The Sims and its sequels are unusually difficult games to review due mainly to the fact that different groups of people enjoy the games for vastly different reasons. I feel that there are three main different types of Sims players:
Designers like to create Sims, create houses, decorate houses and watch their Sims live in those houses. Most designers will spend more time in Create-A-Sim and Build modes than they do in the actual live gameplay mode. These players are going to be most happy with the ability to freely place objects outside of the “grid” that was so restrictive in previous games, and are going to very much appreciate the new absurd level of customization you can make to Sims’ faces.
Storytellers play the game to tell a story. They like to think of an idea for what story they would like their Sims to play out, craft the Sims for the story, and then play it out. These players appreciate a lot of the same thing that Designers do, but will probably appreciate a lot of the gameplay changes more than Designers due to the fact that they are likely to spend a lot more time in Live mode. These players don’t necessarily want their Sims to be happy, or succeed in their lives. They just want an interesting story.
Gamers play the game as if it were a game that could be beaten. This is what I am. You could say that Gamers are just Storytellers who always choose stories where their Sims succeed in everything. When I play, I rarely choose to create a Sim with a negative characteristic unless I am doing so in order to create an extra challenge to overcome. I have always felt the “mean” social interactions in the previous games were pointless to me because being mean lowers your relationship, which lowers your mood, and that never helps get anything done. My usual play consists of me deciding what challenge I want my Sim to conquer, and then playing it out. It might simply be to achieve a lifetime wish, or it might be something more ambitious like maximizing all skills or reaching the top of every career in the Sim’s lifetime. In The Sims 2 my favorite challenge (which I never completed due to a bug) was to get one of my Sims every single college scholarship possible, which required his parents dying, him dying and being raised as a zombie, and a multitude of other crazy things.
The reason I am outlining this is because I have intentionally written this entire review from the perspective of a Gamer. The features I am outlining mostly have to do with how much depth and variety they add to the gameplay. If you don’t play the game the way I do, it’s possible that the features I found the most exciting are completely boring to you, and that’s okay!
The other thing to note about my review is the fact that I am assuming you are already familiar with The Sims 2. The goal of this review is to answer the question I see the most when Sims 3 discussion comes up: “So what is new?” I will attempt to explain the features so that anyone can understand, but if you don’t at least have a basic understanding of how The Sims games work, some of it might be confusing.
This first section is about all of the good changes to the game.
No more loading!
Gone are the days of having to sit through three long loading screens every time you want a Sim to leave the house. The traditional concept of “lots” is gone now, and instead the entire neighborhood is one big area for you to explore at will. For me, this is the single most important new part of The Sims 3, but not for the reasons you might imagine. I didn’t mind the concept of isolated lots present in the previous games. In fact I often used the mechanic to my advantage in The Sims 2; When I wanted a break from having to micromanage 8 Sims at once in a large family, I could send one or two of them away to a community lot so I could concentrate just on them for a while.
However, this started to become a problem when more and more expansions came out. Each expansion increased the loading times, making it more and more painful to leave the house. By the time the last Sims 2 expansion came out, loading times on my very fast computer could be measured in minutes, which made it so annoying to play that I stopped playing altogether. My wife had a similar experience, and she is on a slower computer which made it even worse.
So the bottom line is that to say the new “no loading” element of The Sims 3 is an improvement is a gross understatement. This new element actually makes the game playable.
If “no loading” didn’t get the unfair advantage of being the element that makes the game playable at all, Moodlets would be my overall favorite addition to the game. Moodlets are now what control your “mood” bar. Before, your mood was 100% dependant on your needs; it was essentially just a representation of how well your needs were filled. This had the problem of making it so that there was never a reason to do a lot of the things in the game. You could brush your teeth at the bathroom sink but it gave such a small hygiene boost that it was a better idea to just wait for your hygiene to drop lower and take a full-on shower to max it out. In The Sims 3 however, moodlets are awarded for doing any number of things.
Most moodlets are awarded along with a duration so you know how long that moodlet will apply. So if you brush your teeth before going to work, you get a 3 hour moodlet which will improve your mood and therefore increase your job performance. This means that there are now reasons to do all sorts of things that you wouldn’t have had any incentive to do before. Showing in an expensive shower will provide a moodlet, as will eating a home-cooked meal, getting a full night’s sleep, spending time having fun, and a multitude of other things. There are also things that will give you negative moodlets. Sleeping on a cheap bed will sometimes cause your Sim to wake up with a sore back, a cheap shower will sometimes give you a “cold shower” negative moodlet, and the list goes on.
