Sims 3 vs Sims 4: What Are The Differences?

Key art from EA for The Sims 4.

Sims 3 vs Sims 4: What Are The Differences?

Gamers know The Sims as one of the most successful video game series of all time. It has a stranglehold on the life-simulator genre, with few daring to challenge Maxis and EA.

While The Sims 4 is approaching a decade old now, it’s been a long time since we’ve gotten a new game in the franchise. Some gamers like to go further back in time and play The Sims 3, with many having their favorite among the series.

With the news that The Sims 5 is likely on the way in the form of Project Rene, we thought it’d be fun to take a trip to games gone by, comparing the main differences between The Sims 3 and The Sims 4 to see which one you should pick up today.

The Sims 4 Is Free To Play

A Steam promotional image from The Sims 4.
You won’t have to pay to play The Sims 4.

©Electronic Arts – Original

That’s right – The Sims 4 is one of the best free games on Steam. Released as a pay-to-play game, it made the change in late-2022, eight years after the game was initially released. It was a first for the series and a move that helped increase its player base dramatically.

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The base game has plenty of content for you to have a fulfilling experience. Of course, there are plenty of expansions to add to that, but you can pick up The Sims 4 and have a lot of fun without spending a cent.

The Sims 4 even has plenty of free mods for you to download if you’re wanting to add some extra spice to the game. The modding community for The Sims 4 is one of the most dedicated of any game, rivaling the likes of Skyrim and Fallout 4. You can find something for everyone here, with a lot of the mods separated into two categories. First, there’s Maxis Match, which remains in line with the art style of the base game. Then, there are Alpha mods, which attempt a more realistic art style for The Sims 4.

Comparatively, The Sims 3 remains $19.99 to purchase at full price on Steam. It does go on sale for a steep discount regularly, with an all-time low of $2.99. If you’re willing to wait, The Sims 3 is worth picking up, but you can never argue with getting something for free. There’s zero risk to picking up The Sims 4 and giving it a fair shot. All you might lose is a few hours of your time.

Emotionally Driven Sims

A promotional image from The Sims 4 Luxury Party Stuff DLC.
In The Sims 4, emotions are more important than ever.

©Electronic Arts – Original

Everyone loves the building and the customization in The Sims games, but the emotions of your characters are an equally crucial element of the experience.

That’s why many see The Sims 4 as a big step up from its predecessor. It puts an increased focus on the emotions of your characters, with more personality options than ever. This resulted in more immersive interactions between NPCs, making the game feel like a truly realistic life simulator. There are some things that could still be ironed out, but it’s a big step in the right direction.

When you play both games, you can definitely see where The Sims 3 has aged poorly in this regard. It all feels a bit more robotic, even if it was groundbreaking at the time.

Better Building Tools

A promotional image for The Sims 4 Vintage Glamour Stuff DLC pack.
The Sims 4 features more versatile building tools for players to use.

©The Sims 4 gameplay screenshot – Original

We can’t talk about both of these games and not discuss the difference in building tools. For some players, this won’t make a massive difference, but for others, building is the most important element of The Sims.

Both games have their benefits. For example, The Sims 4 is far better at creating actual houses, with the click-and-drag feature being a true game changer in terms of what players are able to do. This works for rooms and roofs, and the end result is extremely powerful. You’re able to create interesting-looking architecture with very little skill, but there’s also an art to it that can take a long time to master. Some creations seen are remarkable and highlight the power of this feature.

But we can’t lie – The Sims 3 has plenty to offer too. The main benefit is the terrain tools, which enable you to terraform your lots in ways that aren’t possible in The Sims 4. Adding terrain verticality adds a new layer of complexity to the building mechanics. It was a big surprise when the sequel was downgraded in this department.

The Color Wheel (Create A Style)

An in-game screenshot showcasing The Sims 3 color wheel.
The Sims 3’s Create A Style offers more customization than at any point in the franchise.

©Screenshot from The Sims 3

Create A Style is perhaps the biggest downgrade from The Sims 3 to its sequel. You’re able to use a color wheel to customize the color of just about every item in the game. From clothing to furniture, there’s no limit to what you can do, being able to choose the exact shade that you want.

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Bizarrely, the feature disappeared with The Sims 4, replaced with a few pre-made color swatches for every item. Sure, the color wheel could result in some questionable home improvement and fashion choices, but in a game driven and defined by player choice, that was the point!

The replacement for Create A Style and the color wheel wasn’t adequate. To this day, it’s unclear just why Maxis decided to replace it. It was a near-perfect feature that could have massively improved The Sims 4 and we can only hope it returns in Project Rene.

Open World vs Loading Times

A Steam promotional image for The Sims 3 Seasons expansion.
The Sims 3‘s open world comes with ups and downs.

