Sims 4: Easier and harder

Screenshot Sims 4 - two sims in deep conversation.

The sims are not only more emotional now, they are also more social. There are easily a hundred different social interactions to choose from, and almost every skill, job or hobby adds to the list.

Compared to its predecessors, The Sims 4 is both easier and harder, simpler and more complicated.

It is very easy and simple for those who just want a “human fishbowl”. You can start playing some of the existing families, or roll random characters, or download some of the thousands of sims that are shared on the Net. Put them in a pre-made house, or put together a house from pre-made rooms, then let them take care of themselves. The sims are more intelligent, and they have gotten better at multitasking. They can mostly take care of themselves, even more so than in The Sims 3. I’ve seen a social type sim got out of the house and start chatting up neighbors while I was doing something else, and they are able to hold down a job. They still have trouble with broken equipment, though. But apart from that, there is a good chance that you can go to work and still find your sims alive and well when you come home.

It is easy to get started, and there is very little that you as a player need to decide or meddle in unless you want. But chances are that you *do* want to meddle, rather than just watch “unreality TV” with imaginary people. And this is where it starts getting complicated.

Most things are just more detailed. This detail is optional. If you just want to get started, you can ignore it. But if you have the time, you can go into ridiculous detail when designing your sim, from the shape of the eyes and nose to picking half a dozen sets of everyday clothes that your sims will choose from when they get dressed in the morning. (You can also have several pajamas, party clothes, swimwear etc, with matching accessories.) The only notable exception is the ability to color every object in a unique pattern of self-made colors, which supposedly filled up the save files like whoa in the Sims 3. You still have various colors and patterns to choose from, but can’t create your own.

Once your sims move in, the rapid growth of options continues. Even without any expansion packs, the social interactions have multiplied in the extreme. Increasing the charisma skill unlocks new options, but there is also a separate comedy skill that gives you more jokes and funny stories to tell. (So instead of “tell joke” you have “tell joke about penguins”, “tell joke about fashion”, “tell knock knock joke” etc.) There is even a pranking skill that lets you expand your ranks of pranks to play on other sims, if you are that kind of evil, detestable person. In addition there are interactions that are unlocked when the sim is in a particular mood, and there are a whole rainbow of such different emotions. Even choosing just the Friendly interaction menu gives several pages of possible interactions between two sims, in the base game without any expansions, and that’s before I have maxed any of the social skills.

Other skills have also got an excess of optional detail. Take painting, for instance. There are now a wealth of different styles to choose from, increasing as the painting skill goes up. Abstract, realistic, pop-art, impressionist, classic. Some emotions also have corresponding painting styles, like “confident painting” or “playful painting”. Paintings in these styles can only be started while in the corresponding mood, and contain a mood aura which can be activated after the painting is finished, and will influence nearby sims with the same emotion. So if you know that you will need to be confident at some point in the future, make sure to start making confident paintings at any time you feel confident, so that you can put them up in the house and activate their confident aura the day you need it.

Or you could write a self-help book, if you have a fit of confidence and sufficient writing skills. Reading the self-help book will make a sim confident for a few hours, then it fades. I appreciate the realism in this. ^_^ (Regular readers may know what I feel about self-help books: Given how many there are of them, and how well they sell, we would expect to live our lives surrounded by weakly godlike superintelligences. That is pretty far from the truth. But that they can make people feel confident for the duration of a short date, I suppose that could happen. It seems to work for the sims, at least unless they accidentally fall under the sway of a different emotion such as getting angry by getting chewed out by a bitching bystander.)

The complexity just continues over the top. Maxing your cooking skill is faster than it was in The Sims 3, but there is now a separate Gourmet cooking skill that is unlocked a ways up the ordinary skill, and that is needed for the more advanced culinary endeavors. I am honestly not sure where that idea come from, but you can now be a master of making ordinary meals and a total noob at gourmet cooking.

Computer gaming is serious business, as one might expect from Electronic Arts. Gaming is now a skill that you level up through practice, either on your computer or FlatPad (tablet) or smartphone. You unlock more games as you level up your gaming skills, but you also unlock conversation topics. This is the case for other skills as well. Sims who may seem strikingly different in other ways, like a lazy snob and an athletic outdoors lover, may bond over their elite gaming skills or their love of the violin.

Some of the skills are associated with a career. The number of careers seems somewhat limited, but bear in mind that each of them now has two different branches that you have to choose from halfway through your career. Acing your career has become much harder: In The Sims 3, you basically just had to improve the associated skills. Now you have to do that, but you also have to do various job-related tasks at home.

For instance starting in the culinary career as a dishwasher, you have to wash dishes at home as well a few times for practice. Then for the next step you must improve your mixology (drink making) skill to 2. Next you must make an outstanding grilled cheese sandwich. This is a tricky one, and you’ll find something similar in other careers, like paint a brilliant painting. The thing is, there is no choice to “make an outstanding sandwich”. You have to grill sandwiches until you make an outstanding one. The quality of your food depends on your skill level, your mood, your experience with that particular dish, your kitchen equipment, and a random element of luck. Maybe you can get it right the first time, perhaps it takes ten times.

In The Sims 3, everyone could reach the top of their career if they improved their skills and went to work regularly. Now it has become something you achieve if your life revolves around it. Chances are you will retire without reaching the top, if you try to have an active social life, or a large family, or a couple unrelated hobbies. This is more realistic, of course. We aren’t all bosses (and some of us are quite happy with that). But I am sure some long-time Sims players will feel frustrated.

And that is the problem with The Sims 4. It is amazing, but it is also somewhat frustrating. The learning curve is not steep, but it is very long. For those of us who were masters of the earlier games and felt in control of them, the jungle of options seems entirely too dense. I cannot imagine how it must look to someone who has never seen a plumbob before. In one way this wealth of options is a benefit, because people won’t quickly put it aside as “finished this game, on to the next”. But in my experience it requires the player to stop from time to time and relax. Tell yourself “Hey, it is just a game.”  But with the sims becoming as lifelike and complex as they are now, this is harder than ever.


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