This is the second part of an in-depth review of The Sims 4 expansion pack Star Wars: Journey to Batuu. The first part covered the atmosphere and build mode, and here we go over gameplay, story, and create-a-sim.
As an avid fan of both Star Wars and The Sims, I have no idea what is going on with gameplay here. The main issue being that sims can’t do much outside of the faction gameplay.
Sims cannot live in Batuu, unless the player downloads an unofficial mod. They can’t even go to a different area of the map and still have amenities accessible. Gameplay structure and pacing demand that you spend a lot of time in one area of the map trying to get a single task done. This makes gameplay extremely boring and disconnected both from the whimsical tasks of The Sims 4 and the fast-paced adventures of Star Wars.
One of the main hurdles is that nothing is labeled. Journey to Batuu just forgets about guiding players, which can be fun for certain kinds of video games. But being this hands-off in guidance only works with small mini-games, and games that are forgiving in their punishments, at first, while you are figuring it out. Not even giving an introduction as to how missions work, or where points of interest are, falsely elongates playtime and increases frustration in players as they try to find the unlabelled building they can interact with from a sea of shells.
There is nothing in-game to tell you where anything is – would you even guess that a semi-open room in a large empty square was the First Order Headquarters? Neither would I, which was frustrating as I needed to complete a mission there. Do you know how I eventually figured it out? Forums, from other players who were equally as stuck and frustrated. This shouldn’t be a problem for the bottom tier quests.
For a casual simulation game like The Sims 4 markets itself to be, the lack of labeling and guidance is a rough start to a game pack that already doesn’t provide much in the way of play outside of Batuu, and acts as a very early but high hurdle for doing anything in terms of gameplay. Not guiding the player at first, providing way makers, or even just labeling the map is a great detriment to gameplay.
NPCs, besides faction leaders, don’t really have jobs or roles, and they just wander around. Some don’t even respond to prompts. Rose once waited for half a day for an NPC to finish her task to talk to her. The NPC never finished and eventually Rose had to take a hike to go to the bathroom.
I originally made three sims to try all three factions at the same time, but once I realized how little there was to do for my sims besides dance, drink, and play sabacc at the Cantina, I quickly sent all but one (Rose) home.
Missions and Mechanics
Mission variety and structure is also a problem. Some have players build or fix machinery. “Building” is actually a fetch quest to harvest as much scrap and bits as possible from random trash heaps and caches, or — if the sim has enough money — they can purchase it from one of the menu shops. “Fixing” just means finding the broken item and clicking on it to fix it.
Breaking into control panels is another common quest, but the map gives you nothing to help you find them and it requires the player to rely on a flat out broken sneak mechanic. Good luck finding any of your comms and broken interactable objects on the map though, since there are no labels or hints within the mission directive.
A key component to completing the early missions is the ability to sneak and break into comms to access off-limit rooms or communication towers. A basic stealth game would keep the camera close to the player’s character with *maybe* an overlaid mini-map pointing out where the enemies were or would put the enemy’s on a clearly observable loop to avoid them as they sneak. They would also have mechanics like crouching or fix code so that when actions are cancelled there isn’t a good four to five-second delay.
Instead, Journey to Batuu requires the players to zoom out to the max to see if any enemies are coming, which breaks immersion — both as a Star Wars mission and as a theme park simulation game — and makes no sense as a The Sims 4 mission.
There’s also nowhere to hide. Regardless of the time of the day or night, the likelihood of getting caught remains the same, and sims can’t even use charisma to get out of being caught. Creating friendships with the locals on duty doesn’t help either. I tried really hard to make friends with a First Order officer and Kylo Ren, thinking it might give Rose an advantage should she be caught but it leads nowhere (though it was nice to finally give Ben a hug.)
One of the many missions that I ran involved my poor Rose spending a good day trying to sneak around the First Order District, patiently waiting for Kylo Ren and other First Order Officers to be out of what I believed was their line of sight (the game has an on-and-off relationship with what constitutes this). The mission was hacking into a cache hanging out right by the First Order Headquarters that the mission summary said would be here – only to find out, after numerous tries, many reprimands from passing officers, and two arrests, that the cache she needed was actually hidden behind a weapons container.
