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11 Best City Building Games On PC In 2021 Ranked

The city building genre has a way of awakening the creative instincts of many gamers. Filled with impossible tools and god-like landscaping power, city builders strike a chord with micromanagers and artists alike. Whereas many games rely on competition and storytelling, the city building genre often leaves it to players to find their own meaning in the daily lives of virtual inhabitants.

A great city builder can feel like orchestrating a symphony, making sure that each member of the band is playing its proper role.  Constructing these complex designs can be some of the most memorable experiences in gaming. Resource management, spatial efficiency, and an ever-growing sense of accomplishment can be found in most titles in the genre — but some games definitely do it better than others. 

As noted by PC Gamer, the city building genre has only grown in recent years, with some of its recent titles bringing the genre to places never before. From games that are still being updated after a few years on the market to brand new titles that are blowing fans away, here are the best city builders available on PC in 2021.

11. Airborne Kingdom

Starting from the top down, "Airborne Kingdom" is a one-of-a-kind city builder that soars in the top ranks of the genre. "Airborne Kingdom" lets players create a city atop a skyship on a destined tour to unite 12 lost kingdoms. Developer The Wandering Band was nominated for Best Debut Game in 2021 by the BAFTAs, showing how much the company did well right out of the gate.

While many other city builders follow the basic premise of cities in real — where people settle down in a fixed place to keep everything centralized — "Airborne Kingdom" rises above such realistic expectations by making the core city a flying explorer itself. In order to keep the skyship city afloat properly, "Airborne Kingdom" requires players to balance their constructions by considering a buildings' weight. A cheeky twist on traditional proximity requirements, the balance system in "Airborne Kingdom" gives ample mechanical weight to the game's novel aesthetics. When mechanical and artistic visions blend so well, the result is innovative and fresh.

Playing "Airborne Kingdom" is never too hard, with an easier difficulty suited to more relaxing experiences. The pace of play in "Airborne Kingdom" is done masterfully, as noted in PC Gamer's review. Players are given quests in each of the 12 kingdoms to fulfill short-term goals, all while accomplishing their overall daily goals. "Airborne Kingdom" keeps its players coming back with custom color palettes for each building, capitalizing on the game's beautiful scrapbook style.

  • Release Date: Dec. 17, 2020
  • Genre: City Builder, Exploration, Simulation, Strategy
  • Game modes: Single-Player
  • Metacritic Score: 76 (PC)

10. Jurassic World Evolution 2

This sequel to 2018's theme-park building hit "Jurassic World Evolution" expands on what worked in the first game. Set after the events of the movie "Jurassic World," players must create a new park that can house both dinosaurs and tourists alike.

Gameplay-wise, "Jurassic World Evolution 2" is the game that "Jurassic World Evolution" should have been. Airborne and aquatic dinosaurs have been added by popular request. Furthermore, bioengineering new dinosaurs through DNA fossils enables customization of park animals unique to the genre. And best of all, quality-of-life improvements for tools like terraforming and speeding up the evolutionary clock make "Jurassic World Evolution 2" feel like a well-tuned experience.

Value comes packed in "Jurassic World Evolution 2" in many shapes and sizes. While necessary to unlock the game's core features, the main campaign is also quite enjoyable. And once the tutorial-style campaign is completed, those aforementioned unlocked features can then be used in the game's expansive Sandbox mode. Most interesting, though, is the Chaos Theory game mode. In this mode, players experience classic moments from the movie franchise through the lense of city management mechanics. This game's unique flavor and flexibility in game modes makes it a top contestant for city building enthusiasts.

  • Release Date: Nov. 9, 2021
  • Genre: City Builder, Simulation, Strategy
  • Game modes: Single-Player
  • Metacritic Score81 (PC)

9. Dorfromantik

The most relaxing entry on this list, "Dorfromantik" is an indie hit in the city builder genre. Released in early access in 2021 from developers Toukana Interactive, "Dorfromantik" is as charming as a city builder can be, allowing players to build an ever-expanding landscape one hexagonal tile at a time. Players can rotate tiles and place them anywhere adjacent to an already existing tile, making it feel like the largest puzzle ever. But there are no timers and no enemy factions — just a total score clock and a stack of yet-to-be-placed tiles.

