We are six years into The Sims 4, and with 2021 around the corner, it will be exciting to see what’s next from this franchise. But before we enter a new year, I want to reflect on the best and worst aspects of Sims 4 content this year. The main game has improved in some subtle yet excellent ways, but the numerous disjointed expansions released in 2020 mostly just made me frustrated about how EA is managing the franchise.
In 2020, EA kept busy, releasing Eco Lifestyle, Snowy Escape, Star Wars: Journey to Batuu, Tiny Living Stuff, Nifty Knitting Stuff, and updates to the base game. They did a lot in this difficult year, but it hasn’t all added up to a better game. The developers no doubt worked hard during the pandemic. Because of that, any criticism I have of the game for 2020 comes with the caveat that this was a tough year. However, I’m also hopeful that 2021 will be a better year for the franchise.
The Sims 4 is controversial. Fans like the ease of its create-a-sim features and The Sims 4 art style, but they don’t like the removal of The Sims 3’s open world model that allowed every Sim to move around the world at once without a loading screen. Over the years, many fans, myself included, have also felt that EA was behind on implementing diversity in the game. This doesn’t just mean across racial differences, but also things like the diversity of designs via the create-a-style tool from The Sims 3. The issue regarding racial diversity continued this year with the release of Snowy Escape, an expansion involving Japanese designs that lacked diversity in terms of the Sims it featured and the community creators who were tapped to help make content for it. So while The Sims 4 is made for everybody to play, it’s not always represented in their actions when developing content.
Throughout the year, I saw people rightfully argue that The Sims 4 is missing the mark. The newer game lacks innovative gameplay and ran into weird issues. I expect some bugs. But with each release, there was always something wrong. In the past, it involved things like Sims washing dishes in the bathroom sink or, more recently, a genetics mishap that led to brown parents producing white children (that was recently fixed mid-December).
Despite all of this, some content releases were valuable not only for PC gamers but also for console gamers who don’t have the options for mods.
So, let’s look at the best and worst aspects of Sims 4 content in 2020.
Although many people focus on The Sims’ expansions, game packs, and stuff packs as the notable new content that moves the game forward, what we get in the base game sets the tone for everything else. If you can’t play and enjoy the base game then what’s the point? Thankfully, in 2020 the Sims developers added minor things to the base game that upgraded the gameplay in some big ways.
In June and November, the game got two crucial items that improve the game’s already-spectacular building system, which makes redefining lots easier. The new platform tool can create easier floor heights, which is a pain to do without this tool. Ladders offer a new way to redesign your home and have your Sims move about. While it may not seem like a big deal, players don’t have stair styles. We only had traditional staircases. Now we have ladders, which free up space for building and are integral to creative tiny home design. Before this update, it took a lot of time for semi-novice builders like myself to create better floors in the home, but platforms allow me to do that easily, and ladders allow for creative designs that I could never imagine before.
Before the addition of sentiments and profiles, characters in The Sims 4 weren’t able to build realistic bonds with each other. While sentiments don’t offer Sims 2-level relationship-building, they do make it a challenge to build a relationship with another Sim, and that’s a good thing.
In November, EA added these features and, in the process, improved the emotion-based system by complicating it and making it true to life. Sentiments allow each Sim to feel a deeper connection with each other, and it may not be the same feeling. For example, just because you’re related doesn’t mean you’ll have a special bond with each other. While a Sim parent may feel a bond with their child, the child may not feel anything towards the parent.
The sentiments system is something built on developing a long-term relationship with each other. I’ve had a blast trying to make deeper connections exist. And with the addition of profiles, you get a rundown of who each Sim is from their age to their relationship with you, which is helpful as you meet new Sims.
If you play with mods, where fans already have a memory system and relationship system in place, it’s likely that sentiments and profiles aren’t as spectacular. Quite a few focus on relationships and emotions. However, not everyone plays with mods, so these updates matter.
If you’ve been playing the Sims franchise as long as I have, you may already know about the longstanding issues with skin tones and the representation of Black sims. It’s been an ongoing process to make this game inclusive to all gamers. On December 7, EA released a new update in partnership with five influential players—EbonixSims, Xmiramira, Rao, Mia Zaff, and CatherineGames—to improve just that. As someone who loves the create-a-Sim process, I think this is such a step forward for better inclusion. Since the update, I’ve spent hours in CAS playing around with skin tones, and I think it’s a wonderful improvement to gameplay.
