The Sims 4 review

The Sims, the king of DLC since before DLC was a thing. After the release of the series’ first expansion pack in 2000, The Sims has become one of the most widely extended game franchises ever, with 44 content packs to its name so far. Digital distribution and fan modding have only made the series even bigger and more beloved. At the end of the day it lives and breathes on its myriad of extra content. So what happens when you take a world with that much bonus material and replace it with a brand new base game that hasn’t yet seen any similar growth? The result, while still an enjoyable game, feels small, cramped, and lacking in variety out of the box.

Taken at face value, The Sims 4 (opens in new tab) is a bold, bright, and smooth gameplay experience. There are few hang-ups when it comes to customizing your Sims, and from the start there are more ways to tweak them than in any previous Sims base game. Want one to have a big body and skinny face? How about a big green mohawk for an old man? Or someone with blue skin and crazy alien eyes? Done and done! The options feel limitless here, and being able to refine Sims down to stride and eyebrow shape makes it possible to realize your vision for them no matter how specific it may be.

Build mode has gotten a similar treatment, where constructing houses, businesses and parks has been streamlined to allow for instantly accessible building. There’s a wide breadth of options, and the way those options are organized within the build catalog keeps them from becoming overwhelming. (Though, seriously, I would sacrifice a porcelain pig to the Sim gods for the ability to turn off pop-ups permanently. I really don’t need to see an unskippable series of mini-windows talking about wall and roof-building when I’ve been playing for ten hours.)

Create and build mode are also where you’ll have the most fun with the new fan-creation gallery, which is definitely one of The Sims 4’s best attributes. Taking the hint from the series’ gigantic modding community, Sims 4 uses an online library of fan-made content, and any player can add their creation with the click of a button. This directly highlights the creative efforts of fans–to which The Sims owes the vast majority of its popularity–in both a worthwhile tribute and a very clever utilization of player-made resources. Now players who aren’t heavy into the modding scene can experience what it has to offer and benefit from other players’ creativity. I built two different houses out of rooms uploaded to the gallery and downloaded several families, which gave me access to fun structures and households I wouldn’t have experienced on my own.

When building is complete and your Sims’ lives begin, maintaining them can be either a fun challenge or utterly dull depending on the way you play. The updated aspirations and personality traits add a touch of flavor, interacting with the new moods mechanic in complex and sometimes hilarious ways. (For instance: one of my Sims, a hopeless romantic, died of embarrassment and then was resurrected by the Grim Reaper–at which point they started flirting with one another. It was a hilarious, unexpected surprise.) Keeping track of your Sims’ moods, plus satisfaction-increasing whims, plus skill points, plus career goals, PLUS life ambitions, PLUS (!!!) relationships and basic needs can be overwhelming, particularly when you’re dealing with a large Sim family. If you enjoy that kind of thing though, balancing all those needs and traits is engrossing and addictive.

Unfortunately, if that’s not your style you’ll likely find Sims 4 to be rather dull. It’s thin on the quirky happenings that defined the previous installments, which is jarring for fans who play specifically to experience them. No one got abducted by aliens, or had a mid-life crisis, or traveled to the future. Even the Woohoo options aren’t as expansive as they’ve been before. I had two Sims go at it in an observatory, but when I removed it and all the beds in their house to experiment, that social interaction promptly vanished. So, if the big reason you play the Sims is to witness these ridiculous occurrences, The Sims 4 probably isn’t for you… yet.

I say “yet” because we can undoubtedly expect new content to come with future expansion packs, but that doesn’t help fix The Sims 4’s current hobbling. When players are used to a fully decked-out Sims 3, with 11 expansion packs and 12 full worlds, Sims 4’s two expansion-less worlds feel comparatively barren. Add in that many fan favorite objects and behaviors have been removed (pools and toddlers are big ones, but also dishwashers for reasons I don’t understand), and game’s customization becomes a poor replacement for the fun that these additions bring. All told, the game is sadly desolate, with a catalog of items and experiences already aching for an update.

Your enjoyment of The Sims 4 will come down to a matter of style and patience. If you truly enjoy starting from nothing and building your Sims up through a series of mood swings and small, addictive accomplishments, you’ll enjoy this game out of the box. If you want to be in on the ground floor of the modding community, getting your creations seen from week one, you’ll want to jump on this right away too. But fans who like their Sim games bursting with silliness and whimsy will probably only enjoy The Sims 4 for a few hours before it gets dull, and you turn it off until the first expansion crops up. In that case, you should probably take the safe bet, and hold onto their simoleons for a few more months.

While The Sims 4 is a good first effort that will entertain goal-chasers and fan creators, it lacks much of the variety and humor that defines The Sims.

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