It's kind of impossible not to enjoy a session of "Dorfromantik." The environment quickly expands with little trains puffing steam clouds across railroads. Another circuit of toy-like boats floats below upon a similar network of rivers. All the while, the breathtaking visuals and charming soundtrack mesmerize the player into placing just one more tile.

Unlike most other city builders, "Dorfromantik" is about as concerned with efficiency and beauty as its player is. Whether the map becomes a painted mosaic landscape or a utilitarian network depends on whether the player is searching for a pleasant experience or a high score. While not incredibly deep upon first examination, "Dorfromantik" offers plenty of replayability thanks to the unique tiles and biomes locked behind harder achievements. "Dorfromantik” won Best Game at Gamescom's Indie Arena Booth in 2021, and it's easy to see why. With its unique blend of exploration and roguelike elements that change up each build, "Dorfromantik" is a hypnotizer.

  • Release Date: March 25, 2021
  • Genre: City Builder, Exploration, Roguelike
  • Game modes: Single-Player
  • Metacritic Score: N/A

8. Timberborn

Humans may think they are the supreme builders on Earth, but the beavers of "Timberborn" are likely to remind them of nature's way! In Mechanistry's unique sim, players help these lovable, semi-aquatic creatures build cities entirely of wood and must meet the needs of their furry inhabitants.

There are two playable factions in "Timberborn" — the Folktails, keen on environmentalism, and the Iron Teeth, hot for industrialism. Capable engineers, the beavers of "Timberborn" have cracked the code when it comes to vertical building. District settlements in "Timberborn" will often feature stacked housing and towered dam walls, giving a layer of complex building and a different kind of flexibility. While there are no enemies to fend off in "Timberborn," each settlement must keep track of its water resources, which are attacked every cycle by droughts. Steer the course of rivers by terraforming the earth and dam the rivers for the survival of the beaver colony.

Referred to as a distinctly "lumberpunk" experience by Mechanistry, "Timberborn" is one of those simulator games that can easily steal hours away from the day in the blink of an eye. A seamless blend between music, visuals, and novel building concepts, "Timberborn" is set to keep plenty of players coming back to its watertight experience. See why Steam users have had overwhelmingly positive reactions to this quirky title.

  • Release Date: Sept. 15, 2021
  • Genre: City Builder, Simulation
  • Game modes: Single-Player
  • Metacritic Score: N/A

7. Northgard

Giants, Valkyries, and woodland threats abound in the fantastical Viking world of "Northgard." From developer Shiro Games, "Northgard" casts players as the leaders of competing factions out for control of Northgard, which they will earn through either warfare, trade, exploration, or reputation.

A unique blend of grand strategy games like "Civilization" and RTS games like "Starcraft," "Northgard" offers a play experience like nothing else on the market. RTS games are notorious for their hardcore multiplayer communities, where actions-per-minute are closely linked to multiplayer prowess, but that is not the case in "Northgard." As noted in Rock Paper Shotgun's review, the pace of play in "Northgard" is slow enough to enjoy and learn, while also being steady enough to keep the player engaged.

Keeping in line with the best elements of RTS games, "Northgard" offers simple and satisfying warfare options. Likewise, the multiplayer aspects of "Northgard" keep the game fresh and full of new challenges, allowing it to outweigh the replayability of other single-player experiences. "Northgard" also offers no shortage of DLC, even three years after release, and it is the recipient of constant balance updates.

  • Release Date: March 7, 2018
  • Genre: City Builder, RTS
  • Game modes: Single-Player, Online Multiplayer (Up to 6)
  • Metacritic Score: 80

6. Oxygen Not Included

"Oxygen Not Included" is a space colony simulator that tasks the player with building a self-sufficient society within an asteroid. Judging from the premise of the game, it would be correct to assume that survival is the main thrust of "Oxygen Not Included," which was nominated for Strategy/Simulation Game of the Year at the D.I.C.E. Awards in 2020.

