Sims 4 High School Years expansion pack review - hormones, homework, and horsing around

A Sim strutting down High School hallways

A Sim strutting down High School hallways

School may be out for the summer, but class is still in session in EA’s latest Sims 4 expansion pack. Retailing for £34.99, High School Years adds to every aspect of the game, bringing new events, clothing, families, and a new world. But is it worth such a high price?

The pack feels modern and adds a welcome breath of fresh content as we’ve never actually seen inside a Sims school before, let alone been able to control and follow younger Sims during their day-to-day lives. Careers that are currently popular today are taken into account, and more than ever before, teens are given accurate activities and feelings.

Now to get into the nitty-gritty of High School Years and what it contains, from the clothing and furniture to gameplay and new mechanics.

Different styles of outfit in The Sims 4 High School Years
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The Edge Of Sim-Teen

Let’s be honest, everyone’s favourite part of a Sims expansion is the Sim-centric customisation. In this respect, High School Years does not disappoint. High school is a time of experimenting and dressing how you want to, and so there are different styles to mix and match, with a few statement pieces thrown in - the fashion included in the pack is, obviously, very youthful.

The clothing features a lot of patterns and textures, from fishnet to mesh to studded denim and beyond. Layering is a big theme with the clothes too, and a lot of the accessories and trims are reminiscent of the late 90s and early 2000s fashion - be that a good thing or a bad thing. There’s a clothing collab with Depop, too, though these pieces only have one swatch as they were created with specific designers.

High School Years adds more than just clothing. There’s a new ‘Teen’ Aspiration, that can dictate how your young Sim progresses and what they want from life. This can be coupled with three new traits; socially awkward, party animal, and over-achiever. Each of these will give your teens constant moodlets according to what they’re doing. The other big addition is body hair, and the fact it grows and requires upkeep. It can be turned off, but if not, Sims will have the option to shave it off, or to a required length on arms, legs, and faces. The body hair is actually a base-game update, but the growth is specific to High School Years, weirdly.

Different swatches in The Sims 4 High School Years
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I Was A Teenage Sim

High School Years’ main focus is definitely its aesthetics, and that has worked out great for build and buy mode as well as create-a-Sim. There’s everything you could possibly need to completely deck out your teenager’s rooms in their own style.

The pack brings ten new beds, with five designs available in single and double options. These are unfortunately not very comfortable, so can give Sims negative moodlets, but they at least look good. On top of sleeping apparatus, there are heaps of new clutter items like books and clothes to make rooms look properly lived in. The winner of the buy mode options is the wall art options - most change shape and size with each swatch, not just the colour! You can get a periodic table, gothic designs, video game posters, or anime-inspired designs. For me, this was the highlight as some wall decorations in previous packs feel a little flat.

The vast majority of the swatches for the new furniture errs on the more pastel, with a lot of pinks, floral, and delicate patterns. In terms of different or darker decor, there are maybe two swatches that would fit any sporty, rocker, or even geeky room themes. This pertains to the school’s items too - the swatches available don’t reflect what comes to mind when I think school, and there aren’t many options. Does any school in real life have gold lockers and bright green masonry?

Something that needs mentioning is the eagerly awaited ‘sneak-out’ window. We see it in the trailer with Molly Prescott sneaking out of her bedroom at night, but the window isn’t on her house in the game. It isn’t on any of the new houses, nor can you fit it on them and have it work without doing some serious renovation. It was actually a challenge to find where the window could work. And then there’s the trellis. The ladder option, despite looking the same, is not the item that works with it. You need the buy mode trellis that comes in different sizes. I could not get this to work, no matter the building shape. You also need to wait for your Sim to get an invite to hang out to actually use it, and if you’re under a curfew, you can’t use it anyway. The one time I did try and get someone to sneak out, my Sim just walked out of the front door, so take that how you will.

The Sims 4 High School Years building - Copperdale High
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The Sim Next Door

Like other expansion packs, High School Years adds a new world to Sims 4. The sleepy, post-industrial town of Copperdale is home to the high school, new shops, and new families that we saw in the trailer.

There are 11 new lots in Copperdale: one empty plot, two vacant houses, three occupied lots, a library, park, ThrifTea, and of course the high school and auditorium. ThrifTea, a bubble tea and thrift store combo, is a cool place for younger Sims to come to, and hang out without their parents looming over them. The cosy vibes are on point. You can only build the two together though, as the lot category is specifically a ‘thrift store and bubble tea’ area.

The school and auditorium are locked to their specific lots, though they can be rebuilt and modified. This does make sense as the school and auditorium lots are right next to a sports field with bleachers and stands (which you can’t sit on, sadly), so wouldn’t work in any other location. They're also locked to Copperdale, meaning you can only have one school per save file.

As well as the contained lots, there is Plumbite Pier, a funfair by the sea with social amenities. The rides are rabbit holes, and there are a lot of buildings that are just for show. Still, the area is a unique addition from what we’ve seen in other worlds and can serve as a post-Prom hangout spot for our darling teens.

A deceased teacher in The Sims 4 High School Years
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High School Never Ends

And now, the main event. Or, what should be the main event if it wasn’t overshadowed by almost everything else: the school day. In High School Years, you can choose to accompany your teens at school. You begin the day with some free time, then head to your first class. There’s a lunch break, a second class, and then any after-school activities you may have - including detention.

