A simple Google search, or hell, even a quick search here on tech2 will indicate that both Electronic Arts and Maxis have been holding the Idiot Ball with SimCity. The requirement to be online all the time more-or-less ruined any chance this otherwise great game had. The condition of the servers has been so bad that I had briefly considered simply reviewing the game's loading screens, since that's all I had been able to play.
Error 37 all over again
For those who don't know, yes, the latest game in an otherwise completely single player franchise has multiplayer integrated into it in such a way that you HAVE to be online to play it. Yes, even if you never plan on interacting with another human being for your entire stint in the game, you need a stable Internet connection. It's so bad that if you get disconnected for more than a couple of minutes while playing, you'll get booted out of the game because it couldn't sync with the cloud.
Even for EA and Maxis, it's gotten so bad that they have had to shut down some game features that they have deemed "not integral to the core gameplay" in an attempt to make the servers more stable.
The game's biggest problem
I'd like to talk about this for a bit. Forcing an Internet connection on to players is a highly anti-consumer practice and should not be rewarded in any way. And let's not delude ourselves, this is an anti-piracy measure, not some benevolent move by EA or Maxis that's meant to improve our enjoyment of the game. No. This was meant to be a way to curb people from pirating the game.
What certainly hasn't helped is EA's refusal to offer refunds for what has been a game so fundamentally broken that you couldn't even play it, despite having already paid for it. It also doesn't help that EA has been notorious for shutting down the multiplayer servers of its older games, so unlike the timeless earlier games in the franchise, whether or not you can play this game ten years down the line is completely up to EA and whether they deem it profitable enough to keep the servers up.
Moving on to the game itself, after spending minutes, possibly hours, staring at the patcher, you’re greeted with a mandatory tutorial that manages to do a good job teaching you the basics of the game, and it’s up to you to apply your knowledge in building an actual city. Once you get used to the concepts, interface and general controls of the game, you’re set free to pick a region to start building your city in.
One of the bigger regions in the game
Cities are parts of a greater area dubbed Regions. A region generally has anywhere between two to 16 places that can have a city. If you’re playing alone, a small 2-3 city region is the best choice, whereas if you know enough people, 16 can be a lot of fun. After picking a spot, you can start laying out roads and setting up zoning to start the city.
Each region also comes with a number of sites for Great Works. Exactly how many Great Works you can have depends on the size of the region, with the smallest ones having only one or two sites. A Great Work is a giant structure that gives bonuses to every city in the region. It is supposed to be built as a collaborative effort between all the cities in the region. Building one of this could take forever if you decide to play alone.
Cities? More like towns!
One of the biggest problems that arise from the Region system employed by Maxis is the severely limiting city size. City sizes cap off at roughly 2 square kilometers, which would hardly qualify for a town, much less a city. This is mostly because the game has been designed and balanced around the multiplayer and Region system.
The balancing comes from the fact that Maxis doesn’t want a single city to be able to do everything the player could possibly want, like was possible in earlier games. Instead, you’re supposed to either have other players in your region, or build another city in your region yourself, and establish a trade between the cities for invaluable resources. While this is an interesting idea in theory, and plays pretty well in the game, the option to have bigger cities would’ve been a better thing, because the small city-size ends up feeling very claustrophobic.
The city size is severely limiting