The Sims 4 has built a reputation over the past decade as a cozy cotton candy-style life simulator. While a pandemic, economic recession, and war raged out in the real world, players were able to band together and have a good, hassle-free time with their Sims. If you wanted to support a family and buy a house as a freelance artist, it was entirely possible – and even encouraged! Everyone in The Sims 4 was just Nice. That is, until Electronic Arts released the new expansion Grow together on March 16. Now my Sims are all part of the Real Housewives of San Myshuno. Everything is all drama, all the time, and I live for it.
Grow together adds much more nuance to Sims’ likes and dislikes, including how they feel about each other. Some people just get along from the jump, while other couples will just burn each other’s cookie. Likes and dislikes now have much more impact. A Sim who hates video games will not fill their fun meter; it empties. A Sim who can’t sing will cook when their roommate is practicing scales.
This dynamic runs deep and changes playthroughs. Take the case of the Hart family – a mother, a father and their little child. In my playthrough, the father had some bonding issues leading to a “distant” relationship with his wife and a “difficult” relationship with his son, which is pretty impressive since 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 Father Mason lined up for the newest neighbor to flirt with her. I was transfixed; this wonderfully messy drama played out in real time, fueled entirely by the Sims’ own agency.
Returning to an old save was equally tough. My pair of werewolf and vampire were not Awesome friends, but they had sexual chemistry, which meant they got along in other ways. For Grow together, all I had to do was make sure I chose generally friendly options, and the rest took care of itself. With the new expansion, their engagement immediately fell apart.
Rebelle, a stay-at-home werewolf who refused to work because it aroused her wild rage (recognisably), eventually enraged Victoria, the cocky vampire who liked to keep things clean and quiet around their shared home. The feuds led to a rift, resulting in both Sims harboring bitter resentment and hurt feelings when they interacted.
In desperation, I moved Victoria into her own home, and she began to shine by picking up promotions in her PR career and painting masterpieces. When I checked back in with Rebelle, she was furious, in full werewolf form, having horrible relationships with all of her neighbors, eating trash in the front yard. I tried to send her to work but she just left early and attacked a nearby grandmother who worked in the community gardens. Not good!
The two now live bitterly together again, and this kind of dynamic, emergent storytelling is precisely what I love about The Sims. Back in the day, pairing up Sims was often like dolling up – as long as you weren’t actively insulting someone, you could flirt, flirt, flirt to get into a relationship. Now there is a bit more nuance.
In any case, it’s a mystery 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 few expansions that are much needed, such as the additions of seasons or university. The baby and baby related mechanics are all part of the free patch that preceded it Grow together. It feels like an odd trade, especially since there are a few key baby accessories locked away grow together, like a dresser. Grow together is a great expansion, but the clunky bits around it highlight its bigger weaknesses The Sims 4 and the update style.