Moodlets really help give the game more depth and provide you with plenty of “cost vs. benefit” decisions to make. For example, if you Sim got to bed late, you will not have enough time before work to do all of the easy things which could give him a big mood boost, so you’re faced with the decision of letting him get a full night’s sleep and squeezing in the one or two activities he has time for before work, or waking him up early and hoping that the reduced energy and lack of a “good sleep” moodlet can be made up with the pre-work activities he’ll have time for. This is just one of the many situations that come up requiring you to choose one moodlet over the other.
In The Sims 2, you could customize the personality of your Sims with a couple “sliders” at the time of creation such as Mean/Nice, Sloppy/Neat, and Shy/Outgoing. These traits mostly affected how your Sims behaved when acting autonomously, but not much more. For someone like me who tries to have manually-issued commands queued up for all of my Sims anyway, the personality traits did next to nothing.
The Sims 3 greatly improves upon that system by having you select 5 “characteristics” for your Sim from a selection of over 60. These characteristics range from things like “good,” “loves the outdoors,” “natural cook,” “neurotic,” “hot headed,” and “loner.” All of these characteristics have a direct effect on the gameplay. “Good” allows the Sims to engage in activities unavailable to other Sims that will make them happy, such as donating to charity (“Evil” Sims can actually donate to anti-charities!), “loves the outdoors” gives the Sim a positive moodlet whenever they are outside, and “natural cook” allows the Sim to skill-up Cooking much faster and creates better quality food on average. Some of the characteristics are just plain negative, such as “neurotic” which causes the Sim to get negative moodlets randomly that require them to do crazy things like wash their hands three times in a row to fix. These sorts of things are great for “story teller” players as well as “gamer” players looking for an extra challenge.
Characteristics for Sims born during gameplay are also handled in a fun way. A newborn only has 2 traits and you’ll only get to choose them if the pregnancy “goes well” which essentially means the mother is in a good mood and delivered in the hospital. If the pregnancy did not go well, the characteristics will be chosen for you, and if it was particuarly bad the characteristics will be negative (such as the aforementioned “neurotic” trait.) The young Sims will get one more characteristic to choose at each stage of life, again using the mechanic where you only get to choose the trait if that stage of life went very well.
More Interesting Skills
Everything about skills has been improved. Skills are things such as “logic,” “creativity,” “handiness,” and others. While the previous games allowed your Sims to do more things as they skilled up, Sims 3 provides a lot more options. For example, a “handy” Sim gains the ability to upgrade household objects, such as making the toilet self-cleaning, or the computer unbreakable, or wiring the house with speakers for the stereo. Cooking will no longer provide you with all of the recipes in the game as you level up; instead you will need to buy recipe books from the bookstore to learn the more exotic dishes. Fishing is a new skill that allows you to fish, but different types of fish can be found in different places in the neighborhood (with the most exotic fish being in the far outskirts of town) and you can use any type of food as bait, which of which will attract different types of fish. This provides a level of interaction and discovery to skilling up fishing that certainly could have been ignored. Gardening is another new skill with a large amount of interaction – it takes several generations of plants to grow a “perfect” quality plant of each species, and the fruit from these plants can be combined with the cooking skill to create even higher quality dishes.
In addition, Sims will occasionally get phone calls with skill-based requests. A cooking Sim might get a request to deliver a “great” or higher quality plate of cookies to someone else in the neighborhood. Or a logic Sim might be requested to go to the local school and give a lecture on logic. These “challenges” make the world feel more alive as well as give you Sim something more to do with her skills.
“Speed up current action” Speed
This is a small addition but a very welcome one. There is now a fourth “speed” setting that fast-forwards the game until the current action of the selected Sim is complete. As someone who plays the entire game with his fingers on the tilde, 1, 2 and 3 keys, this is a very useful feature. I often want to just get to the end of the current action and instead of having to press 3 and 1 repeatedly until it looks like the action is finished, I can now just press 4 and the game will move at maximum speed and then revert back to normal speed once the action is done. I will note however that despite putting many, many hours in to The Sims 3 so far, I am still finding it hard to shake the habit of just using 1, 2, and 3 to fast forward manually! I’m sure I’ll get used to it eventually.
Some actions that Sims partake in now have “options” that modify the effects of that action. The most common place this is used is while a Sim is at work where you can now choose how that Sim is behaving at work. All jobs have a “Business As Usual” option which is the default, but each career has its own options you can set. For example, in the business career you can “power work” which will increase job performance but will grant a negative “stressed” moodlet if left on for too long, which will turn in to a seriously negative “overworked” moodlet. (Sims with the workaholic characteristic are immune to being overworked!) This provides yet another “cost vs. benefit” situation where you have to weigh the advantages of improved job performance against the negative effect stress will have. There are many other options as well such as spending your time meeting coworkers, sucking up to the boss, or even more the risky but potentially very rewarding “propose new course of action” option in the political career.