I’ve played well over 1,000 hours of this game, and I have a lot to say about what’s wrong with it. In essence, all expansions, game packs and stuff packs suffer from the same problem: they’re fun and then they’re not. They’re not helping make The Sims 4 an overall better game when it feels like they could. But let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?
I’ve spent about $700 on Sims 4 content (give or take, based on sales), and I can confidently say I’ve spent more on it than I have on any other game. With the release of content this year, I’ve become fed up with how it’s developed and released.
The Sims 4 regularly gets “stuff packs,” which are like mini-expansions that add content to your gameplay. For example, Nifty Knitting allows players to create knitted items and sell them online. In theory, they should add something we just can’t live without, but what they actually do is show gamers that a lot of these stuff packs should be bundled in expansions. For example, Tiny Living, a stuff pack EA released on PC in January, is all about reducing your living space. The expansion Eco Lifestyle involves reducing your carbon footprint. They complement each other, so why were they released separately? Living in a large space will naturally increase your bills, so then you’ll likely want to move to a smaller space. Well, why not try making a tiny living space? I did (and love it), but it really bothers me that these two things came separately. The case could be made of other releases too, but this one is the most egregious for me.
I reached out to EA’s PR for a comment on this issue and was told everyone was on vacation, so I don’t have an answer on this from their side. As for me, content slicing and dicing is a bad faith move and is a feature of their gameplay that should be put to rest.
In 2018, The Sims 4 expansion “Seasons” gave players the option to change the weather in the game. It’s fully integrated across each world in different ways. It’s great and makes the whole game better.
We didn’t get much of that approach in 2020. The Eco Lifestyle expansion, for example, includes an industrial neighborhood, Port Promise, a standalone “town” in the residential world Evergreen Harbor. The goal of Port Promise is to clean the town up and make it eco-friendly. Unfortunately, there’s no option to make other worlds outside of Evergreen Harbor industrial so we can fix them from the ground up. As such, Port Promise is a one-off in one world. If we can change the way weather works, why not our eco climate? The glimpse of that potential made this expansion (and other content) frustrating, because I want better control over my entire game.
The surprise September expansion Star Wars: Journey to Batuu has a problem with immersion. While it looks like a Star Wars adventure worth exploring, Batuu is a fantasy that ends as soon as you return to your homeworld. What if you fall in love with someone and want to take them home? They’re human again, since their alien form is a costume and not the alien race you might have expected. You can’t randomly spar with your lightsaber unless it’s with a Sim in your household who is holding one. And if you thought you could use magic because expansions carry over to other worlds, then you’re in for a surprise—you can’t. Want to explore the buildings? They’re rabbit holes, which is Sims terminology for buildings you can’t see inside.
You get the point. It’s a Sims 4 game pack that’s an interactive mission-based simulation of a theme park. I’m a fan of Star Wars, so I was excited about this pack, but the closed-off world isn’t fun or worth a purchase.
Snowy Escape, an expansion that takes you to Mt. Komorebi for a snowy adventure, also has an immersion problem in terms of the Sims you see in it. It features the same Sims who are seen in the rest of the game, which is disappointing given the setting. If this is supposed to be Japan or an Asian destination world, then we should have more Japanese locals in town. Yes, similar to the real world, we will have other people in town, but having the same Sims you see everywhere just show up takes you out of the game, so the novelty fades quickly.
Overall, there’s a lot to be happy about the base game of The Sims 4 after some of its 2020 tweaks and a lot left to be desired from the rest of the content, despite a series of expansions.
In the future, I’d like to see more interconnected open worlds that allow us to freely change what we want in a way that’s impactful. It would be great to have more plot spaces in existing worlds, fresh content that we haven’t seen before (farming would be great) and more base game content that would change the way we interact with the game, such as bunk beds or memories for Sims, etc. Ultimately, I’d like to see the game fully embrace the diversity of its players and the real world on which it is based, but I also recognize how difficult a task like that will be for EA.The closer they can get to that, the better it will be for players, new and old.
The formula for success is already there, and the community is waiting for EA to catch up. This global pandemic no doubt will have slowed down development, but moving forward, it would be great to see EA take everything that was great from The Sims 2 and The Sims 3 and put it in The Sims 4 in 2021. It would breathe new life into the game for us all.
Robin is a Chicago-based game writer interested in all things Sims and Nintendo. She’s been a gamer ever since she picked up a Sega controller.