Top 13 Games Like Cities XL

Top 13 Games Like Cities XL
Cities XL allows you to build incredible, sprawling masterpieces like this one.

13 Games Like Cities XL to Unleash the Creative Genius You’ve Been Hiding

I like to think that we gamers are pretty eclectic people.

There are some days we feel like sprinting through a level, dodging bullets and mindlessly mowing down all in our path, using anything from a classic AK 47 to some impossibly styled futuristic abomination of life-forfeiting weaponry. Other days we may want to speed down that beautiful stretch of tempting highway with every cop in the city hot on our tail (because why not). Still other days we may want to suit up as Earth’s last hope in the near-doomed attempt to stave off that zombie apocalypse we secretly know will never happen in real life.

Like I said, we gamers are pretty eclectic people.

And then there are days when we crave more of a steadying dose of realism (well, as much realism as you can get from a videogame, anyway). At those times, for many of us, there are few things more satisfying (or more realistic) than watching something grow and blossom, something you built from scratch with your own two hands—or your mouse and keyboard. That’s when we crave some really awesome city-builders!

One really good example of a city-builder is Monte Cristo’s Cities XL, released back in 2009. Following in the footsteps of earlier successes (like the iconic SimCity series), it managed to put together a convincing package and, as one critic put it, “pushed the genre in the right direction”. Cities XL was my first real introduction to the genre, and it did a good enough job that I’ve kept digging deeper into city-building games ever since.

So, for those gamers who are really into city-building, or want to get into it, here are the top 13 games like Cities XL for the PC.

13. Depraved

Depraved gameplay trailer

First on the list is newcomer Depraved from Evil Bite. Set to be released later this year, the game is already turning heads and seems poised to leave its mark on the genre in a positive way.

What makes this game unique is literally the direction in which Evil Bite decided to take their city-builder. Yup, we’re heading out to the Wild West! The game is set in that awkward period of history when people set out to conquer the untamed West that had up until then only been populated by the Native American Indians.

What that means is that you’ll be faced with the dual task of surviving the merciless caprices of Mother Nature—lack of water, harsh wilderness, brutal weather patterns and wild animals galore—and the unwelcome attentions of none-too-friendly neighbors, to whom you pose a very real threat.

Oh, and your own lawless citizens with guns. It is the Wild West, after all! You’ll probably see instances of the typical stand-off between two citizens in typical “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” fashion.

The game features a procedural world system, designed to shake things up a bit and add a bit of randomness to each new level. It also features three classes of citizens with differing needs. Keep your citizens healthy and happy, or you risk watching it all turn into a ghost town, right before your very eyes. 

Depraved features life out in the Wild West and does a pretty good job of capturing the feel and harshness of the wilderness.

Death by lightning: just one of the many delightful catastrophes you’ll have to deal with in the struggle to survive the Wild West. 

12. Grand Ages: Rome

Grand Ages: Rome trailer

Sometimes it’s good to live in the past, and that’s exactly what Grand Ages: Rome, developed by Haemimont Games, offers. You play as a member of an exiled Roman family, around the time of the fall of the Roman Republic, who is aiming to set things right again for the glory of Rome. As you progress through the story you’ll find yourself involved in a few historical events and interacting with several historical persons. This is a great gaming option for the history lovers among us.

Grand Ages: Rome lets you experience life in ancient Rome up close. You’re tasked with the responsibility of raising up several Roman settlements, making them prosperous, secure and happy. In order to do that, you’ll need to establish a thriving economy, keep your citizens fed, provide access to education, entertain your citizens and pay homage to the gods, among other things.

Among the challenges of ancient Rome are the constant battles you’ll need to engage in to consolidate your power or defend your own, and, of course, riots by the common folk themselves. Never underestimate the power of a mad Roman citizen…buildings will burn!

An example of the interface used in building up a city.

In-game combat can be quite a large-scale and impressive undertaking.

11. The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom

The Settlers 7 trailer

When Blue Byte set out to create The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom, they dreamed up a game that would be fun, challenging and exciting. They achieved all that. The result is a game that lovers of The Settlers series, and indeed of the city-building and strategy genre, can truly enjoy.