Adding insult to injury, a few of these missions require to level up a skill tree in order to succeed — but the game won’t tell you how without you fumbling around for a while. What do you mean Rose needs to have three levels in rocket science to be able to do some things? Sneaking getting too hard? Buy a droid and use it to distract others (note that droids can only distract one person at a time, and there’s a chance that they will fail at it.) The gameplay systems in place provide little to assist players trying to complete the missions given to them, and in certain places makes it even harder than normal to do simple things.
A lot of these missions read as if pulled from other games in different genres – sneak and steal this thing, go do a patrol on an x-wing, etc. Players who are familiar with other video games will feel cheated that the game pack does not treat these tasks like every other video game that ever had them would. When you’re told to break into a comm system, you’re expecting access to certain game mechanics, such as crouching to sneak and quick action cancel. But I guess in the long run it doesn’t matter, because there’s a chance the patrolling NPCs won’t see you doing whatever a third of the time – Rose once broke into a comm right after getting her ID checked by a passing Stormtrooper while he was still looking at her. It was something.
Basic Needs on Batuu
Note: If you pick the Journey to Batuu exclusive aspirations in Create-A-Sim, you’ll automatically have your needs filled every time you jump between maps – but who wants to pick an aspiration like this when aspirations are a life-long choice for your sims and they will be worthless once the sim leaves Batuu?
Basic needs also get in the way of completing missions. The only place to go to the bathroom is in the Black Spire Outpost about fifteen minutes of watching your sim move slowly across the unnecessarily large map and two loading screens away. The Resistance area doesn’t even have a toilet. No wonder Rey was tempted by the dark side and their bidets.
If your sim is tired, the prospect of trekking back to the hotel is so boring, especially since your motel room is a rabbit hole, that sims will end up napping on nearby benches instead. Hungry? Great, there’s a small stall just he-… Oh, it’s closed, and you and your sim have no idea when it will be open again because there’s legitimately no center of information in this entire world.
The Cantina is only slightly better at filling up the needs of fun and socialization, but rotating through dancing, drinking and sabacc games for a whole sims day gets old fast.
There are so many minor inconveniences that get in the way of completing any mission that it becomes a conscious effort to think ahead to everything that could get in your way and try to solve those issues before even attempting said mission.
I even debated on letting go of some things, like hygiene and hunger, and only fulfilling them when my sim got to the brink of death. But then I realized that this isn’t how The Sims should be played.
To be fair, these design decisions really capture the exhaustion of going to a theme park — but not the giddy glee of stepping into Star Wars.
Rewards and Lore
There are no rewards besides a minuscule rise in your faction’s rankings and some credits. The higher the ranking, the better the credit payout you get, and the more and more diverse missions that are available. However, these missions end up being rabbit holes that will make your sims disappear for a while.
As a fan of lore, I honestly thought that at least some of the rewards would include exclusive lore snippets and that this new knowledge would affect the perception of the game — or that there would be more effort put in the environmental storytelling; there are two novels set on Batuu: Thrawn: Alliances by Timothy Zahn, perfect for fans of the prequels and Anakin and Padmé, and Galaxy’s Edge: Black Spire by Delilah S. Dawson, ideal for those who love the new trilogy and the parks. Instead, there was nothing except for some select Vi Moradi appearances.
Lore could have been also been delivered in a small text-only menu, which is dirt cheap and easy to implement from a developer’s point of view, and this would have been a fantastic way to tie Journey to Batuu to the Star Wars transmedia narrative. But the textboxes you get when completing rabbit hole off-map missions are bland and honestly read as if from some generic space fantasy with a franchise-specific person, location, or species subbed into specific spots than something built with 40+ years of worldbuilding behind it.
Instead, for these off-world missions, Rose went into a ship, the player waited for a few minutes while answering small and bland choose-your-own-adventure snippets, Rose came out of a ship and got some credits for “finishing” the mission. It was very difficult to try and fail these missions – I tried. There were also options in the choose-your-own-adventure textboxes for special reactions, should you happen to have the right items in your inventory. These items can actually only be used at these times, and nothing and no one tells your sim they need them prior to boarding the ships. It was so disappointing once the mission was over that the experience felt lazy and dirty, and no amount of waterfalls or beautifully rendered vegetation is going to change that.
I honestly gave up halfway through the Resistance rankings after finally meeting Rey – I couldn’t make myself sit down and waste so much time playing The Sims and not having fun. That’s honestly where I draw the line – am I having fun? Am I learning anything?
