The best Sims expansion packs

The Sims turns 18 on February 4th, and to celebrate all those years of WooHoo, of trapping families in elaborate mazes until they starve to death, and of cruelly removing the steps from swimming pools while a nasty aunt goes for a paddle, I thought I’d look back over the many, many Sims expansions. Which are the best? Which filled in the biggest gaps in the lives of our sims?

It wasn't easy to narrow down—there are 30 expansions across the main series—but I've picked what I consider the two best expansions from each game. I've listed them in chronological order, so if you're looking for our most recommended Sims 4 expansions, scroll down to the bottom. Here they are:

The Sims: Makin' Magic

In Makin’ Magic you jumped through a hole in the ground to get to a town where you could buy a dragon, return home, and watch your garden gnomes water your plants for you. The Sims base game had a tinge of fantasy, but this expansion slapped you around the face with the supernatural, handing you a wand and asking you to do your worst.

It paved the way for more freaky goings-on in future games, too. We wouldn’t have vampires in Sims 4 or werewolves in Sims 3 without Makin’ Magic first. Maxis was brave to rip up the rule book, and it paid off.

The Sims: Hot Date

Before Hot Date, your Sims would go to their jobs or off to school, leaving you stuck at home with your nose pressed against the glass, wondering about the world that lay beyond your neighbourhood. Hot Date satisfied that curiosity with a Downtown region that was built for dates, with new ways to flirt and separate meters for both daily and long-term relationships. 

If it all worked out well in the restaurant (and new NPC Agnes Crumplebottom didn’t spoil your date with her calls of ‘Get a room!’), then you could invite your companion for a night cap, sink into the Niagara Love Tub and WooHoo the night away.

The Sims 2: Seasons

Seasons added some much-needed life to The Sims' drab weather system, and that made neighbourhoods feel more alive. In winter, you could go out and chuck snowballs around, while in autumn you’d see kids jumping in leaf piles. Your Sims could check the paper for the forecast, and they had to dress appropriately for the temperature, or risk catching a cold. Those small touches made the game feel much more varied. 

Arguably, Seasons was bettered by The Sims 3 expansion of the same name, which added a hail of activities for every climate. But this expansion laid the initial groundwork, and did a solid job.

The Sims 2: University

This almost felt like its own game. It added an entirely new age group to The Sims family, young adults, and shipped them off to college. I know that for some players, sleeping in dormitories, pulling pranks in a fraternity house, streaking across campus and choosing a major didn’t appeal, but I found it to be a perfect change of pace from the base game. It was a chance to go wild without thinking of the consequences.

It showed that Maxis was willing to add some nuance to the somewhat awkward aging system in the game, too, and set up other great expansions down the line, like The Sims 3: Generations, which we’ll come on to soon.

The Sims 3: Ambitions

Having a job in previous The Sims games was just something you did for money. The Sims 2: Open for Business started to change that by letting players become at-home entrepreneurs, but it was Ambitions that really made employment a big part of your sims’ lives. 

For the first time, you could actually follow them to work, physically putting out flames as a firefighter, rummaging through mail as a private investigator or designing buildings as an architect. You could now spend all day with your favourite sim, and get to know them even better. Read Dan’s glowing review here.

The Sims 3: Generations

Perhaps not as beefy as other expansions, but it gave a real depth to family life. The highlights were the age-specific actions that let you sculpt your sims’ character from an early age. They could speak to an imaginary friend and dress up as a dinosaur when they were children, rebel as a teenager by adding hair dye to a sibling’s shampoo, and then go on to have a midlife crisis. 

It was particularly good at expanding on sims’ teenage years, which were often boring in the base game. Now they’d dance awkwardly on prom night and take driving lessons from their parents. The expansion also allowed successful sims to create a baby version of themselves at a cloning machine, one my favourite features in the series.

The Sims 4: Cats & Dogs

Past Sims games had deeper pet systems (you could control pets in The Sims 3: Pets), but this one was the most enjoyable. Your sims could interact with their furry friends in more ways than ever before, playing fetch in the vibrant Brindleton Bay, the new coastal neighbourhood that the expansion added, or taking on an obstacle course at the park.

You could also open your own veterinary clinic, as Chris did with…ahem…limited success, and breed racoons and cats to create something painfully cute. Yup, Chris again.

The Sims 4: City Living

This is only time the series has got anywhere close to recreating the hustle and bustle of a city. San Myshuno is vast network of neighbourhoods, each offering new possibilities. When you were done at your new office job you could grab a bite to eat at a food stall before meeting friends at a karaoke bar for a Friday evening sing-song. The ever-rotating festivals looked great on-screen, too.

Living in proper apartments so close to neighbours meant more relationships than ever, and more opportunity for mischief. Maxis could (and perhaps, should) have built the entire game around this wonderful concrete jungle.