The actual little people in the game, the Settlers, have always been quite charming. That trend continues in this edition. Just watching these tireless little people go about their daily business can leave one mesmerized at the level of thought and detail that Blue Byte put into their animation. As for the game itself, its bright and colorful graphics add a vivid sense of lifelikeness to the gameplay. You’ll also be kept busy with balancing the complex economic web so necessary for the upkeep of your city.

The game does a good job of distributing resources across the maps. It’s never too easy, though. Resource imbalance will often force you to change your approach to each stage. The variety of victory conditions also serve to keep things interesting. This can lead to some very tense moments in gameplay, especially with the introduction of the victory point system—which can often mean all the difference between success and sudden failure. 

Some Settlers busily running about.

The Settlers 7: Paths to a Kingdom’s amazing graphics and sprawling, lively cities. 

10. Prison Architect

Prison Architect trailer

Introversion Software certainly did something different when they pulled this one out of their bag of tricks. We’ve all heard of city-builders before; but here, we have a prison-builder on our hands! Definitely a darker take on the subject. And they more than got away with it, too. The game has enjoyed very positive reviews since its release, not to mention sales.

Prison Architect allows you to design, build and maintain your very own maximum security prison. But it’s not quite as simple as that. It’s a remarkably well-thought-out game that pays keen attention to detail. You don’t just place things in Prison Architect—you must plan them. Every little thing will matter if you don’t want to have prisoners causing problems all over the place, or even escaping.

Remember how I mentioned attention to detail earlier? Well, Prison Architect allows you to decide things like whether inmates enter your prison with pre-existing gang allegiances, which can lead to chaos when rivals meet up on the inside. You can also enable random events to add yet another twist to gameplay. There’s also a handy Fog of War feature which amounts to you only being able to see things within your guards’ fields of vision when they’re on patrol.

Compared to other games on this list, the graphics here are nothing to write home about, but the gameplay is very sophisticated and fun. Prison Architect manages to do so many things right. Just one last thing: if you enable Failure Conditions and do too poor a job of running the prison, you may find yourself sacked and locked away in one of your own cells! And you might not like it much when you’re caught in the middle of this:

Ah, the beautiful chaos of prison breaks… 

With this much traffic to your prison, things can get tricky fast.

9. Rise of Nations 

Rise of Nations trailer

Rise of Nations, Big Huge Games’ 2003 entry on the market, started something of a gaming revolution when it arrived. The game did what had never been done before: it successfully melded elements of real-time strategy with turn-based strategy. The result was, and still is, awesome.

Rise of Nations is a very well-thought-out game with tons of innovations, features and possibilities. In a manner truly befitting its name, the game features a whopping 18 civilizations throughout 8 periods of world history. There is a lot of depth to this game, and much to do and consider as you set out on an extensive campaign of conquest. The game will really make you think, as it requires you to strike a balance between offense, defense and economy to succeed.

There’s a lot that can be said for Rise of Nations, but I assure you it would be far more enjoyable to simply play the game for yourself rather than listen to me (or anyone else) talk about it! Rise of Nations is truly one of the heavyweights of the strategy and city-building gaming world.

Experience the chaos of the ancient battlefield.

Attack on a modern city in the modern Information Age.

8. Age of Empires III

Ensemble Studios did it again—they created yet another masterpiece to mark the continuation of their massively successful series, Age of Empires. Age of Empires III, the game we’re talking about specifically here, was first released all the way back in 2005, but it’s such a brilliant piece of work that it still has a large fan base even now.

Age of Empires III boasts an absorbing story, great game mechanics, and a lot of variety. There are 8 civilizations accessible to the player, spanning several periods of history. This will allow for many and varied kinds of cities, buildings and technological advancements, which add to the freshness and excitement of the game.

Age of Empires III is a great blend of city-building, history and real-time strategy. It also features beautiful graphics, diverse armies and a sophisticated AI that has gained praise for being “fair”. You’ll definitely want to give this one a try.

A quick glance at the Ottoman civilization.

The more modern warfare in the latter stages of Age of Empires III.

7. Anno 1404

Anno 1404 trailer

Anno 1404, also known as Dawn of Discovery, is another amazing historical city-builder that makes this list. Developed by Related Designs and produced by Blue Byte, the game features beautiful graphics, a solid underlying story that has the player literally jumping between the East and the West (the Orient and the Occident in-game), engaging gameplay and a complex system surrounding building up and maintaining a settlement.