There wasn’t anything in it to make The Sims fan in me happy and it didn’t offer much to Star Wars fans either. So I just stopped trying to complete missions and milled about the maps, taking in the skybox, the music, and playing a few rounds of sabacc.
This game pack is one of the most repetitive, hollow, and boring ones I’ve ever tried, including those in The Sims 2 and The Sims 3. There are no explanations (no wonder that simmers who are not into Star Wars found Journey to Batuu appalling!), the eternal walls of text contain no lore at all to reward Star Wars fans, and the missions don’t make any sense — not even from a Star Wars perspective. I honestly gave this a good shot to convince both sides of me that would’ve liked this, but it fell flat at every turn. There isn’t a single thing I would come back here for except maybe to take a few pictures? It would be a nice place for sims to practice their painting skill, but unfortunately, you can’t access anything not from Batuu in Batuu.
Just, why would Rose, a Resistance Spy, want to do three social interactions with stormtroopers? Why is this a mission? It’s just perplexing.
Create-A-Sim has long been a central aspect of gameplay, and with each new The Sims 4 pack released, there is usually a layer of added customization available for players to really make their sims unique, be it from special aspirations or nifty personality traits. Journey to Batuu offers little of this besides 115 outfits, accessories, and facial markings.
In this new release, there are no personality traits up for grabs, and the sole aspiration offered acts as a boost, if not an outright cheat, for players to advance faster in their chosen faction. I feel this drives home the fact that Journey to Batuu is an insular experience, only to be utilized while on the map rather than incorporated organically into the rest of the series. Being a loyal supporter of the Resistance won’t help you get closer to achieving another goal outside that map.
While there are many traits that would go well with a Resistance Spy Personality, or a First Order Officer, Journey to Batuu doesn’t utilize the wealth of information available to help users create characters that would fit in a world made from Star Wars lore – such as offering preset characters from the series.
The clothes are nice, to a point. The textures are alright in some places and downright rough in others. The Sims 4 base game already offered many outfits from Star Wars since its launch, from Anakin’s ROTS robes to Leia’s iconic white dress. You can even dress your character as Aayla Secura with things from the base game, yet the pack offers you another Aayla-style headpiece in a slightly dark tone. Why?
Besides rehashing some iconic outfits that were already available, the designers are also oddly obsessed with layers in this pack – like they figured out a way to make them look visually appealing and ran with it. It would’ve been nice to have seen some basics and maybe shoes. You can’t take off shoes that come with outfits.
The hairstyles are nice, and so are the facial markings and few accessories available, but you discover quickly that aliens are just headpieces your sim can wear and there are better hair textures online of existing characters such as Rey and Kylo Ren.
A positive I can give out to this pack, however, is the super nice headwrap they have, a vast improvement on the hijab available in the base game, and that there are three outfits and a hair mesh that can be applied to your toddler – yes to all of that, we need more toddler meshes. There are also some iconic items that can be donned such as Rey’s The Last Jedi grey robe and Luminara Unduli’s headpiece.
That being said, the actual aesthetic of the clothes is superb. There is a distinct feel about the clothes that, for me as a Star Wars fan, make them instantly recognizable as belonging within the universe. But as it was with the shell design and atmosphere, I chalk this up more to the original theme park designers at Disney rather than major design work done on part of the developers.
Though the Create-a-Sim aspect seems mixed, I’m genuinely unimpressed by the collection. While the clothes and accessories are nice and provide some good props for storytelling through screenshots and videos, there are no personality traits or aspirations that could help Batuu content be used outside of the map.
When you arrive at Black Spire Outpost, one of your first goals is to pick a ‘Batuu’ outfit – it is a legitimate goal to help you get into the spirit of Star Wars and immerse yourself. I didn’t think much of it, tried to pick something that slightly resembled her Rise of Skywalker outfit, and carried on. But upon returning to Rose’s home, where Kaydel and Mitaka were waiting, having Rose walking around town in her Batuu outfit was so odd and out of place, visually, that I had her change quickly and since that initial visit to Batuu, none of my sims have returned. There wasn’t anything to go back for.
The more I play this expansion, digging under layers and trying to find the meat, the more I realize that this is a very shallow experience, a virtual and slightly interactable walkthrough of Galaxy’s Edge but without the energy or prospect for fun that theme parks have.