The Sims has never been what you would call sacred. Since its earliest days, the series has not shied from branded content, partnering with everyone from Katy Perry to Dr. Pepper to create stuff packs or redeemable items that can be used in the game. The results have always been mixed; while stuff packs from companies like IKEA and H&M were practical additions that happened to capitalize on accessible brands, others, like the Moschino pairing, have been less useful from a utility perspective. What does a magical adventure like The Sims 4 Star Wars: Journey to Batuu add to the dense lifestyles players have curated for their Sims? Does it flesh out their fantasy world? Or is it a trinket amid the series’ content legacy?
The expansion does its best to stick to a Star Wars-like script. In The Sims 4: Journey to Batuu, Sims can travel between three different districts representing the three major factions of the new Star Wars trilogy: Rebel Alliance, Scoundrels, and the First Order. Each faction has a leader who can assign missions, the completion of which increases your reputation with the group. Once key milestones are reached in your relationship, new interactions, missions, and possibilities open up, be it the ability to bribe a faction member or access restricted areas. Along the way, you can also participate in all sorts of Star Wars-themed novelties, from drinking intergalactic cocktails to documenting iconic ships and weaponry and collecting souvenirs like Ewok teddy bears and custom lightsabers to take back home. And if you play your Sabacc cards right, you can even meet some of the most famous, and infamous, characters of the series.
As a lifelong fan of Star Wars, I’m not immune to Journey to Batuu’s charms. Walking along the corridors of Black Spire feels a lot like visiting Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland, and there’s a joy in engaging in some of the surface aspects of the experience, like avoiding Stormtroopers while hacking a control panel. Meeting Kylo Ren or Rey, upgrading and playing with your pet BB unit, or taking the legendary Millennium Falcon for a spin: while the limitations of the game’s structure make the missions a bit repetitive, the rewards are titillating for those with cherished memories of the series. I’m a sucker for playing with my droid, and accessorizing my elaborate lightsaber collection has become a passion.
The problem is that for the most part, Sims content expansions bring new items and abilities into the game that can be mixed with all the other material, allowing you to custom create a lifestyle that fits your tastes. But in Journey to Batuu, there isn’t that same level of integration. The build items, for example, fit the Star Wars desert dwelling aesthetic, but you can’t build a home in Batuu. The decor items are similarly accurate but offer little functionality. And while you can take your lightsaber home for duels and battles, certain aspects of other expansions, like spellcasting from Realm of Magic, aren’t available with the Batuu locals. While these restrictions are predictable if you’re familiar with how LucasFilm manages their crossover materials, it’s still disappointing from a Sims perspective. With only three small areas to explore and a very limited set of possible activities, what characters and objects exist from the series feel like thin namedropping.
All this goes back to what I’ve long said about the design path for The Sims 4, in that the developers seem to be taking their cues more from the mobile game than The Sims 3. The size and scope of The Sims 4 are so diminished by comparison to its predecessor. When the game was originally announced, we were promised “better stories.” And true, there are choose-your-own-adventure style panels in certain sections of the game (which branch out if you have a droid or certain items in your inventory, like a thermal detonator) that give the players some level of narrative autonomy. But that narrative still feels slim. Past Sims expansions that centered on travel and exploration were more interactive. In The Sims 3: World Adventures, players visited dozens of tombs, caves, and pyramids, navigating floor puzzles and wall hazards in labyrinthian mazes to collect rare treasures. On the surface, there were new plants to pick, bugs and animals to find, dig sites to excavate, independent camping spots, and fishing holes. The environments themselves were vastly interactive. In Batuu, however, I spend most of my time in the bar, playing Sabacc, and hooking up. I have kissed nearly every Stormtrooper. Occasionally I travel between the Rebel and New Order districts to run errands, which consist mostly of talking to other characters and hacking into control panels, which takes little time or skill, and when I run out of vacation days, I go home. It’s a bit anticlimactic compared to the vast chaotic intrigue of the Star Wars universe.
To the expansion’s credit though, it delivers exactly as the name promises. It offers more of a quick vacation than an extended stay, with all the compulsive bed-hopping and kitschy cocktails that comes with it. The game’s interactiveness is too stunted to support a stronger narrative, but the expansion still gives the player what they want out of a Star Wars content pack: lightsaber duels and a BB droid to play with. While it doesn’t match the robustness of either series, it’s still worth the price of admission for those small thrills alone.
Holly Green is the editor-at-large of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.