"Oxygen Not Included" thrives on demanding complex solutions to otherwise simple problems. Most city builders' resource management follows a linear production queue that eventually leads to self-sufficiency. "Oxygen Not Included" is not so nice to its players, because every production in the game comes with a negative byproduct that, if not attended to, will lead to the demise of the colony. 

The colonies' air type, temperature, electricity, plumbing, ugliness, and more all have their own layers of interaction, but the secret sauce of "Oxygen Not Included" is how they all mingle with one another. No other city builder allows players to plot a vent, a ladder, electrical wiring, and plumbing tubes to all be placed on the same cell of a 2D plane. When the rules are easy to follow but the solutions are tough, that makes a game worth replaying. 

"Oxygen Not Included" is a perfect example of failing-forward, a testament to learning and getting better each and every playthrough. As noted by Polygon, the game's "kooky" visuals and randomly-generated worlds will keep you hooked for a while.

  • Release Date: July 30, 2019
  • Genre: City Builder, Survival
  • Game modes: Single-Player
  • Metacritic Score: 86

5. Dyson Sphere Program

Space, the final frontier, has always been a stage for big ambitions and "Dyson Sphere Program" is a ready player for that grand stage. Named after the Dyson Sphere, a hypothetical mega-structure capable of harnessing the energy of whole stars, "Dyson Sphere Program" aims to make that dream a reality.

While the early hours may be a bit of a grind (per Polygon), the grand scope of "Dyson Sphere Program" is its greatest attribute. Many city builders involve the construction of villages, kingdoms, and even empires, but "Dyson Sphere Program" starts with a whole planet and branches into galaxies. Pulling off that type of scale is tough, but "Dyson Sphere Program" manages it with finesse. There are always reasons to reach further out into the cosmos, as researching new resources and technology is a major part of the meta. Importantly, the grand project of creating a Dyson Sphere always lurks in the back of the player's mind, creating a balance of both short-term accomplishment and long-term achievement as each new planet is added to the factory.

Playing "Dyson Sphere Program" is an overall smooth experience, as noted by Game Developer. It's not too punishing mechanically, and not many games can offer the type of fine-tuned quality of life systems that are available here. For example, when building on a planet gets crowded, players have the ability to stack certain buildings vertically. As in "Timberborn," this added wrinkle is both complex and satisfying.

4. Frostpunk

Tasked with keeping civilization alive through a bleak and never-ending winter, "Frostpunk" pits players against the ever-approaching cold. 

Construction in "Frostpunk" is all based around the heat generator. Buildings are constructed in a circular pattern stemming from the central generator, giving the game's builds a unique pattern. Villager management is another bright spot from "Frostpunk." Each person is essential when society is on the brink of collapse, and making those workers happy while they can have enough time to specialize is the core gameplay loop in "Frostpunk." Not shying away from innovating in every direction and diving into darker territory, "Frostpunk" also necessitates exploration from its players. Late-game automations are gatekept through narrative-based exploration mechanics, which PC Gamer praised for adding extra tension to your already-packed settlement.

"Frostpunk" tries to be many things at once, and it somehow meets and exceeds those lofty expectations. From its jaw-dropping cutscenes to the top-class mechanical accomplishments, the game is capable of grabbing your attention and running away with it. The freezing storm, always threatening your already struggling city, keeps the tension flowing throughout a playthrough and results in a satisfying (and scary) late-game climax for players. For good reason, "Frostpunk" won Strategy Game of the Year at the Australian Game Awards in 2018, and fans are eagerly awaiting what "Frostpunk 2" has in store.

