The Sims 4 Preview

Getting Simotional support.

Following the review for Magic The Gathering 2015, I’ve seemingly stumbled onto games that face outrage from the community, and The Sims 4 is no exception. Electronic Arts and Maxis Studios have become punching bags since the debacle with SimCity, and it’s easy to jump on that bandwagon and begin pointing fingers and poking holes into The Sims 4. While some of the absences are indeed baffling and fans have the right to be angry, the numerous improvements in The Sims 4 reveal a much deeper redesign than I previously thought, and I would much rather judge a game on all its merits before bludgeoning it with trollish predispositions.

That said, let’s get the controversial parts out of the way first. The majority of the complaints stem from the lack of pools and the absence of toddlers. The former is sadly true, though it’s not a terrible hit for me since I tend to use precious backyard space for gardening anyway, but the former is, if everything goes according to plan, thankfully false. Though I wasn’t able to get a female Sim pregnant in the hands-on session I had at Electronic Arts Redwood Shores, embedded in the Lessons menu were several images and instructions on how to care for a toddler. So while babies don’t officially have a life state, adult Sims will still need care for babies by feeding and holding them before they reach childhood.

The other pressing issue is the matter of plots replacing the open-world map. Like the console version of The Sims 3, you’ll need to travel between plots of land instead of zooming out into the world, which does lead to loading times between areas. Luckily, the loading times only last about six seconds at most, and the plot-based design not only allows for much denser areas with plenty of objects and Sims, but the freed memory space reduces the chances of freezing and lowers the frequency of the frame-rate dropping. Even on the debug beta build for The Sims 4, the animation modeling is unexpectedly smooth, expressive, and polished.

Additionally, Sims are no longer locked into a single neighborhood either, allowing them to live in one neighborhood but attend work in another. So far, only Willow Creek and Oasis Springs have been revealed, but Sims can also travel to Crick Cabana after viewing a special looking tree multiple times and can unlock the Forgotten Grotto by breaking open a sealed Mine Shaft in the Desert Bloom Park with Level 10 Handiness. Strangely, the loss of the open-world design has made the travel options far more expansive.

Several missing features are the Create-A-Style tool and the elevation tool for terrain, two elements that the developers are aware and heartbroken will miss the main game at launch and hope to incorporate somewhere down the line either as a content patch or a major expansion pack. The quantity of color options for clothing and furniture is all well and dandy, but creation fans will demand at least the tools available from The Sims 3 (or will produce mods to fix this, though they shouldn’t have to).

The Sims 4 more or less operates in line with the spinning-plate virtual-life gameplay that the series is known for, challenging you to sustain a Sim’s six motives (Hygiene, Energy, Social, Hunger, Fun, and Bladder) throughout the day while developing friendships, a steady career, and a fully-furnished house worth millions. The refashioned and user-friendly will allow you to create lifelike Sims with up to three traits as well as siblings and twins based off their genetics (check out the clones I made based off Orphan Black). Crafting the perfect abode in Build Mode has never been easier, with rooms changing shape automatically to fit your needs and a revamped toolset, which now has the Move Whole House action, that removes much of the unnecessary fussiness from prior Sims titles.

Instead of a simple mood meter, emotions determine a Sim’s current state and need to managed appropriately to get the most out of interactions. Explaining how the system works can be tedious, but it’s essentially separated between Happy/Uncomfortable and other emotions like Inspired, Energized, Flirty, and Focused. Emotional states unlock several interactions and provide bonuses, so being Inspired will produce better meals and higher skill accumulation for creative tasks while being Flirty improves the success of romantic options. Being Angry will usually turn any social interaction into a downer, but it will let a Sim do pissed-off push-ups and sit-ups that build the Athletic skill faster than usual.

Anything that would keep a Sim’s mood high from the prior titles—eating a delicious meal, being well-rested, maintaining all of the meters, etc.—contributes to the Happy status, which is fine on its own but doesn’t do much. But when a Sim has a different emotion, Happy acts as a multiplier so Focused can become Very Focused and Flirty can become Very Flirty. Controlling emotional states will be key for players who enjoy min-maxing, so placing objects in the room that have an emotional aura will be important. That’s why the numerous unlockable lamps from The Sims 4 Rewards are fantastic. I placed several lamps that provide Focus near the computer, giving my Sim a Very Focused state (which eventually gave my Sim Level 4 in Video Gaming skill by the end of the session).

Speaking of skills, The Sims 4 comes with eighteen skills in total, adding Video Gaming, Programming, Comedy, Mischief, Mixology, Rocket Science, and Violin into the mix. Built by performing jokes successfully, Comedy can lead to stand-up acts on stage, and Video Gaming can lead to eSports glory. Most of the other skills have specific functions for careers, like Mischief for the Criminal career. So right out of the box, the ultimate goal of creating a godlike character who’s fully maxed in every skill and rarely needs to eat, sleep, or enter a bathroom is absolutely possible, but it will take an investment. I’m up for the challenge.

Keenly similar to wishes and lifetime wishes, whims and aspirations form the backbone of short-term and long-term goals. Completing any of the three whims earns aspiration points, which can be traded in for additional traits or new potions that can instantly refill motive bars (like the many potions you can craft in The Sims 3 Supernatural). This time around, whims are quickly refreshed if they’re canceled so you won’t need to wait too long for them to reappear.

Instead of skill challenges, aspirations are split into multiple tiers of goals that need to be completed in subsequent order. Completing an aspiration grants a special trait; for instance, satisfying the Nerd Brain aspiration will earn the Handy trait where your Sim can upgrade and repair items instantly, whereas finishing the Serial Romantic aspiration will nix jealousy altogether. More importantly, you’ll have access to all of the aspirations at once and can cycle through them on the fly, so you’re no longer locked into one at the start. The replayability and depth of a single playthrough of The Sims 4 already looks solid.

The bevy of minor improvements can be seen everywhere. Sims can add multiple sets of clothing under each category, animations are crisp and smooth, the cheat menu can be accessed like in The Sims 3with the new ability to disable motive decay, and relationships have bars for both friendship and romance. The online Gallery feature allows you to upload your creations to the cloud and then download Sims and lots straight into your household. Planning your outfit at a dresser will give you a chance to upload your Sim with his or her skill progress intact, which is great in case you computer becomes corrupted. The Sims 4 releases for PC on September 2, 2014.