You don’t get to choose which classes or subjects you take, and there is sadly no interaction with lessons. You rock up, sit down, and listen for a while. Woe betide you if you lag behind: you can very easily get caught ‘out of lesson’. Three of these incursions and you’re expelled. The kicker is, the school that comes with the game is huge. Like, absurdly big, and empty. It takes way too much in-game time to walk around, which leads to more warnings and detentions. My unsolicited advice for playing this pack is to rebuild and restructure the school as soon as possible so that it is easier to use, focusing on the cafeteria, lest your Sims do what mine did and congregate around the lunch lady dropping their food every two minutes.

Cafeteria kerfuffle in High School Years
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If you chose an over-achiever trait, school is even harder. These Sims will become tense at the slightest inconvenience, which can hinder your performance and actively remove some tasks you give them due to the bad mood. My over-achiever Sim wanted to take an exam. She had it lined up. But it disappeared due to her tense mood, and she went off to go and study in another room, thus failing the exam AND getting an out-of-class warning. Some other players have reported that it is easier to let Sims get on with it, and not control them during the day, and I have to agree.

There is fun to be had, though. Friendships are made during lunch, and Sims can break up the day by playing pranks on the boards, lockers, and PA systems. By the way, if your Sim is particularly mischievous, do be careful. There are two new deaths in the High School Years pack, and both are specifically linked to the pranks you can pull. I’ll let you find them out for yourself…

Inside ThrifTea
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School’s Out For An Evening

Once that end-of-day bell rings at 3 PM, the world is your oyster. Or not, if you get detention. There are four after-school activities you can join or two new side-hustle careers. Or you could forge your way as a Trendi clothing reseller to make some cash on the side. The streamer and influencer careers have hours that take place outside of school time, allowing Sims to do both. You can’t have a career and join a club, though - it’s one or the other despite no overlapping times.

The activities on offer are chess club, computer club, football, or cheer. These take place from 3.30-5.30 PM on various weekdays, but detention or exam prep sessions can cut into them and affect your performance. Joining a club will raise Sims’ skills, and get them some extra friends.

If your Sim prefers the less stressful life, then they can hang out at ThrifTea, or spend their evenings scrolling Social Bunny, the new social media app that comes with the expansion. It allows Sims to post statuses, sometimes aimed at one another, and you can build a separate relationship with others on it. Like real social media, it is addictive: I found myself caring more about the Social Bunny responses than the follower count for my side hustle.

Sims going to prom in High School Years
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Dance The Night Away

Now, I’m not from the US, so I don’t have a fixation with prom - but I get that it is a pivotal event in any American teen’s school career. Sims takes this to the extreme, as there is a prom every Saturday night in summer. These are skippable, and I get that there are so many to prevent players from missing it, but it still feels a little much.

The event itself is a good time. You head to the auditorium dressed to the nines with your date (if you have one) and can go and boogie down with your cohorts. Grab a drink, grab some food, and goof around in the photo booth. Your Sims can vote for the Prom Royalty and the Jester, which get announced almost halfway through the event. That’s kind of the only big thing involved - other than that, you can get invited to an after-party at Plumbite Pier, or just head home to sleep off the effects of the punch.

A Sim graduating in High School Years
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A New Beginning

Another pivotal event for us and our Sims is the high school graduation ceremony. Sims will be able to graduate when they age up to young adults and will have the ceremony pencilled in for the next Sunday night. This can get covered on the calendar if something else is going on, though.

The ceremony is at the auditorium, and to attend, you need to click ‘Go to Event’ on the calendar. This is odd given that every other outing in High School Years has an automatic pop-up. Once there, you spawn outside the auditorium and can hang around for a while before the speech starts. Only when you walk inside will your Sim change into their cap and gown. The graduation itself isn’t a goal-led event, you’re just prompted with notifications to sit down, and then your Sim will automatically go and get their diploma when their name is called. There are no tasks given to complete, and after you walk off stage… you’re done. There’s minimal fanfare and no options for a party. It felt a bit too realistic.

oh dear
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10 Things I Hate About Sims

This segues well into my next topic: issues and drawbacks within the expansion pack. Any big update to a game is sure to end up with glitches and bugs, but High School Years seems to have quite a few. Granted, some are caused by the base game update, so I’ve omitted anything involving curved walls and incest - research these at your own peril.

As far as the new mechanics go, it feels like aesthetics come first, and actual gameplay comes second. There’s no real downside or discipline to dropping out or getting bad grades other than a bad mood for your Sim. Likewise, there are no positives that come from graduating - sure, Sims are pleased, but there’s no party or event. The fact that after-school activities and the rides at the fairground are rabbit holes doesn’t help this feeling, either.

My game featured some spectacular issues while playing the pack, from Sims dancing with nothing (as evidenced above), to two layers of music playing during live mode, and strange textures on some furniture items. Social Bunny froze my game once or twice, and my school day was ruined when a teacher died and students couldn’t continue and got detention through no fault of their own.

Despite what may seem like an overwhelming amount of issues, this pack is good. The new experiences and day-to-day life that teen Sims get drastically improve their existence in the game. The cosmetic items, careers, and communal lots benefit every age of Sim and can be used across a lot of different builds and family types.

High School Years adds features I'm surprised weren't standard to Sims 4, such as body hair growth and social-centric traits. This pack is a must for anyone who is a fan of gameplay reminiscent of real life, and those who prefer families and Sims of all ages. However, for a title so established as The Sims, packs should be perfect before they are released, and High School Years is another example of that sadly not being the case.

The Sims 4: High School Years Expansion Pack
The hefty price tag and two-dimensional gameplay may keep some away, but the pack goes a long way for Sims 4 players that want every kind of world, career, and experience - and the extra aesthetics in High School Years.
PlayStation 4
6 out of 10
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