The Sims 4 expansion packs can be hit or miss - either the content isn't all that exciting (Get to Work) or doesn't fit well into everyday gameplay (Get Together), or the new additions can radically alter the way the world feels (Seasons) and drastically impact gameplay (Pets). On the expansion pack scale, Eco Lifestyle falls closer to the latter. It's a lively, expansive addition to the base game that has a demonstrable effect on all of the neighborhoods, not just Evergreen Harbor, the latest Eco Lifestyle 'hood.
With Eco Lifestyle, every Sims 4 neighborhood from Glimmerbrook to San Myshuno can have an eco-footprint directly affected by your gameplay. If you've built yourself a McMansion in Del Sol Valley with a home theater and DJ booth for your fledgling house music career, you'll be sucking up energy and yucking up the environment faster than your Sim can say "dag dag". Even if you decide to live off-the-grid and use alternative fuel sources to help nudge that eco-footprint closer to green, just like in the real world, the green living ain't easy.
You could say that Eco Lifestyle is the most political expansion pack in The Sims 4 (and I did, in my preview). Sure, the developers have made it clear that they're not forcing you to play the environmentally woke way, but it's hard not to wince as your Sim routinely coughs in the smoggy environment of the more industrialized neighborhoods. The green life isn't a simple one, but it's certainly fulfilling.
Septums and gauges and shaved heads, oh my
There is certainly a heavy dose of cliché in the new customization options that come with Eco Lifestyle, but I'm not even remotely mad at it. It makes perfect sense that an expansion pack that brings with it candle making, kombucha brewing, bug farming, and community gardens would allow you to adorn your Sims with giant gauges, partially shaved heads, and (finally) a septum piercing. These hipsters want to save the environment, and if we want to do so looking like a Portlandia extra, then god dangit it's our prerogative.
Jokes aside, it's great to see a nice new variety of hairstyles, from space buns with bangs to shaved undercuts to a messy up-do held together by chopsticks (there are far more new hairstyles for female Sims than men - but the boys do get a lovely new beard). There's a new paper bag head accessory (don't ask), and as I mentioned before, a ton of new piercing options. The accessories and hairstyles are all fantastic, and add a lovely little edge to Create-A-Sim.
Eco Lifestyle also adds a ton of new "upcycled" clothing options, and if I'm being frank, most of them are hideous. The concept is solid - since there are so many opportunities to dumpster dive for goodies, recycle unused items, and craft your own homewares and artisanal beverages, the clothing should give off DIY vibes as well. But an asymmetrical denim skirt over denim capris? That's just offensive to the eco-conscious community.
Again, the concept is solid, which is why there's a ton of mixed denim patched together to make vests or shorts, layered pieces of clothing that give off a "found fashion" vibe, and plenty of loose-fitting, all-purpose pants. There's even a pair of boots that look exactly like Merrells (those I'm okay with). But the execution is… questionable, at best. If you're looking for some cute clothing options in the new expansion pack, there is a lovely little tie-crop sweater and an adorable pair of mixed-denim shorts. But not much else.
Micromanage your way to a greener life
There's a lot of micromanaging in The Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle, and for someone with as much excess anxiety as me, it's a welcome time suck. But I'm used to burying several hours into a play sesh and getting some demonstrable results during playtime, and Eco Lifestyle makes you work twice as hard for half the pay-off.
Eco Lifestyle adds new off-the-grid lots (like the shipping container lot in Port Promise) so you'll need to add alternative energy sources like wind turbines, solar panels, and dew collectors if you want to so much as flush your poop. I placed two expensive wind turbines on the roof of the shipping containers as soon as I dropped into the game (as opposed to the dew collector and solar panel I used in the preview) and it was a grievous error that forced me to work even harder to satisfy my Sim.
I'd send her to dumpster dive for some recyclable material and naturally, she'd come back filthy and make a quick meal to satiate the hunger such rigorous physical activity causes. This would use up all the available lot power, so she could never shower for longer than a few moments, which barely moved her hygiene meter. Because of this power imbalance, there was a perpetual green funk around her, and her mood was always shit because she smelt as such.
I thought I would walk into Eco Lifestyle with all the wisdom of the six hours of garbage picking and gardening I did during the preview in the back pocket of my patch-covered jorts and start making bank off my beautiful crops - but when I load the game up it's winter. Shit.
The green grind
The shipping container lot has one vertical garden on its rooftop. The last time I played I swiftly added a few more garden plots, which allowed me to grow my own food for consumption and money-making. But now, thanks to the Seasons expansion pack, my plants won't grow in the outdoor garden in the dead of winter, so I have to swiftly sell what little furniture is in this sparsely-decorated lot in order to build a makeshift greenhouse on the second story.
I whittle my Sim's funds down to the teens, plant one basil seed and one grape seed in the vertical garden, and send her off to advocate for neighborhood action plans (I'm pushing for green gardening). After a few Sim days of eating garden salads and washing her hands to inch her hygiene meter up, I peek upstairs to check my yield. The grapes haven't grown, because they're seasonal plants and I'm an idiot, but by the green gods, my basil plant is looking lively! "Yes, I'm going to sell this and make enough money for another power source," I say before selling two days of growth for 10 Simoleons. Double shit.
Even convincing the neighbors to vote to enact Neighborhood Action Plans or overturn others is difficult, as you've gotta spend so much time schmoozing the locals before you can sway their vote. Hell, I wooed, married, and got impregnated by the new eco-activist Sim, Knox Greenberg, before I could even successfully overturn the Free Love plan that had everyone running around nakey.
Eco Lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle, but that's one of the best aspects of The Sims 4's gameplay. You have to earn your stripes, put in some serious work, and balance a lot of things at once in order to make a demonstrable change in this world. Funnily enough, that's not very different from IRL.