I’ve primarily spent my life in different suburbs and cities throughout the United States, but I’ve never really had the chance to live in a charming rural locale before. That’s not to say I’ve never spent the night out on the land or that I’ve never seen a sheep, mind you. My father actually was raised around a barn and, thankfully, that old home is still owned by an aunt of mine and her family. It always felt like a huge place, with hidden staircases and rolling doors galore. Sheep and chicken were framed in cute little quilts and paintings and the carpets were soft enough to sleep on. There was even a butter churner inside, though I don’t remember seeing anyone use it. Barn cats roamed the fields and sheep filled the smelly barn. Of course, it wasn’t exactly the picture of Cottagecore, but I’d probably hate actually living in a more prototypical location. I’m much more of a city girl. It has been a pleasure to visit, both in my early years and as a young adult, though I’ve certainly missed the place after our little global pandemic. The Sims 4: Cottage Living, the latest Sims 4 expansion from Maxis and Electronic Arts, doesn’t quite offer an exact substitute for what I love about that place, but it does a great job of meeting the same aesthetics and presenting a fun view of what a loving, rural, close-knit town can look like.
Still, anyone who knows me knows that I can spend a good amount of time in character creators and Cottage Living did not disappoint me on that front. I spent a lot of time designing my new Sim, Penelo McMacenstein, and her options were plentiful. Cottage Living adds a variety of new hairstyles and outfits that are mostly themed around the general Cottagecore aesthetic. For Penelo, I chose the long hairstyle with a kerchief and was glad to see that I could also give her some funky hexagonal glasses and cute strawberry earrings. She had access to blouses, sweaters, vests, skirts, pants, dresses, and more in equal measure. Some of the outfits were a bit too frumpy for my tastes, but there was certainly enough to pick from that I was satisfied with her options on the whole. With two exceptions, I was able to manage to create a unique outfit for each of the game’s suggested categories using only the new additions. It did mean I had to use the same socks in nearly all of them, but they look nice by my metric.
But when I started working on the more masculine outfits for my second Sim, Barbara Dugnutt, I found that the variety seemed to take a bit of a dive. There were only three new hairstyles compared to the feminine options’ twelve. On the whole, I had less to work with and I couldn’t really create enough unique outfits for every outing. What’s there is undeniably nice (I especially love the heavy overcoat over the checkered shirt), but Cottage Living just doesn’t dole out the same cornucopia of options for people looking for a masculine style than a feminine one. Admittedly, that’s nothing new for simulations, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.
Additionally, I’m further disappointed at the utter lack of new swimwear and, to a lesser extent, exercise wear. I mean, I get it. If you’ve seen one jumpsuit, you’ve kind of seen them all, beyond colour differences. But I would think swimwear would be different, particularly since being able to swim in the Bagley River is one of the few things your Sims can regularly do in Henford-on-Bagley.
Moving on to house design, I am glad to report that there are no obvious pitfalls. I like to start from scratch and use the model rooms, modifying the sizes and contents of each room as I go. That meant I could either bulldoze an existing home or take the empty lot in Old New Henford. I took the latter and had a remarkably fun time with the new options. There’s a tonne of nice farm-esque objects and furniture, as well as some truly wacky stuff, like mushroom seats and whole tavern bars to place in your house. Additionally, some very nice gardens and garden decor. I’m a bit sad that the barn options are only large enough to fit one cow or llama, but they are small enough that having a couple isn’t going to wreck your design sensibilities. Plus, the sample rooms do a great job of showcasing all of the new stuff, though they can get a bit cramped for my personal style. Still, I am grateful for that extra mile, as I am far too much of a perfectionist to design a house from the ground up and expect it to take less than a couple of days. I should also mention that the item descriptions retain the same humour that’s been in The Sims for a while, alluding to absurd situations and bringing up timely humorous references. I got a particular chuckle out of the Unassuming Bucket and its reference to the popular “Toss a Coin to Your Witcher” song from the semi-recent Netflix series, The Witcher.
The two new lot challenges are also certainly interesting. I admittedly hadn’t really tried many of the other ones, as I usually find it hard enough to keep everything organised with the base game, but I actually had a lot of fun. Simple Living, which requires your Sims to acquire the proper ingredients before cooking or eating anything, is definitely a plus for me. I’ve really missed the ability to go grocery shopping in The Sims and with the great gardening and farming implementations, eating what you’ve gotten off of your land is also very much feasible. Though don’t expect to get a lot of meat out of your farm. When the animals die, they just seem to go poof! I should also mention how Simple Living gets even more enjoyable when you have a Sim dedicated to cooking in your household, like Penelo, who works as a caterer. Instead of something like a chore, the Simple Living challenge meshes incredibly well with food aspirations and jobs, making each meal and each advancement in those areas feel more earned by the player.