Outside of the campaign, Anno 1404 also offers a very rich and customizable continuous play mode in which you can set your own goals and go about achieving them in your own way. This is where the real fun begins. The game also focuses heavily on discovering new lands, true to the age of discovery within which it is based. Whichever mode you choose to play in, you’ll be greeted with the same realism. It’s a delight to simply watch life unfold in the cities you build. The attention to detail there is very refreshing.

One of the best things about Anno 1404 is the relationship between Orient and Occident. If you want to create a truly advanced society, you will need to make contact with the Orient to gain access to goods your people can’t produce themselves but very much desire. And the interplay between the two makes for yet another visually satisfying experience. 

Ships become very important in Anno 1404 for both travel and trade.

An Orient city in Anno 1404

6. SimCity (2013)

SimCity (2013) trailer

SimCity (2013) was meant to be Electronic Art’s triumphant new addition to a series that’s been known for excellence over the years. That’s not quite how it turned out. The thing about it, though, is that it could have, but for a few key miscalculations. Still, the game, for all its problems, very much retains the power to keep you at your computer even when your schedule says you should be doing something else.

SimCity (2013) boasts stunning graphics, an intuitive user interface, demanding and fulfilling urban planning, a wide variety of buildings and features, and the classic playfulness we’ve come to associate with the Sims in general. All this was marred by the disagreeable circumstances surrounding the launch, the always-online requirement (which has since been removed), the very limited plots of land available for your city (especially compared to earlier SimCity games) and a few bugs in the gameplay.

None of this has been enough to fully rob the game of its luster, though, and it remains easily one of the best, most fun and most rewarding city-builders you’ll come across today. 

An example of SimCity (2013)’s stunning graphics.

A close-up of the University.

5. Tropico 4

Tropico 4 trailer

Welcome back, El Presidente! (That’s your name, in case you weren’t aware.) You’ve been voted in—again! That means it’s time to get this city running just the way you want it to! That’s right: in Tropico 4 you get to do things however you like. You can play the goody two-shoes politician everybody knows and loves, or you can be the megalomaniacal despot who everybody hates but hardly anyone can do anything about.

Tropico 4 by Haemimont Games is a tongue-in-cheek take on city-building. That’s right—the game makes no attempt at being serious. There’s humor and satire virtually everywhere, and a lot of parodying and poking fun at several politicians both contemporary and not-so-contemporary. El Presidente will need to contend with many of these international figures throughout the course of the game, as well as others in his own backyard—and everyone has an agenda.

With great visual effects, a long campaign mode, robust and demanding gameplay to keep you involved, a host of challenges and natural disasters to deal with, lots and lots of humor, and the power to rule however you want, Tropico 4 is a great addition to the city-building genre. Just be careful not to be voted out in one of the many elections, or shamefully ousted in a coup d’état. After all, the Resistance isn’t just sitting idly by…

One of the beautiful islands of Tropico 4.

Decisions, decisions… What to do here?

4. Anno 2070

Anno 2070 trailer

Anno 2070, yet another installment in the highly successful Anno series, takes city-building into the future. For starters, its premise is plausible in an unsettling way: due to global warming, the arctic has melted, causing ocean levels to rise all over the world. This plunges most of the world’s land and resources beneath the waters. Humanity is left to try picking up the pieces in a bid to survive amid dwindling land space and resources.

The story aside, Anno 2070 does a great job of adding a futuristic element to its gameplay. The graphics are very compelling, there are a host of gadgets and machines that add to the illusion, and there’s also—pay attention to this one—the ability to build colonies on the seafloor. There are also 3 factions that the player can choose from, each with their advantages and disadvantages. This makes for a very interesting game mechanic and adds to the overall tone of tension.

The game has faced criticism due to its requirement to always be online to access all the available options. While this has indeed caused problems, Anno 2070 is a highly enjoyable game that will captivate any lover of the city-building genre.

Anno 2070 grants players the ability to create many futuristic cities like this one.

An underwater colony in Anno 2070.

3. Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Sid Meier’s Civilization V trailer

Sid Meier’s Civilization V is easily a worthy successor to the series. It’s a fun, addictive turn-based strategy game that lets you choose one of 18 civilizations to lead and then sets you on a path to conquer the world. In achieving this goal you’ll have to build up your empire, forge alliances, repel enemies, conquer new territory, pursue technological advances, trade and assure your people of prosperity and happiness.