These options exist for other actions as well. An athletic Sim can choose to work out in “pace yourself” mode which will cause the skill to advance more slowly, but without the huge hygiene drop that regular working out provides.
My only complaint about Action Options is that they weren’t used nearly enough. I like them so much that I wish many more of the actions in the game allowed that sort of fine control. Hopefully this is something we’ll see in expansions.
“Do Action Until” Feature
Some of the actions in the game now have a slider that allows you to control how long your Sim will engage in the activity. This is mainly used for sleeping and skill-building actions. When your Sim goes to sleep, the default duration will be either until they are fully rested, or until it’s “morning” (which depends on their job and day of week) whichever is earlier. If you want your Sim to sleep longer, simply drag the slider to the right and it will change to the longer goal. This is incredibly useful as it means you no longer need to wait until the time you want and then cancel the activity. If your Sim goes to sleep very early one day, you may not want him to wake up at 1am when he is fully rested because it will force him to go to sleep very early the next day as well. So simply drag the duration slider to the right and now he’ll stay asleep all the way until morning time.
Skill-building activities are similar: their default duration is set to indefinite, but you can move the slider to make it “until skill increases” or sometimes things like “until 5 fish caught.”
Lifetime Happiness Rewards
Your Sim earns “Lifetime Happiness” for completing wishes. Wishes function much like “wants” in The Sims 2 with a redesigned interface. The “fears” from Sims 2 are no longer in The Sims 3. As you earn Lifetime Happiness, you can spend the points on rewards that are essentially like additional characteristics for your sim, only they are all very beneficial. For example, some of the cheap rewards are the ability to dine at any restaurant for free, or the ability to lose weight much faster than normal Sims. The more expensive rewards are things like the ability to paint masterpieces much more often than normal, or to have certain needs drop much slower than normal Sims’. More expensive still are the ultimate rewards such as the food replicator and the teleportation pad. I only bought one top-tier reward in my play time, and it required me to save up Lifetime Happiness points for almost my Sim’s entire life.
These rewards are definitely a fun and welcome element to the Sims 3. They replace the “aspiration rewards” from the Sims 2 but I feel the new rewards are far better for gameplay.
Advancing in a Career
The method for advancing in a career has been reworked to provide a much more engaging experience. In the Sims 2, there were three things that you had to do to get a promotion: skill up to meet the requirements, get enough friends to meet the requirements, and go to work in a good mood. As long as you met the requirements, you would eventually get the promotion if you continued to go to work in a good mood.
The Sims 3 completely gets rid of the strict skill and friends requirements. Instead, each level of each job has different factors that will affect your job performance, which is simply a bar that once full grants you a promotion. Mood is always one of the factors and the others vary from career to career and also depend on what level in the job your Sim is trying to achieve. For example, early on in the political career, the two factors are mood and charisma. Every minute you spend at work, your job performance will be going up or down depending on how well you are accomplishing those two factors. However, it is very possible to neglect one of the factors as long as you keep the other factor high. So in this example you don’t need to work on your charisma at all, and as long as you keep your mood very high at work, you will still be increasing your job performance bar. Once you achieve the promotion though, the charisma requirement will be higher, so neglecting it will cause a more negative effect on your performance than before, but can still be counteracted by a high enough mood. After enough promotions the negative affect for such a low charisma will be so detrimental that you will need to at least gain one point in order to advance.
These are not the only kinds of factors. After a certain point in the political career, your Sim will need to do fund raising. This can be accomplished by asking close friends to donate to your campaign, or by holding fundraiser parties where the amount donated will depend on how good the party was. The business career requires you to have a good relationship with both your boss and your coworkers, so time outside of work must be spent socializing with them if you want to increase your performance. You must also hold meetings outside of work hours which “don’t get a lot done, but let everyone know that you’re working!”
This system provides a much greater depth of gameplay by giving you many different options for how to advance. This means that you could climb the same career tree many times with different Sims and it not feel nearly as repetitive as it would have in The Sims 2. I haven’t gone through most of the career trees in The Sims 3 yet, but I am already looking forward to seeing what interesting methods for advancement each of them have, which is never a feeling I had with The Sims 2.
Story Advancement for Non-Primary Households
In The Sims 3, the entire neighborhood is an ever-changing organism. The Sims in your neighborhood will get jobs, have relationships, cheat, have kids, and die. Not necessarily in that order. This has two very important ramifications: One is that all of the Sims you see in your neighborhood will be different in the next generation. Gone are the days from Sims 2 where your kids and your kids’ kids and your kids’ kids’ kids all have the same friends in grade school who never seem to grow up. This creates a very “real” feeling world that is never the same. The second major effect this has is the fact that even your own households that are not currently “active” will do stuff completely on their own, including dying. It is important to know this when switching to a different “primary household.” In The Sims 2, I had almost every lot filled up with different families that were all decedents of the original two Sims I created. I liked the ability to switch around and play whichever household I felt like at the time (I had different personal “goals” for each one) but that is not how it works in The Sims 3. Now if I were to switch over to a different household and played those Sims until they died, all of the other Sims I had originally been playing would most likely be dead as well. However, they might have had kids that went off and did their own things that I could switch over to and play as well!
