The Latest Sims 4 Expansion Is Fascinating, But Not Because Of Mermaids

There are a lot of things I like about Island Living, today’s new Sims 4 expansion. Almost none of them are the new mechanics that come with the pack.

Mermaids, the new “occult” type of Sim that comes with Island Living, are ho-hum. Mermaids have their hygiene need replaced with “hydration,” but there’s not a huge difference in gameplay, as there is with vampires, who have several levels of vampiric powers to learn. Your hydration need can be filled by swimming in the ocean, which also increases the level of fun your Sim is having. But it can also be filled by drinking a glass of water, or even just washing your hands. Sure, it’s cool to befriend a dolphin, but after a day of chatting, my Sim Misty Rains was bffs with them. I was hoping the dolphin was gonna make me work, even a little.

So, Mermaids are lackluster. What about Sulani, the new tropical world that comes with Island Living? Although it’s beautiful, there’s not a lot to it. Your Sims can visit a bar on one of the islands, as well as two beaches. While the beaches are gorgeous, they’re also kind of a one-note activity. You can suntan, you can swim, you can grab some of the new Hawaiian inspired food items from a vendor, and then basically you can go home.

What makes Island Living feel more worth it is the culture of the people native to Sulani, and especially the build-and-buy items that come with the pack.

Sims with the Child of the Island trait are designated as natives of Sulani, and they have particular needs. They have to keep in touch with their traditions, or else they believe that bad luck will befall them. Given that The Sims 4 is a video game, bad luck might actually befall them, though Misty has been very respectful of her elders so far. Some of the ways you can keep in touch with your culture is by eating the island’s cultural foods, like poke or pit barbecue. Island Living also comes with a new kind of drink called kava. Kava isn’t quite alcohol, but it does have a relaxing effect. Whenever I try to earn a gold rating on a kava party in The Sims 4, my Sim ends up falling asleep before it’s over.

It’s a clever way to gamify a particular aspect of a marginalized person’s experience. Whenever Misty had some pit barbecue, she gained a mood buff for eating an island recipe. If she made kava, she gained an additional buff for participating in an island custom. For some marginalized people, these tangible reminders of our heritages can help ground us in our lives, and in history. I especially liked that sometimes Sims from Sulani would come over with extra food to share. These impromptu gatherings reminded me of road trips to my uncle Anand’s house, where they never stopped feeding me, or going to Thanksgiving in Alabama, where they also never stopped feeding me.

I also have to give a shout out to the new curly hairs that come with this pack. Finally, The Sims 4 has more than a handful of curly hairstyles that actually look like tightly curled hair.

While the Sulani people are touching and thoughtful additions to The Sims 4, and that hair really is fabulous, really, I just wanna talk about the house I built.

Look at that house. Look at the corrugated metal roof! Look at those new fences and windows!

Look at that couch! Look at that tiki torch! Look at the fucking slatted door! These are all new items to The Sims 4, not variations of items already in the game. The windows are especially impressive to me. The level of detail, down to the groove in the wood where the window would slide shut, makes the house I built feel like someone actually lives in it.

The empty lots of land that you can build on in Sulani can also go over the water, which works well with the new stilted foundation that came with a free update coinciding with the release of Island Living.

Despite thinking to myself that there’s not much to do in Sulani, or that Mermaids weren’t all that special, I have been itching to get back to Island Living all day. Maybe it’s because I’ve been visiting Los Angeles during an unusually chilly week. Maybe it’s because the Sims that live in Sulani add so much to my gameplay. Or maybe, it’s just because I want to build cute little beach shacks until I die.