Civilization V is unique among the games on this list in that it takes place exclusively on an over-world map divided into territories. That means that, unlike the others, you won’t be entering a plot of land where you can build up your cities in the usual sense. Instead, everything will be represented on the world map where gameplay happens. It doesn’t mean, however, that the building element is of any less importance. In fact, it’s of vital importance. The game also relies heavily on tactics.

You can achieve victory in Civilization V through might (literally obliterating everyone else), diplomacy, technology or culture. This adds a welcome element of dynamism to the game. It’s also incredibly fun to watch your civilization advance through the ages. Be careful, though. Some neighbors can get highly defensive. Play your cards wrong and you could end up with several superpowers breathing down your neck at once.

A quick look at the world map. Note the hexagonal subdivisions instead of the squares from previous games.

Civilization V’s terrific interface does a great job of effectively delivering the massive amounts of information you need to keep track of.

2. SimCity 4

SimCity 4 Trailer

Released 14 years ago by Electronic Arts and developed by Maxis, SimCity 4 is still going strong in the city-building arena. It’s still one of the most highly acclaimed city-builders around, and that distinction is well deserved. SimCity 4 made real leaps and bounds in the genre upon its arrival and raised the bar just a little higher.

SimCity 4 offers you the power to totally terraform a plot of land to your liking in its God Mode. From there you can continue on to Mayor Mode and proceed to build your city on the map you just made. It also introduced the day-night cycle, a slew of new graphical and design effects, regional interconnectivity, and several other innovations and features. It also achieved a more accurate simulation of urban planning than any other game of its time with its highly complex and detailed gameplay.

All those improvements came at a cost, though. SimCity 4 faced criticisms for its difficulty as well as high demands on system resources. While the first may still stand, advances in technology since then have effectively rendered the second untenable, provided you have a more modern machine to play the game on. There’s no reason not to become a part of this quality gaming experience!

Regional view in SimCity 4

Sims really do play ball here.

1. Cities: Skylines

Cities: Skylines trailer

Cities: Skylines has been touted by many critics to be the fulfillment of the dreams that SimCity (2013) inspired and then dashed. And the game designed by Colossal Order certainly looks the part at first glance, bearing clear similarities to the older title. What’s more, further investigation seems to justify such a statement. Cities: Skylines is a sleek, beautiful and satisfying addition to the growing list of great games in the city-building genre. It deserves the honor of being number one on this list.

While the distinction of having the best graphics on this list would probably have to go elsewhere, Cities: Skylines is by no means lacking in that department. In truth, the game gets almost everything it attempted right. It boasts impressive simulations, huge plots on which to build, a map editor to create your own plot on which to build, and the ability to zone and individually manage areas within your city.

Cities: Skylines fixed a few issues in its expansion packs such as the lack of a day-night cycle, weather patterns and disasters. It also lacks any regional or city interconnectivity. All in all, though, most would agree that this particular city-builder is one of the very best on the market right now. It’s easy to play and easy to get lost in.

Cities: Skylines offers clean graphics and realistic simulation.

An example of the sheer scale of what you can build in Cities: Skylines.

And with that, we’ve given you the top 13 games like Cities XL. While not all the games on this list are exactly like Cities XL in style, they still are great examples of what the city-building genre has to offer to anyone who wants to get their hands dirty in building and running their own little virtual microcosm. City-building games will always hold a certain appeal simply because they allow us to unleash our inner creativity in ways that no other kind of game can, and because they help us to appreciate the simple cycles of life just a little bit more.

If you loved this list or learned anything useful from it, here a few others like it to keep you in the know about other great games you’ll probably want to be adding to your library going forward:

The 30 Best City-Building Games for PC in 2017

The Top 13 Games Like Age of Empires

Best Building Games to Play in 2017



Every day Aldane rises to do battle with the Space Monkeys from Outworld 62 alongside his trusty sidekicks, Chronius and Patience. His superpowers include flight, the Midas Touch and imaginaaation.
Gamer Since: 1998
Favorite Genre: RPG
Currently Playing: Age of Mythology; The Settlers VI
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