©Electronic Arts – Original

This was one of the more controversial changes between The Sims 3 and The Sims 4. The earlier title featured a brilliant open world, meaning you could travel anywhere without seeing a single loading screen. If you wanted to see your neighbors, you simply walk next door and they’d be there. It was a huge innovation, especially for a game released in 2009.

The Sims 4 took a step back in this regard. It reverted to the individual lots system preferred by the earlier games in the series, meaning that to go anywhere except your own home, you’d have to sit through a rotating plumbob loading screen.

One sounds obviously better than the other, right? It isn’t quite as cut and dry. The open world of The Sims 3 caused some long loading times when you first loaded up the game, although it was fine after that initial wait. Considering The Sims franchise is designed to run on lower-end hardware, this resulted in some unhappy players. The Sims 4‘s lots system solved this issue. Sure, there were more loading screens, but they were pretty much instant even on poor PCs.

If you’re playing on a powerful modern PC, you won’t have much trouble loading into The Sims 3 nowadays. But if you’re running lower-end hardware, definitely consider giving The Sims 4 a chance.

Better Pets In The Sims 3

A Steam promotional image for The Sims 3: Pets.
The Sims 3 offers more pet options for players.

©Electronic Arts – Original

The pet expansions are always some of the most anticipated pieces of content for The Sims games. There’s an argument to be made that they should be a part of the base game, but that’s a conversation for another time. Interestingly, The Sims 3: Pets offers more variety than its successor, The Sims 4: Cats and Dogs.

The main difference is the number of pets. The Sims 3 allows players to have a horse as a pet, as well as a unicorn. It even offers smaller pets, such as lizards, turtles, snakes, and birds. This adds a lot more variety to the gameplay when compared to the basic offering of The Sims 4: Cats and Dogs. No prizes for guessing what pets you can have in that expansion.

Another key factor is the pet gameplay itself. In The Sims 3: Pets, you can control your pets, dealing with their needs as if they were a human. This really makes them feel like part of the family. It even crosses over into the human side of it, too, with characters able to improve their riding skills by taking part in competitions alongside their pet horses.

The pets in The Sims 4: Cats and Dogs feel more like set dressing. You can’t control them in any way, and you’re unable to see their needs which can result in an annoying experience. It does add vet clinics, but there’s just not that much gameplay of note here.

If pets are a massive part of your experience, we think The Sims 3 is the way to go.

The Expansion Packs

A Steam promotional image for The Sims 4: Journey to Batuu game pack.
Both games feature plenty of expansions.

©Electronic Arts – Original

It’s Sims heritage to feature an absurd amount of expansions for players to purchase on top of the base game. The Sims 3 and 4 are no different in this regard. Both games offer a huge amount of DLC, and it’s up to you to decide which ones sound more appealing.

The approach of The Sims 3 is more quality over quantity. There are currently 19 different expansions for the game available on Steam, each costing $19.99 to pick up. Pricey, sure, but each one adds to the game in a massive way, offering enough features to justify the price tag.

Compare this to The Sims 4, where there are 68(!) pieces of DLC to buy on Steam. The prices on these vary, ranging from $39.99 to $4.99. Equally, the quality is up and down. There are some truly great expansions for The Sims 4, with DLC such as Seasons and Cottage Living offering great value for money. But then there are others such as Moschino Stuff and Star Wars: Journey to Batuu that are extremely gimmicky and bring very little to the table in terms of gameplay.

Overall we’d actually give The Sims 4 the edge here. You have to do a bit of research to make sure you’re getting the best content possible, but if you choose carefully we think The Sims 4 DLC is better overall.


A Steam promotional image from The Sims 3 Fast Lane Stuff expansion.
The Sims 3 features drivable cars.

©Electronic Arts – Original

In a life simulator, drivable cars seem like the bare minimum. First brought into the series with The Sims 2, it was a great addition that brought a level of immersion to the game.

Cars made their return in The Sims 3, and it was perfect. There were brand-new ways to interact with them, and they became an integral part of the game. It meshed well with the open-world nature of the game. Several DLCs such as the Fast Lane Stuff expansion even made them central to the experience, indicating that they’d be important to the franchise in games to come.

Nope! Cars were relegated to decorative props outside of your home in The Sims 4. If you wanted to move from one place to another, you were walking, because the cars simply didn’t work. It was a strange decision for a life simulator to remove drivable cars, of all things. To this day, they haven’t been added back into the game through DLC, despite arguably being the most requested feature by the community. Bicycles were readded through the Discover University expansion, but it just doesn’t quite compare. With DLC still being released for The Sims 4, we can only hope that cars remain on Maxis’ to-do list.

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