Forget DRM. Content wise, this is a passable yet disappointing game. A step back for the series in almost every way.
I will choose to ignore the DRM and server issues that are stopping me from playing this game because even if the servers were running, I’m not sure I would even want to play because the content is that disappointing.
The biggest disappointment are the map sizes. These are tiny “cities” by any standard. A place that tops out at around 250K is not really a city and to even get to that many in population you have to lay your streets out in an incredibly restrictive grid pattern as to maximize the space available to cram in as much housing and business as possible. This results in cities that really don’t have much in the way of design to them. I was hoping to really layout a plan and build up my city in a way that would be aesthetically pleasing but SimCity offers no such satisfaction. It isn’t that kind of game anymore. Instead of strategic city planning you are playing a tedious efficiency game.
In the new SimCity you are constantly confronted with size constraints forcing you to be as efficient as possible with your plot size and when you maximize one city your only interesting option to keep playing is to take over another town in your region and manage that one. You can manage many cities at once and have them play off each other by specializing them but it really isn’t all that satisfying because you are still forced to play the efficiency game because the map sizes are always so small. I remember building up cities in SimCity 4 and erecting monuments and stadiums and all sorts of great landmarks that really made me feel like I was progressing and making the city look nice while functioning well and managing a budget. In SimCity I feel like a slum lord who is in constantly finding ways to cram in as many people as possible into a tiny space.
There is too much micromanaging in SimCity. It is a game that wants to be realistic but then it doesn’t play by those rules. A mayor of a “big” city wouldn’t be dictating how money was being spent on such a micro level. The mayor would just give law enforcement a discretionary budget and they would decide where the money would go. That is how SimCity 4 worked. You gave law enforcement, the fire department, and the health department a percentage of the budget and they worked with it and your city would feel the effects. In the new SimCity you are literally deciding how many police cars each police station has. You are deciding how many garbage trucks your dump is using. You are deciding how many school buses the elementary school is going to get. This is stuff that mayors don’t deal with on a day to day basis. In SimCity you have SO MANY of these tasks to deal with that the game feels too much like work and not enough like fun.
It is also woefully unrealistic. For example, a city with a good economy and a population of 200,000 would not require 5 police stations to keep crime levels at a tolerant rate. I grew up in a city of 60K and we had 1 police station and almost no crime. We also had 1 fire house and the city wasn’t constantly burning down around us. Why do I need 6 fire houses to stop my city from burning to rubble? Why do I need a full fledged hospital and 5 clinics to manage healthcare? All of this is so annoying to deal with and it doesn’t even adhere to the games rules which state that if you educate your populace they won’t do stupid things but you have to build up your education system to a university level before this really takes effect because apparently fire safety and germ theory aren’t touched upon in the SimCity education system until you hit College. All the while the Sims in SimCity will be all smiles but yet there are dozens of arsonists running around and people who can’t manage to stay healthy when water and air pollution is at an all time low and the sewage system is managed perfectly. It is like you are the Mayor of a town of lemmings.
Another part of SimCity that was simply a poor design choice is the permanent nature of everything you do. I don’t have a problem with not going back to old saved games. I like that my decisions are permanent but there should be at least an “undo” button that goes back 2 or 3 steps for mistaken button clicks. Sometimes placing a road or a building can be a little unwieldy because of a snap-to mechanic and mistakes are made but to correct them you have to whip out the bulldozers and rebuild which costs money.
The UI is also kind of bad. It isn’t a complete disaster but there is a lot of unexplained stuff about the UI and it needed to be explained because some of it is counter-intuitive. Also, there are times when the screen becomes so crammed with pop up bubbles and menus that they lay on top of each other and you can’t click on the one you want to even clear the screen.
SimCity is so disappointing because of the design ethics applied to this iteration of the series. It is fundamentally flawed on that level. It has taken the scale out the series in favor of better graphics, multiplayer, and greater specificity. Too bad that the better graphics aren’t worth the sacrifice of scale, the multiplayer has nearly non-existent matchmaking options causing it to be more frustrating than fun, and the micromanaging is largely a constant, unwanted annoyance.
On top of all of this you have to be online to play your private regions, which is as close as it gets to a singleplayer mode in SimCity. The game is laden with microtransactions and day one DLC. Worse yet, EA took no lesson from the disastrous Diablo III launch and the servers are either full or not working too much of the time. When I look back at the value proposition offered in SimCity 4 and then play SimCity, there is no way I can avoid saying that this series has taken a step back in almost every respect.