As for Wild Foxes, I’m a bit unimpressed. The foxes are certainly cute, but their chicken murder is somewhat hard to notice. Basically, they run up to the chicken and get into a row, kicking up dirt everywhere. Once that’s finished, the chicken is gone and the fox sparkles in satisfaction, running away. You can shoo them away, of course, but there’s not much indication that they’ve invaded the chicken farm, requiring a lot of micromanagement. While I might consider that to be an intent for some real challenge where you need to keep a watchful eye on the chickens and crops, other aspects make the whole ordeal seem more incomplete than anything else. For instance, while Simple Living offers new Moodlets to reward you for playing by its rules, I noticed that my Sims didn’t even react to the loss of poor Cooper the Chicken. Even when Penelo McMacenstein was shooing away the fox after the deed had been done, she seemed to not even notice that she had one less chicken. Not to mention how little interaction there was to have with the foxes, as compared to the other animals. I mean, I can understand putting more effort into the livestock, but even the wild rabbits have more options. It’s never a good sign when your Sim has to ask about how Mr. Fox is doing over and over again with no variation unless you want the cute fox to run away because she can’t handle how terrible your Sim sings! Plus, the foxes run away very quickly. It’s not really difficult to get into contact with them, because they never hide, but it is such a slog, especially if you’re meeting one a larger area like Bramblewood’s huge public space.
As for personal traits, Animal Lover was a lot of fun, offering more wacky options for getting to know your new furry friends and offering plenty of positive moodlets to incentivise taking care of and playing with your new charges. Lactose Intolerant was also quite the interesting one, forcing you to either be careful about what your Sims were eating or watch them get sick from too much dairy.
The new aspiration, Country Caretaker, is also quite nice, though many of its challenges are very specific to Henford-on-Bagley. Still, it easily takes your Sim through almost all of what Cottage Living has to offer, rewarding participation in the weekly fairs, exploration, and contact with the animals. However, it seems limiting in the sense that I don’t think I’d go for this new aspiration in any area except Henford-on-Bagley, no matter how much I might want to set up one of these classic gardens and farm spaces elsewhere. Perhaps it would have been better to offer an additional aspiration that wasn’t so tied to the area. However, that’s a bit more of a nitpick, as I’m sure most are raring to explore the new area at the same time as the new mechanics.
As for Henford-on-Bagley itself, the area offers three distinct neighborhoods to choose between and visit. Old New Henford is beautiful and rustic, though it feels more like a residential area than anything else. Pretty much every house looks very nice, but it never felt like there was any real meeting spot. This is alright because both the Bramblewood and Finchwick have that covered. In addition to several nice houses and a secluded little cottage, the Bramblewood has a large forested park area that has plenty of benches, fishing spots, and wild foxes to play with. It can be a tad big and I know that I made the mistake of going right there after exploring the other areas the first time, so my Sims couldn’t really see all of it. Finchwick, on the other hand, has a full-on town square, centered around a cute two-story pub. Outside of the weekly fairs, which take place in a little green area here, there’s not much to do beyond hanging out at this pub or buying supplies from a nearby stall. Still, there are plenty of Sims just milling about here, so it makes for a prime interaction spot.
Then we get to those once-per-week fairs. To be blunt, they were a bit of a letdown. The prep time, where your Sims work to grow oversized aubergines, keep their cows as happy and high quality as they can be, and bake a delicious pie was a very fun time-sink, but I would’ve done those already. The actual fairs sort of just let your Sims display whatever animal or food is the theme of that week and then, if they are of a high enough quality or size, victory is somewhat randomly distributed to one of the entries. There’s not much fanfare or in-depth look at all of the competition and there’s not always a whole lot to compete with, though there will nearly always be someone else who enters the competition.
However, the most fun to have in your Cottagecore home has got to be taking care of the animals. With a chicken coop, you can get hens, roosters, and baby chicks and with a barn, you can buy a cow or a llama. Personally, I enjoyed the chickens and cows over the llama, but that was more due to my own personal taste. All three offer great interactions for those hoping to befriend their new, furry friends. Many of the actions sound hilarious and it feels great to get close to the animals. If managing a farm and keeping everyone well-fed, clean, and happy, the animals have plenty to keep track of, essentially requiring your focus during each and every in-game day. At first, I found it a real pain to feed each chicken, but there’s even an option to spread feed in front of the chicken coop, so I quickly managed to de-overwhelm myself. However, unless you are a major fan of micromanaging, I must say that taking this on while the Wild Foxes lot challenge is on is a lot more work than I care to give. On top of what’s there by default, it’s just too much for me. I’d much rather make friends with all of the animals, rather than watch as the foxes devour hen after hen.
As for the outfits you can dress your animals up in, I have to admit that I’m a tad disappointed. What’s there is really darn cute, with fun cow sweaters and a little Robin Hood outfit for the foxes, but there’s just not enough variety. It doesn’t really help that, unlike the character designer, each different outfit colouring is presented as its own outfit, which gives the appearance of having more outfits than there really are. Plus, weirdly enough, it seems as though you can’t even combine items that really seem like they should be worn together, like a hat-and-scarf combo with a sweater for your cow. Of course, there being a relatively low amount of outfits for the farm animals, there aren’t many different pieces that would work together, as most would overlap. So at the very least, not being able to combine anything isn’t quite as bad as it could be.
I have to admit, Cottage Living didn’t always meet my expectations, with the foxes being a bit of a letdown and there really not being enough masculine outfits or new swimwear. Even so, the aesthetics were on point from beginning to end and taking care of the new animals was a real treat. The new traits are fun and the Simple Living lot challenge gets nothing but high praise from me. The new expansion has its ups and downs, but it adds a whole new element to the game and lands with style.
The Sims 4 Cottage Living Expansion Pack (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is good, with a few negatives.
Cottage Living has room to improve, but it delivers on the simple joy of taking care of cute animals in a farm-like setting and shows that The Sims 4 still has much to offer.