If you told me today I had to go back to high school, I might have a minor breakdown, but school in The Sims 4 High School Years expansion actually seems like a pretty good way to spend four years in the life game. Game director George Pigula and lead designer Jessica Croft said during a press preview that the team spent a great deal of time and effort on creating as authentic a teenage and high school experience as they could, drawing on classic CW and Disney high school movies for inspiration alongside grittier, more serious ones such as Euphoria in the process. If what we saw during the preview is anything to go by, it looks like they might have even surpassed themselves. From the highs of getting good grades to the lows of a messy breakup, high school in The Sims 4 is a place you probably won’t want to leave once graduation rolls around – assuming you aren’t kicked out first.
The High School Years is shaping up to be one of The Sims 4’s more expansive expansions, with several robust new systems and ways to help develop your Sim. The high school experience of actually being studious (or not) is a significant part of the expansion, as you’d expect. You go to class, study for exams, hang out in the cafeteria at lunchtime, and try to find clubs that match your Sims’ interests to maybe make some new friends and further your aspirations.
High School Years introduces a new set of teenage and school-related aspirations, such as the Drama Llama (self-explanatory) and Fast and Free (no rules, no cares). Like the childhood aspirations, your Sim needs to complete these while they’re still a teeanger, and they may help influence their growth later in life, like in college if you have the university pack.
Also new is a revamped fear system. Maxis will add it to the base game in a free update, while the High School Years gets a high school-specific set of fears as well. Your Sims may develop these hangups depending on their experiences, fears such as a dread of failure or, if your Sim sees a fire at an early point in their life, a fear of fire. They can overcome these with effort, and it’s worth putting in that effort. Left alone, fears could end up holding your Sim back from their dream job or relationship.
There’s an arts club, the football and cheerleading teams, chess, computer lab, and more to help your Sim achieve their goals and build new skills, while the more mischievous ones can spend their time picking fights, starting rivalries, playing pranks, sneaking out of the house at night, and winding up in detention.
If you dismantle the school and leave an open-air classroom for detention – since the entire school is customizable, as long as class isn’t in session – it might not be so bad, though.
Along with the heavy emphasis on customization, Croft and Pigula said one guiding principle while developing the High School Years was creating a more nuanced relationship system. The new suite of sexual orientation options was born from that, but it also means your actions have greater consequences in general. Pranking your friends might be an amusing way to spend the afternoon, but they’ll start losing trust in you and may eventually move on if you keep it up.
On the more positive side of the relationship spectrum is the new crush option, which lets your Sim entertain dreams of the ideal relationship and maybe even pursue it, if they play their cards right.
There’s more ways to mend broken relationships and start new ones than just hanging out at school. Practically anywhere on the Copperdale map is a potential hangout spot, even if you just plunk a couch down by the river. The main attraction is Plumbite Pier, though, the ideal place to spend a Saturday night or Wednesday afternoon if you skip class, with a range of activities from rides and a photobooth to a haunted house. Each activity on the pier has new, unique Woohoo and death animations as well, because who doesn’t want to make Woohoo in a photobooth before dying on the Ferris Wheel.
At the end of all the secret crushes, messy breakups, and never-to-be-forgotten weekend parties is the prom and graduation. Prom is fully customizable, from the outfit you choose to who you dance with, or whether you attend at all. Graduation is the capstone event, and one that may not even happen if you didn’t apply yourself and do your homework. It has the effect you’d expect on your college prospects, but it’s not the end if you fail school or get expelled. Your Sim can earn an online degree instead, or if they have a skill that’s level five or higher, they can potentially receive university offers anyway.
The High School Years expansion is absolutely packed with big changes and small tweaks that seem like they’ll make it the most interesting and complex expansion yet – and even this isn’t everything there is on offer. There’s an entirely separate set of self-expression activities and changes that let you tailor almost every aspect of your Sim’s teenage years.
If you’re after more ways to tailor your Sims experience, there’s plenty of Sims 4 mods to change almost every aspect of the game. You can also bend its rules to your will with an impressive variety of cheats, including easy ways to get money and defy death.