As the latest in a long line of Sims games, The Sims 4 doesn’t exactly have the smallest shoes to fill. It’s a series with a massive (and vocal) fanbase, and an arguably pretty deserved reputation for monetizing to hell and back that’s left players more than a little cynical. When it was announced The Sims 4 would be taking out both the toddler life stage (which was introduced way back in The Sims 2) and swimming pools (a staple element since the franchise’s beginning), fans were understandably suspicious about what seemed like a transparent ploy to nickel and dime them for the features at a later point. Despite a promising gameplay demo at E3 and revamped Create-A-Sim and Build Mode controls, I have to admit that even as a long-time Sims fan, I was dubious about buying this latest reboot of the series.
In the end, I did buy The Sims 4, and while I enjoy it, it’s probably the Sims game I have the strongest mixed feelings about. It’s due, in my opinion, not to broken promises but rather unmet expectations. In much of the promotional lead up to The Sims 4, Maxis promised players more intuitive Create-A-Sim controls, a more open-ended Build Mode and new game mechanics focused on the actual Sims themselves. And in their defence, they have delivered on pretty much all of these.
However, as someone who has invested a lot of time, love and money into The Sims (probably, if I’m being honest, more than is reasonable), this newest base game feels almost frustratingly incomplete across the board. What’s there in The Sims 4 feels solid (with serious potential for Maxis to expand upon in the future) it’s simply that it doesn't feel like there’s a whole lot there to begin with.
Beginning (as all Sims experiences) with CAS, it’s easy to see why Maxis rolled out a trailer just for this. While previous games relied on a series of menus and sliders, The Sims 4 has overhauled this system, instead replacing it with a click-and-drag method that lets players directly edit their Sims in detail—from the shape of their noses to the size of their feet. The result is a huge new level of customizability from a deceptively simple and intuitive system.
Designing my Sims felt fun and explorative, and I enjoyed taking the time to really test out what CAS was capable of. The Sims 4 also added a handy genetics tool that lets players quickly create twins, siblings, children and parents of a Sim; while The Sims 3 had its own variant of this idea, the Sims 4 one feels much more polished and even automatically edits the Sims’ relationship appropriately.
However, (and call me nitpicky) it felt frustrating that in a game that’s emphasising player creativity CAS only allows you to use pre-selected skin tones and hair colours—especially given that The Sims 3 let players pick their own. In a similar vein, the clothing options also felt frustratingly slim as well this time around; gone are the texture options and colour wheels from Sims 3, which have been replaced with predetermined colour options. While it probably won’t be a bother to new fans, I sorely felt the lack when it came to designing my Sims.
I do, on the flip side, enjoy how Maxis has redesigned the Aspiration system, which instead of giving Sims a singular goal (such as reach the top of a particular career) now gives them a number of benchmarks such as reaching their “maximum body potential” or “harvesting 20 different plants.” For one thing, it gave me a reason to experiment with various gameplay aspects and objects. It also prevented getting locked into the rut of “work>needs>skills>sleep>repeat” that I’ve found myself falling into in the past in order to achieve my Sims’ aspirations.
The Sims 4’s actual gameplay felt, for the most part, like a series of tweaks and modifications to the gameplay of The Sims 3; and to some extent, I can’t exactly blame the developers. The basics of The Sims’ gameplay hasn’t actually varied much over the years—aside for the introduction of new game elements— in part because it’s always been a solid part of the series. After all, why fix what isn’t broken?
The most obvious change is the introduction of emotional states: now, on top of mood effects from Sims’ needs, they also get moodlets from various activities and events that affect their emotional state. Taking a “Steamy Shower” puts Sims in a Flirty mood, for example, and an Inspired Sim can produce paintings and novels more quickly. It’s an interesting addition, and one that can take a little while to get the hang of, especially when advancing in a particular situation requires a specific emotional state.
While the game introduced these sorts of new tidbits into the actual gameplay, I still found myself missing features that, until now, had seemed like obvious staples. The lack of toddlers, in particular, felt rather inexplicable and left a clunky gap in life stages. While previously, Sim children were toddlers for three of the game’s days before growing into children, in Sims 4 the baby lifestage now lasts for a flexible amount of time (players decide when they age up) before becoming children.
Maxis and EA have not given an explanation for why toddlers were not included in The Sims 4, and their disappearance leaves a strange gap in Sims’ life stages. While toddlers had their own unique interactions and skills in previous games, these have either been removed completely or shoehorned uncomfortably into the child life stage.
It’s these sorts of missing gameplay pieces, often inexplicably so, that leave The Sims 4 feeling incomplete. While what does exist makes for a fun game, as a long-time fan of the series I found myself constantly looking for tools and gameplay that don’t exist. The Sims 4 feels barebones, and unusually so even for a base game. One can only hope Maxis and EA make up for it in the inevitable line of expansion and stuff packs.
The Sims 4 (Reviewed on Windows)
Game is enjoyable, outweighing the issues there may be.
It’s these sorts of missing gameplay pieces, often inexplicably so, that leave The Sims 4 feeling incomplete. While what does exist makes for a fun game, as a long-time fan of the series I found myself constantly looking for tools and items that don’t exist. The Sims 4 feels barebones, and unusually so even for a base game. One can only hope Maxis and EA make up for it with the inevitable line of expansion and stuff packs.