Over the years, the developers of The Sims have developed a fine eye for trends. From Star Wars: Journey to Batuu, the Harry Potter-esque Realms of Magic, or the ever-timely Eco Lifestyle, the series has always displayed a talent for reflecting current topics in pop culture and modern life. The latest is Cottage Living, an expansion that rides the country aesthetic-themed cottagecore movement that has taken over Instagram and Pinterest the past several months. In this new release, Sims can now live the simple life, raising livestock, growing oversized crops, taking up cross-stitch, and participating in local fairs. For the farm-minded Sims players, it is the ideal supplement to the agricultural approach to the game, opening up new avenues of self-sustainability.
I’ve always complained that The Sims 4 offers a lot less content than The Sims 3, but the ecosystem of post-release content in the past few years has won me over. The interplay of the expansions and content packs is finally starting to approach the complexity that personified the second and third games. And Cottage Living makes that process feel complete. There’s now a lot to keep you busy if you’re a living-off-the-land kind of player.
The biggest new feature expands on what was only lightly introduced in The Sims 3: raising livestock. Players can now build a henhouse or barn and purchase chickens, llamas, or cows, providing a steady supply of eggs, wool, and milk that change color based on what treats they are fed. The expansion also adds a new kind of garden plot that, along with special fertilizers, lets you grow giant crops like pumpkins and watermelons. Between that and the weekly Finchwick Fair in Henford-on-Bagley’s, where your Sims can enter their produce, animals, or even a pie into local competitions, your Sim will either need to quit their day job or grow their family. Even in a virtual world, there are not enough hours in the day.
The effort pays off in how it completes the experience. Cottage Living is a welcome change of pace in a game that feels suburban more often than not. It also slows down the game’s pace. No longer do six to eight hours speed by while your Sim is at another lot. Instead, they spend their time befriending the cows or telling bad jokes to the aubergines. And if your Sim is not content to be a nature whisperer at home, they can take it on the road, befriending rabbits, birds, and foxes at the local park. Foxes (who will sneak around the henhouse and steal eggs) can be reasoned with. Rabbits will assist your garden by eating weeds. Birds, which live in old stumps in the park, will bring you small gifts. It’s basically the Disney princess lifestyle.
Surprisingly, as much as Cottage Living is great as a supplement to other expansions, it might not hold up as a stand-alone. While all the new animal-focused features are time-consuming, others, without the support of additional content packs, feel underdeveloped or thin. The cross-stitching activity tops out at level 5. The new ability to can fruits and vegetables, while lucrative, doesn’t come into play during the fair competitions. For all their thematic premise, The Sims 4 expansions sometimes feel like cardboard set pieces.
That said, you know a Sims expansion is good when it inspires you to start over from scratch. I’m looking forward to the next several dozen hours with Cottage Living, tedious or not. My Sim gets to make cows produce strawberry milk and llamas with rainbow wool, and hugs chickens for the better part of her day. She’s living the dream. And while I’d like to see the expansions of The Sims 4 support certain features beyond their purpose as a thematic novelty, I adore how this expansion fits in with the greater farming and gardening playstyle, which has such a long and celebrated history within the series. Maybe you can’t go home again, as they say. But Cottage Living feels like home all the same.
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.