We got our hands on the latest Sims 4 expansion to see just what EA has been up to lately. The good news about the new Sims 4 Horse Ranch expansion pack is that, unlike its predecessor pack Growing Together, it’s currently slightly less buggy. The bad news is that, unlike its predecessor, Horse Ranch is a mixed bag, tending to focus more on style rather than substance.
The Sims 4 Horse Ranch, as the name suggests, focuses largely on horses and ranches. Create A Sim receives a generous new supply of customisation items to bedeck your Sims with and also introduces two new traits, Rancher and Horse Lover, along with two new aspirations, Champion Rider and Expert Nectar Maker. However, the peak of the new pack is found in the horses.
Horse customisation is easy and in-depth. You can choose from plenty of pre-made horse breeds or you can go off the deep end and design horses that wouldn’t look out of place in My Little Pony. It’s also nice and easy to turn your boring old horse into a nice sparkly unicorn by simply heading into Create A Sim and popping a magical horn on its head.
Those who enjoy playing God with Sim genetics will be disappointed by the horse breeding options in Sims 4 Horse Ranch. Bred foals are simply a physical copy of one parent with the other parent’s coat design slapped on top and, despite my repeated and desperate efforts to mate two unicorns together to create a small unicorn army, none of their many offspring were designated the rank of unicorn.
In-game, horses act similar to cats and dogs (who were introduced in the aptly named Sims 4 Cats & Dogs pack), wherein they’ll take up a space in your Sim household but cannot be controlled directly by the player. You can hover over their in-game portraits to get a quick overview of how they’re faring but, for the most part, the horses will do whatever behooves them. All your Sim has to do is remember to feed, brush, and talk to them. Or you can simply hire a ranch hand to do all that stuff for them.
While the pack introduces the riding skill for Sims, horses also have their own set of skills: agility, endurance, jumping, and temperament. You level up these skills by interacting with your horse, whether it be telling them equine-based jokes or taking them for a ride out on the range, and their personality traits can either help or hinder the progress of certain skills. They’re certainly more well-rounded than the animals introduced in the Cottage Living expansion pack, with far more interactions available, and smoother, more realistic animations.
Strangely enough, there are neither wild horses nor unicorns in the game world. While it makes sense in terms of the game’s modus operandi (Sims 4 is intentionally designed to be playable on even the most brick-like of laptops and having wild horses running around would sap a good part of processing power) it does make the game feel a little stifled. Horse competitions also seem to have random outcomes and don’t require much - if any - input from the player, making it feel, once again, like the devs simply skipped over what could have been a much more in-depth and interactive feature.
Despite the pack’s name, horses aren’t the only new animal introduced in the pack. Sims can also now purchase mini goats and mini sheep which act similar to the farm animals introduced in Cottage Living. These cuddly critters come in various varieties and will provide milk and specialised colours of wool to those who also own Cottage Living. For those who don’t own the pack or who would prefer to do so, milking and shearing these adorable animals only results in gaining Simoleons.
In non-animal news, nectar-making makes its return to the game. While nectar making was last seen in Sims 3: World Adventures, its origin dates all the way back to The Sims: Makin’ Magic expansion, and it’s a nice nostalgia kick for those who have been playing since the start. Making nectar also has connections to other Sims 4 packs, with vampires, spellcasters, and werewolves all being able to make a special kind of nectar just for them.
The aforementioned ranch hands are also a new addition to the game, found under Services in a Sim’s phone. These NPCs act similarly to the in-game butlers but specialise in keeping your Sim’s ranch running smoothly, focusing on the goat kids rather than the Sim kids. Ranch hands can care for animals, garden, and repair things. Like most service NPCs, ranch hands can also quit if treated too badly, or can even be romanced and added into your Sim’s family.
The pack also adds plenty of items to Build Mode and, in news that will delight those who play Sims for the designing and decorating aspect; the wood swatches on new furniture items mostly match! There’s also a small focus on outdoor camping gear, with a new sleeping bag and a matching one for toddlers, which is a nice addition for those who don’t own the Sims 4 Little Campers kit. There’s also a new Lot Challenge called Wild Prairie Grass, which seems to cause the aforementioned grass to grow randomly on the lot. Horses can eat this grass instead of eating hay, so it really doesn’t seem like too much of a challenge unless you’re someone who prefers their lots tidy.
Overall, the Sims 4 Horse Ranch expansion pack feels like a good addition to the series - but one that could have been implemented differently. Horses could have come with the Cats & Dogs expansion (especially seeing as Sims 3 Pets did this exact thing) or even with the Cottage Living expansion, and the mini goats and sheep are, in essence, just smaller versions of the cows and llamas from Cottage Living, and could have been easily introduced back then.
While the new neighbourhood is a nice addition, the offerings in Build Mode are great for designers, and you could easily lose hours customising your horses, the actual gameplay itself doesn't extend all that far beyond befriending your horses, and it feels a little bit shallow for the price tag of an expansion pack.
Overall, while Horse Ranch packs some great additions, it probably would have been a better move on EA’s part to make it a game pack rather than a full-blown expansion. Still, it’s a great addition to the series.