At first I did not like this. I wanted to be able to have my different households and not have them advance while I wasn’t playing them. After a lot of playing however, I decided that this was actually a lot better. I never ended up playing most of the households I had in my neighborhood in The Sims 2 and it even started to get so out of control that I couldn’t remember what I was doing with each of the households and 90% of them ended up going unplayed while I just concentrated on one or two. Now the game will take care of those neglected households for me and make them go on with their lives. My active Sims can even encounter new relatives of theirs that I never manually created!
Still don’t like it? You can turn it off in the options so that Sims outside of your currently active household will not change. I strongly recommend leaving it on though.
Calling this section “The Bad” is probably a bit of a misnomer. None of the items here are huge problems and are really just me nitpicking.
Don’t get me wrong; the game looks good. But it doesn’t look amazing. I had hoped to be blown away by the graphics and I just wasn’t. I think the Sims look much better than before but everything else looks mostly the same. Part of this is probably because they have such a huge target market for this game and had to make sure the game runs on older hardware but I would have liked to see more high-end graphic options for those of us that could use them.
The game has no way to turn on anisotropic filtering, which is an annoying oversight because the game looks better with it on. You can still force anisotropic filtering on deep in the video card driver control panel in Windows but I think most users will never do that.
Significantly Less Content than The Sims 2 + Expansions
This one comes as no surprise. As someone who is used to playing The Sims 2 with all of the expansions installed, The Sims 3 comes across as having an embarrassingly small amount of content across the board. The number of careers, number of hairstyles, clothing, gameplay options, furniture, and everything else is very small compared to the complete package that is The Sims 2 + Expansions.
Of course, I would never have expected The Sims 3 to come close to that amount of content, and hopefully no one does. However, since this is a review directly comparing The Sims 3 to The Sims 2, this point is definitely worth noting.
Navigating the Map
Considering the game is always played in a huge neighborhood, I am a bit disappointed with the offerings for navigating it. When zooming out, the view cannot zoom very far back at all. You must press M to go in to “neighborhood view” which zooms the camera way back. If you want to zoom back in you can click anywhere and it’ll zoom to that area. I find it frustrating that I can’t just use the mousewheel to zoom to any level. It is also annoying to constantly have to zoom all the way out, find a location, and then zoom back in on that area just to go to an area I visit all the time. I would have liked to have the ability to “save” a camera location so I could easily get back to it with a keypress.
Lastly, while there are useful “go to sim” and “go to house” buttons for quickly navigating to those locations, every time you use them the camera smoothly pans and zooms over to them. It’s a cool looking effect… the first 20 times. After that I find the transition is just an annoyance and I wish I could click the “go to” button again to have it skip the transition and just snap to where I want.
No More Career Reward Objects
I will be the first to admit that I may be wrong about this, as The Sims 3 is a game with a lot of content to discover and several of the features I have found are not advertised in any way and instead found through the natural act of playing. But so far in my many hours of playtime I have not seen any evidence of Career Reward Objects, one of my favorite features from The Sims 2. In The Sims 2, when you reached a certain level in each career it unlocked access to a unique object just for that career. They were usually skill-up objects for skills related to that career that functioned better than the standard objects. The later expansions added more exotic rewards that did some pretty fun stuff. They were great because they were really good tangible rewards that encouraged you to really try out all of the different careers.
Hefty System Requirements
This one is not actually a bad thing for me because it runs perfectly on my machine, but it’s worth mentioning. When I first started playing I only had 2GB of RAM in my machine. Navigating the neighborhood was an exercise in frustration because every time I zoomed way across the neighborhood, the game would chug like mad while the hard drive thrashed to load the content. Then when I went back to my house the same thing would happen. I thought it might have been the low RAM so I put in another 2GB (bringing the total to 4GB) and tried playing. It made a world of a difference. With 4GB I can browse the entire neighborhood as fast as I want and I never notice any slowdown at all.
So if you have less than 4GB of RAM and want to play The Sims 3, I strongly recommend picking up some more. RAM is insanely cheap these days (4GB from newegg.com costs about $50, and can be found for $30 during sales) and your game experience will be a lot better if you have it.
The Sims 3 is awesome, the end.
No really, I am very happy with the design changes in The Sims 3 and I feel that if you are a fan of The Sims series at all then you will be happy with a purchase of The Sims 3.