You’d be forgiven for thinking that Maxis is a company on a green mission with the emphasis on conservationism and eco-friendly playing since the Laundry Day Stuff Pack in 2018. With Eco Lifestyle it takes this one step further; the latest expansion focuses on sustainability, recycling and reuse – the last of which The Sims 4 understands very well with its own history of reusing content. Ahem. Sorry, The Sims. Didn’t mean to get so catty with you.
Jokes aside, Eco Lifestyle is a light-hearted yet sincere take on implementing a meaningful sense of responsibility for your community by caring for, and therefore reducing, your carbon footprint. Of course, it wouldn’t be The Sims without the ability to cause a little bit of chaos, and there are certainly plenty of opportunities in Eco Lifestyle to do so, whether that’s turning your community into a group of amateur MMA fighters with a penchant for roughhousing, or pumping it so full of pollution that it descends into a ghastly eyesore full of smog and trash heaps. Sounds like bliss to me.
The unchanging worlds of The Sims 4 can often feel jarring and static without expansions like Seasons creating a visible passage of time. Eco Lifestyle’s changes aren’t as sweeping, but they’re certainly a welcome addition to help each world feel a bit more active.
Each neighbourhood now has an eco footprint, which displays its environmental status from green, to neutral, to industrial. Existing worlds can only be green or neutral, so you’ll see little visual change there, and it’s up to the new Evergreen Harbour to showcase the differences between the eco footprints. The three neighbourhoods in Evergreen Harbour are of vastly different appearance due to their ecological standing; Grim’s Quarry is a green area with a small housing suburb, Conifer Station is a neutral zone with an apartment complex (a new building type for The Sims 4), while Port Promise is an industrial sector.
Despite being all dour and smog-ridden given its ecological footprint, Port Promise is easily the most visually interesting neighborhood of the three, with housing options ranging from shipping containers to a bohemian commune and large community space. Maybe it’s all the menacing seagulls and trash scattered everywhere that made me feel right at home.
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With eco footprint mode turned on, nearly every decision you make in the game affects the environment around you, for better or worse. Your household habits will have the most influence, so if you’re the type of person who loves to fill your home with flashy tech and leave all the lights on, be prepared to see your neighbours coughing and sputtering through hazy fumes of pollution because of your actions. Growing produce and flowers, and making sustainable choices in building materials, can help with the eco footprint and even with fire resistance – something my Sim could’ve done with after she set herself on fire making flaming spaghetti (how apt).
With so much of The Sims 4 revolving around your actions and their impact upon your Sims, it’s nice to see Maxis implement gameplay that affects the world as well, but it can feel a little superficial. While buildings like the apartment complexes in Conifer Station can change appearance once the neighbourhood is green, spawning flowers and cute wooden decoration, there seems to be little in the way of detriment for turning a neighbourhood industrial and keeping it that way, as trash does not appear to build up as the neighbourhood state worsens.
One of the most peculiar mechanics in Eco Lifestyle is the new off-the-grid function. Some lots now start disconnected from power and water suppliers, so you’ll have to source your own. You can do this by collecting electricity and water on your own lot through solar panels, wind turbines, or dew collectors, or you can head out to the nearest fishing spot and fill your pockets with free spoils. If you manage to create a surplus of electricity and water, you can sell it back to The Man for a tidy profit.
To make changes to the community around you, Sims now need influence in order to vote and pass neighbourhood action plans. Influence can be gathered by being nice to your neighbourhoods, volunteering in the community, and achieving milestone life events. Points can then be spent each week to influence neighbourhoods, change community spaces into communal gardens, marketplaces or crafting spaces, and Sim behaviours.
Thematic action plans include initiatives to make neighbourhoods more green, produce clean energy, or promote self-sufficiency and reject consumerism, but where’s the fun in that? There’s nothing quite like sowing a bit of disorder in the community, so my personal favourites include forcing your neighbours to wear bags on their heads in a bid to reduce the surplus of paper bags floating around, solving neighbourly disputes with a literal fight club, and having your community constantly inebriated by keeping the jungle juice flowing.
Like all expansions, Eco Lifestyle also adds a new career, as well as traits and aspirations. The civil designer career focuses on improving the lives of Sims through green initiatives and clean tech, and gels nicely with the new eco innovator aspiration, which rewards milestones for green energy and community voting. The new traits also lean into the environmentally conscious ethos of the expansion; recycle disciples live and breathe for recycling, green friends get buffs from eco-friendly activities, maker rewards project-happy Sims who love to create, and freegan sims prefer to source goods from the dumpster and will get sad when spending frivolously.
The new Create-A-Sim items are great, with hairstyles like space buns and braids, and new piercings and glasses which really help to bring some variety to Sims’ faces. The clothing embraces the bohemian and home-made/upcycled theme, and there are a lot of quality options even if you don’t quite want to go full hippie. There’s also an absolute abomination, though, in the form of a denim skirt-and-jeans combo, which under no circumstances should ever be worn or even spoken about again. New Build and Buy items offer some nice variety, ranging from upcycled and obviously crafted furniture pieces to ‘wouldn’t be out of place in an Urban Outfitters’ hipster-style wall hangings and floral planters.
If buying things outright just isn’t your thing, don’t fret – Eco Lifestyle has got you covered. Dumpster diving can yield all sorts of rewards, including food, furniture, recyclable material, and even treasure. Or you can just just find some plain old trash, but even that’s got its uses. You can even nap in the dumpster if you wish, but I really wouldn’t advise it unless you have literally nowhere else to sleep, and even then the floor is a better option, ya dirty gremlin. Finally, if your Sims are especially filthy, both figuratively and literally, you can even WooHoo in the dumpster. Just don’t tell your dumpster children how they were conceived.
With almost all elements of the pack tying together well, Eco Lifestyle offers some of the most cohesive gameplay in a Sims expansion to date, and is a welcome addition to what is now a comprehensive repertoire in The Sims 4. It happily sits alongside expansions such as Seasons and Pets at offering the most immersive and long-lasting mechanics.
It’s especially notable given that previous Sims expansions have sometimes struggled to nail a similar sense of coherence. Evergreen Harbour is a distinguished world full of character, with the more elaborately designed residential areas in each neighbourhood creating a sense of community that is enhanced alongside the new mechanics. With the eco footprint mode affecting all worlds in The Sims 4, and not just Evergreen Harbour, the elements of Eco Lifestyle have real longevity and replayability.
While previous Sims expansion packs have sometimes struggled to nail a sense of coherence, Eco Lifestyle bucks the trend. Tying together themes of sustainability, environmentalism, and community, the expansion offers some of the most immersive gameplay to date. With the eco footprint mode affecting all worlds in The Sims 4, and not just Evergreen Harbour, most Sims players will find real longevity and replayability in Eco Lifestyle’s gameplay.