Last week, I attended a hands-off preview for The Sims 4's upcoming Growing Together expansion pack and its supporting free base game update. This was obviously a real treat for me as RPS' resident Sims fanatic, but I'll admit I went in with my expectations parked in neutral. After all, the theme of this new-content duo is young families, and that just isn't part of the game I engage with too much these days.
But I must admit, even this grumpy old childfree woman was pleasantly surprised by what's on offer. Growing Together introduces some significant tweaks and improvements to the way your Sims feel about themselves and interact with each other, giving their social ecosystem a satisfying upgrade in complexity. There's enough depth to the new systems that even players like me who rarely bother with generational gameplay will have plenty to enjoy: new likes and dislikes set the tone for social interactions, relationship dynamics imbue close bonds with overarching emotional contexts, and memories of milestone moments continue to influence Sims throughout their lives. Perhaps, after nearly 10 years, The Sims 4 is finally on the cusp of finding its own identity as a Sims game, doing something worthwhile that none of its predecessors did. And I appreciate that to achieve this the focus has been turned inwards — to Sims' personalities and relationships — rather than to more material concerns.
My main reservation, really, is that some of these shiny improvements feel suspiciously like a proof of concept for The Sims 5. The fact that the brand-new infants life stage will develop somewhat realistically is cool as hell, but I can't help feeling it's a bit out of place here. It's going to feel weird now to play with a Sim in the generic "teen" life stage, for instance. Obviously there's a world of difference between a 13-year-old and a 17-year-old in real life, but that was something you could previously ignore within the fiction of The Sims' universe. The oddity is surely going to stand out significantly, though, when said teen's infant sibling is progressing semi-realistically from two months to one year in age.
That's not to say that these new additions are bad: far from it, they look incredibly promising. And, with The Sims 5 (a.k.a. Project Rene) still just a glint in Grant Rodiek's eye, I'm not suggesting that you hold out for the next gen of the series if this looks appealing to you now. But, while a lot of these features will be added into the base game (at least in a bare-bones state) by the free update, paying the full cost of an expansion pack to get the most out of them does feel a little off-putting. Growing Together adds plenty of exciting new stuff in its own right, from the Bay Area-inspired world of San Sequoia to customisable treehouses, backyard water toys, and numerous age-related interactions and activities and events giving some damn focus to characters other than young adults for a change. So to gate some of those sweeping quality-of-life improvements behind the $40 price tag of an EP does come off as a little stingy, if far from a new practice for EA.
The "infants" update to The Sims 4's base game will go live on March 14th, with the Growing Together expansion following two days later on March 16th. The former will be free to all owners of the base game (which is now also free), while the latter will clock in at the usual expansion pack price of £35/$40/€40.