work within the game's existing mechanic set. It isn't like they are broken; they're just not very realistic, and they have a disappointing feeling of sameness to them, since they don't feel functionally distinct from buildings and features that already exist. For games like this, I tend to lean towards wanting more realism whenever possible, but that's a subjective personal preference. I understand that this is just a game, and certain amounts of abstraction and creative license need to be taken.
One of the things that I really like about Skyliens is how it does such a good job of mimicking realistic, organic city growth. A city in this game typically grows in realistic ways. You have to work within the physical boundaries allowed, which prevents you from spreading out and leaving space open for your eventual master-planned downtown. You have to work within the limited initial budget that is given to you, which prevents you from starting the game by building that master-planned downtown. The road-building tools make it easy to expand around existing road infrastructure rather than just tearing it all down and rebuilding from scratch (which is what you have to do in games that rely on prefab highway ramps, roundabouts, and so on). And the city will physically expand its borders as it grows, reaching out to build over resources and continue to grow from there.
I guess it's up to modders to make some custom mountain resort maps.
Like this lovely "Aspen River" map by MrMiyagi
This game is so good about how it uses space and about how the underlying terrain really feels meaningful and influences the look, feel, shape, and personality of your city. The new snow buildings in Snowfall just completely ignore this. You don't have to build these niche buildings where the terrain is appropriate, and so the geography of the map sadly feels less relevant. Having a map for a mountain-side resort town would have worked really well, and would have given these snowy cities a unique feel. Instead, the maps given look almost exactly like the maps we already had, except the ground is white. They're all still coastal and river plain maps. I guess it's up to modders and the map editor to give us what this expansion was clearly intended to provide.
Cranking up the furnace
The other major new mechanical update besides snow plowing and road maintenance is the addition of heating infrastructure and an in-game thermometer. Of course, this thermometer is only really relevant on winter maps, since non-winter maps never seem to suffer from freezing weather. Water pipes can now be upgraded to also carry "heat" (basically its a new gas utility). Without heating infrastructure, buildings will rely on electricity to heat their homes, which will put a lot of demand on your power plants when the temperature drops. You can build a specialized boiler plant or geothermal plant in order generate heat, which (I assume) is cheaper and more efficient than relying on your electric power plants, and it doesn't shut down your city completely if demand overwhelms your supply.
This upgrade is still a one-time thing, and you still don't have to assertively maintain or manage pipes once they are built. Pipes don't degrade over time, they never need to be upgraded to increase the water flow to higher-density zones or water-guzzling industries, nor do they burst if the weather gets too cold. You just place them, and then forget about them, and so they still feel like a somewhat unnecessary extra bit of overhead rather than a genuinely meaningful game mechanic.
Rain and fog are also in the forecast
Despite the fluid dynamic simulations that results in poorly-placed dams flooding your cities,
excessive rainfall does not seem to raise sea levels or cause flash flooding.
On maps that don't have the winter theme, you can see a few cosmetic weather effects such as rain and fog. The effects look pretty, but they are (as far as I can tell) entirely cosmetic. The game still doesn't model car accidents, so rain isn't going to make the roads slick, and fog isn't going to decrease visibility, and neither will result in wrecks or traffic jams. Despite the fluid dynamics simulation that the game performs, rain does not function as an actual source of water. Heavy downpours won't raise the water level of your coasts, lakes, or rivers, nor will it ever cause flash floods in low-lying areas of the map. There also aren't any mechanics for capturing rainwater to feed your own water utility system. Blinding fog won't shut down your airports or harbors, and so there is no need for any kind of lighthouse building to allow your ships to operate during foggy weather. It's all just pretty graphical effects with no real function. As far as I can see, disabling this feature won't affect gameplay at all.
This is a real shame, because it means that existing cities (or new cities on summer maps) don't feel like they benefit much (if at all) from the new expansion. Dealing with the harsh weather of the winter maps adds some small extra challenge, but there's nothing new for other maps, even though I just listed a number of ways that these weather effects could have impacted the function of your cities.
Road Maintenance will speed up travel.
While the majority of the new content is winter-themed parks and recreation buildings (ice rinks, ski lodges, etc.), there are a few mechanical changes and new buildings that do apply to summer maps, but they are pretty minor, niche items. The most useful one will probably be the road maintenance mechanic. Whether or not you need plows to remove snow in any given city, you can also build a Road Maintenance office that sends maintenance trucks out along your roads to fill potholes and maintain the roads. Doing so allows traffic to drive at higher speeds along those maintained roads, which can help keep you transportation network flowing smoothly.
I did criticize After Dark for not doing much to add challenge to managing your city or its budget. Admittedly, the heat and road maintenance mechanics of Snowfall do strain your budget a little bit more by forcing you to make those additional investments in infrastructure, and the cost does scale up as your city grows. Building the snow dump, a geothermal plant, or the road maintenance depot can often mean delaying the construction of a school, fire station, or clinic to support additional residential growth for your fledgling little city. But like with the core game, once you get past the initially slow development and have all the infrastructure in place, maintaining a balanced budget is pretty easy. It's not like you have to put aside extra lump sums of money for disaster relief in the event of a blizzard or flash flood or anything like that.
You can also augment your road network with cable cars. These tracks can be embedded within roads or built on their own tracks. I was annoyed by the fact that the tram depot doesn't act as a tram stop, meaning that if your network begins in the depot, loops around, and then ends at the same depot, you won't be able to create a complete tram line. You'll have to build some kind of loop-de-loop for your trams to turn around to complete the route loop, since they apparently can't do that in the depot. This breaks the precedent that was set by buses and trains, and I hope it's just a bug that will eventually be fixed.
Cable cars can augment your public transit infrastructure, but they are currently subject to some annoying bugs.
Colossal Order is on thin ice
It looks to me that Colossal Order might be taking an approach to expansions similar to The Sims. Instead of focusing on total-conversion expansions that seek to change the way that the game is played, they're releasing smaller, cheaper, niche expansions with "take it or leave it" optional content. You want nightclubs? Get After Dark. You want snow maps? Get Snowfall. If nightclubs and snow maps aren't your thing, then you can skip either or both expansions. It's up to you. Maybe the next one will be more your taste...
Perhaps I can still hold out hope that Snowfall will eventually evolve into a more dynamic, seasonal game. Perhaps the next expansion will be called "Heat Wave" or "Summer Break", or something like that, and might introduce summertime activities and air conditioning as its main mechanics. And maybe that expansion will upgrade Snowfall so that cities will flow from summer to winter and back again; thus, allowing all cities to utilize both expansions' features and buildings. And maybe they're selling Snowfall in order to generate the cash flow needed to develop that more fleshed-out expansion. But we shouldn't need a second expansion to make that work. Snowfall could have accomplished that by itself, as the default city maps already work as spring or summertime seasons - especially with the waterfront and beach buildings available in After Dark.
I can hope that the next expansion will further develop Cities: Skylines and Snowfall into something more in-line with my expectations. But in the meantime, Snowfall is a very disappointing expansion that really feels less like an expansion of core game features, and more like a cheap, gimmicky map pack. And not even a very good map pack, as the maps given aren't even remotely exotic. I expect a lot better from Colossal Order next time!
Snowfall's narrower scope makes it a much more limited and disappointing expansion than After Dark.