The Sims 4 built up a reputation over the last decade as being a cozy, cotton candy-style life simulator. While a pandemic, an economic recession, and war raged outside in the real world, players could bundle up and have a good, problem-free time with their Sims. If you wanted to support a family and buy a house as a freelance artist, that was entirely possible — and even encouraged! Everyone in The Sims 4 was just nice. That is, until Electronic Arts released the new expansion Growing Together on March 16. Now, my Sims are all part of the Real Housewives of San Myshuno. Everything’s all drama, all the time, and I am living for it.
Growing Together adds a lot more nuance to a Sims’ likes and dislikes, including how they feel about each other. Some people will simply get along great off the jump, whereas other pairs will just burn each other’s biscuit. Likes and dislikes are much more impactful now. A Sim who hates video games won’t have their fun meter fill; it drains. A Sim who can’t stand singing will seethe when their roommate practices their scales.
These dynamics run deep, altering playthroughs. Take the case of the Hart family — a mom, a dad, and their little child. In my playthrough, the dad had a few commitment issues, leading to a “distant” relationship with his wife and a “difficult” relationship with his son, which is kind of impressive, because I’m not 100% sure how you can have beef with a baby. During the housewarming party, Mrs. Hart went in to check on their son, and dad Mason bee-lined for the newest neighbor to flirt with her. I was transfixed; this deliciously messy drama played out in real time, fuelled entirely by the Sims’ own agency.
Returning to an old save was equally spicy. My werewolf and vampire couple weren’t great friends, but they had sexual chemistry that meant that they got along well in, uh, other ways. Before Growing Together, all I had to do was make sure I chose generally friendly options, and the rest worked itself out. With the new expansion, their engagement immediately fell apart.
Rebelle, a stay at home werewolf who refused to work because it triggered her feral rage (relatable) ended up infuriating Victoria, the snooty vampire who liked to keep things clean and quiet around their shared home. The arguments led to a break-up, which led to both Sims adopting bitter grudges and hurt feelings if they hung out together.
In desperation, I moved Victoria out to her own place, and she began to shine, picking up promotions in her PR career and painting masterpieces. When I checked back in on Rebelle, she was furious, in full werewolf form, with horrible relationships with all of her neighbors, eating trash on the front lawn. I tried to send her to work, but she just left early and attacked a nearby grandma working in the communal gardens. Not great!
The two are now acrimoniously living together again, and this sort of dynamic, emergent storytelling is exactly what I love about The Sims. Before, pairing up Sims was often like mashing dolls together — as long as you didn’t actively insult someone, you could flirt, flirt, flirt your way into a relationship. Now, there’s a little more nuance.
If anything, it’s puzzling how these features are hidden behind an expansion pack when they feel so essential. While the base game is now free-to-play, there are still a couple of expansions that are sorely needed, like the additions of seasons or university. The infants and baby-related mechanics are all part of the free patch that preceded Growing Together. It feels like an odd swap, especially because a few critical baby accessories are locked behind Growing Together, like a changing table. Growing Together is a great expansion, but the awkward bits around it highlight the greater weaknesses of The Sims 4 and its update style.