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five sims showing off their cool outfits Image: Maxis/Electronic Arts

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Fashion is the best part of The Sims 4’s High School Years expansion

Though the expansion launched with bugs, High School Years is still worth it

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Do I want to go back to high school? Absolutely not. But do I want to throw my Sims into a gauntlet of social hierarchy, education, and puberty? Sure! The Sims 4’s High School Years expansion adds a highly requested feature to the game: a high school for teen Sims to attend, in addition to all the other accouterments that come with it.

High School Years, which was released in late July, is centered primarily around teen Sims; most of the gameplay is relevant only to them. Set in Copperdale, the new city, teen Sims have one major lifestyle change — you can follow them to school now. Previously, when teen Sims went to school, they just went off into the abyss. High School Years comes with a pre-built high school, but it can be changed and rebuilt as you choose.

The experience for teen Sims is largely what you’d expect from high school. Sims go to classes, socialize around their lockers and at lunch time, and sometimes have to serve detention. There are after-school activities, like chess club and cheerleading, as well as new side hustles for teens to engage in, like video game streaming and selling clothes on a thrift app. If you, like me, aren’t a Sims 4 player who typically makes or plays with teens and families, I think the High School Years expansion may seem like an inconsequential novelty. But for players who are embedded in family life, High School Years fundamentally changes the day-to-day gameplay, and that’s huge. It’s one of those expansion packs that, for some players, will touch most families and game sessions, but for others, like me, it doesn’t feel as impactful as, say, Cottage Living, Cats & Dogs, or Seasons.

two sims in a colorful, purple bedroom Image: Maxis/Electronic Arts

All that said, I still think High School Years is an expansion that’s worth it for most players. Though I’m less interested in the dynamics of high school life, like getting my Sims to ask other Sims to prom or navigate socially awkward situations by the lockers, High School Years has a ton of extra content that I love. Namely, the Create-a-Sim additions and furniture options in the expansion pack are incredible — some of the best I’ve seen added with an expansion.

Though the clothes, hairstyles, and accessories are tailored for teen Sims, they work on adults, too. (Kids, on the other hand, don’t get very many additions, aside from a few new hairstyles. The teen/adult clothes don’t work on kids, but some hairstyles do.) The new clothes span a whole bunch of different styles — we’ve got a goth anime T-shirt, dark academia-inspired school wear, sweet preppy looks, and cool streetwear options. The clothing options expand to one of the new gameplay features, which is a collaboration with online thrift retailer Depop. Sims can buy and sell clothes through an in-game app called Trendi or via a thrift store/boba shop called ThiftTea. It makes sense for the fashion to be so good and varied, because this is a core part of the teen experience: trying things, experimenting, and finding your style.

This extends to the furniture and build options added in High School Years, too. The focus is, of course, on teens — which means a lot of the new options were designed specifically with teen bedrooms in mind. That makes sense; it’s one of the few spaces in a home where a teen can truly have ownership and express their personal style. It’s clear that The Sims 4 team had that in mind when creating the new collection. There are a bunch of new bed options, plus lots of decorations and little details, like clutter and LED lights, to spread around a Sim’s bedroom.

teen sims in formal wearing slow dancing at prom Image: Maxis/Electronic Arts

There are also a bunch of new features added to The Sims 4’s base game as a free update, regardless of whether the High School Years expansion has been purchased. These are some of the most exciting additions, even though they’re small details, because that’s often what matters most with The Sims 4. Body hair, sexual orientation, wants and fears, and curved walls add more depth to a game that’s already pretty dang deep. The wants and fears features have replaced “whims,” which were little goals that Sims had, related to traits and emotions. Meeting these whims meant racking up satisfaction points to be used in-game. Wants, in particular, work very similarly to whims, while fears are generated off things that happen in game, like rejection or fire. It’s a feature that makes the overall system feel more tailored to individual Sims — but if you’re not interested, it can be turned off entirely. I haven’t noticed a huge difference, especially, between wants and whims, but I do think it’s neat that fears are something that Sims can now experience and overcome.

The unfortunate part of it all is that The Sims 4’s new expansion and base game update launched with a bunch of bugs — some of them particularly problematic. One of the major bugs had Sims auto-aging rapidly, which led to some Sims prematurely dying. Likewise, the other major bug added some unintentional wants, like the desire to date family members, and a few other less icky bugs. These didn’t necessarily make the game unplayable for everybody, but EA did recommend that players stay away from save files that might be impacted negatively.

Electronics Arts has said an update toward the end of this week will be deployed to fix these bugs and others. It’s certainly not an ideal rollout for a highly anticipated expansion pack like High School Years, but once that fix rolls out, the expansion is well worth a look.

The Sims 4’s High School Years expansion was released July 28 on Mac, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed using a download code provided by Electronic Arts. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.