The Sims 4 review: Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

The Sims 4 is an accessible introduction to the world of virtual megalomania, with an intuitive interface and plenty to explore for series newcomers. But, let's be clear up front: Loyal players of The Sims 3 should stick with that game for a couple of more years, as they will be woefully underserved by what this latest installment in the franchise currently has to offer.

As with all the prior iterations of The Sims, this game is the base upon which many, many expansions will be built. I'm going to avoid discussing what's "missing" or speculate on what's coming, and instead focus on what's in the game right now.

The Sims themselves are quite dynamic this time around, but players will still have to do quite a bit of micromanaging to make sure their virtual dolls stay on task. Reducing the need to keep an eye on your Sim's every move is the added feature of multitasking, allowing a Sim to work out and skill up, while holding a conversation. Or, they could tend bar to up their mixology and socialize at the same time. The Sims also seem to naturally group in neutral spaces like the museum, gym or bar, enhancing their network of connections, opening up more unsupervised and unplanned relationships.

The game's build mode is cleaner than ever before. Plenty of early tutorials will walk newcomers through the various aspects of dwelling creation. Architectural finagling and decorating rooms is super simple, and there's plenty of pre-made options to choose from and customize. Just grab and plop. If you don't like the pre-made rooms in the game, there's plenty to find in the Gallery.

The two greatest additions to The Sims 4 are the Gallery and the search bar feature. These features as they are now are already fantastic, but will become blessings as the inevitable expansions roll out. The Gallery allows players to upload and download individual Sims, families and houses. The feature highlights the creativity of the community and is inspirational to search through.

As for the search bar, instead of looking through layers of menus, now you just type "chair" and BAM! you've got a bunch of chairs to choose from. The feature is so good that when it doesn't work it actually becomes a hard stop to the flow of the game. For example, one of my mischievous Sims needed a voodoo doll to advance. Turns out that I had to have him order it off the computer, but the only way I figured that out was because I went looking on the internet for an answer. The search bar is fantastic, but it can be confusing when items are missing and there's no clear way to obtain them.

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For players looking to tell a story with their Sims and share them with the world, it's easy to take screenshots (all screens in this review were taken by us) and videos with the press of a button. There's no social media integration or video editing platform, but the file formats are compatible with most editing software.

With dozens of aspirations, personality traits and skills, along with 13 careers, there's millions of possible combinations as a persona base for Sims to live their lives. And, although the Create-a-Sim feature isn't as robust as veterans of the series might like at this point, the amount of detail work possible on each Sim is still impressive. It's easier than ever to tweak a nose or add some extra weight to love.

Fulfilling the whims of your Sims and completing aspirations will earn them reward points, which can be spent on a variety of potions. These bonus baubles will subvert the need for food, make them energized for the gym or even turn back the clock on aging. This actually represents the most gamey mechanic in the entire experience of the Sims, which is still very much rooted in it being an interactive doll house.

One of the most challenging aspects of the game I found was earning money. It was not easy to get ahead financially and my Sims were nearing the end of their lives by the time I felt like I had even gotten my footing. Although I refused to cheat, the game can be altered to give you more cash (ctrl + shift + C "motherlode") and will apparently not penalize you.

I like The Sims 4, although I fully recognize that it's not nearly robust enough yet for series fans. If you're new to the franchise, it's a great place to start and explore the possibilities. The Sims 4 certainly feels like more of the same game we've known for over a decade. Hours will go by and you'll think absolutely nothing has occurred, but then somebody will ask you what happened in your game and you'll have a rich story to tell.

This review is based on an Origin download of The Sims 4, provided by Electronic Arts. Images: AOL/Alexander Sliwinski.

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