  • Release Date: April 24, 2018
  • Genre: City Builder, Survival, Strategy
  • Game modes: Single-Player
  • Metacritic Score: 84

3. Cities: Skylines

As a spiritual successor of one of the progenitors of the city building genre, "Sim City," "Cities: Skylines" arguably holds the title as the king of realistic city builders. Released in 2015, "Cities: Skylines" has inspired countless sessions of gameplay that stretch into the wee hours of the morning. There's not really any flashy content in "Cities: Skylines," only municipal functionality and cold hard cash.

What separates "Cities: Skylines" from other realistic city builders is its sheer amount of content, but more specifically, the complex ways in which this content can be manipulated. Placing a zone in "Cities: Skylines" feels organic and powerful. Much like "Oxygen Not Included," this game's sandbox approach to layering of different mechanics on top of one another can lead to countless combinations and new discoveries. Playing against your budget, as well as random external events like floods or fires, maintains a short-term feeling of achievement, all while a functioning city is born from the players fingertips.

"Cities: Skylines" is comparable to "Skyrim" — both are recognized as titans amongst their genre, but they're also incredibly malleable. Much like "Skyrim" can be completely changed by some insane mods, "Cities: Skylines" has 12 official expansion packs and one of the most active modding communities in the gaming world. With hundreds of hours of content to take in any direction, "Cities: Skylines" is still one of the best in the genre.

  • Release Date: March 10, 2015
  • Genre: City Builder, Simulation
  • Game modes: Single-Player
  • Metacritic Score: 85

2. Rimworld

A frontier survival game at its heart, "RimWorld" tasks players with growing a new colony on a hostile planet. With only 3 living colonists and a dire need for shelter to start, "Rimworld" immediately drops its player into a chaotic tango with death right at the start, and only keeps playing its destructive tune louder as the time ticks on. The result is a game Wired called "impossible to forget."

"RimWorld" keeps its player on a knife's edge between equilibrium and total disarray. Chaos is the name of the game, and flowing along with it is the only way to succeed in "RimWorld". While increasingly difficult random events plague the settlement, it is imperative to specialize the colonists. "RimWorld" has incredibly in-depth villager specialization mechanics, which players will push to their limits to keep their colonists alive. Maybe there's a gifted child in your colony, blessed with extraordinary melee capabilities, in which case the focus of the entire colony then shifts to spending generations of banked cash on biomechanical upgrades for that young child, turning them into a machine on par with the Terminator.

Every body part, every attribute, every landscape on the screen can be interacted with and changed. Most games strive to reach for the level of replayability and customization that "RimWorld" grants in only its first few playthroughs. Not only that, but the mods and DLC for "RimWorld" ensure that an already spicy game never gets too bland.

  • Release Date: Oct. 17, 2018
  • Genre: City Builder, Survival, Simulation
  • Game modes: Single-Player
  • Metacritic Score: 87

1. Factorio

"Factorio" is a game in its own class. Infamous among players for its enjoyably addictive nature, "Factorio" is a simple game about building a factory after a crash landing on a new world. While escaping the planet is the overt direction "Factorio" expects of its players, those with a knack for city-building will find themselves constantly expanding the factory.

The build will start small — just a few conveyor belts to centralize the resource stockpile — but a few hours, later the factory will start to look and feel like an industrial symphony. Whether the orchestrator is producing tight-knit harmony or a cacophony of madness is up to the player.

From simpler tasks to more complex outcomes, "Factorio" will exceed initial expectations. Taking the sandbox approach to the max, the game allows its players to toy around with an innumerable amount of systems to produce wild outcomes. Want to build a fully-functioning network of trains to help with transportation? Why not give it nuclear fuel to make it run a bit faster? There are a seemingly endless number of possibilities afforded to the builder in this title, and "Factorio" is as programmable as a logistics game has been. 

Its massive mod gallery aside, "Factorio" is simply one of the deepest, most replayable games on the market. Not only is "Factorio" one of the best games in the city builder genre, some fans have called it one of the best games of all time.

  • Release Date: Aug. 14, 2020
  • Genre: City Builder, Survival
  • Game modes: Single-Player, Online Multiplayer
  • Metacritic Score91