The Sims series has let players control the tiny little lives of little computer people for years, and this year's The Sims 3 took the series to a whole new level. It introduced revamped goal systems, new personality and socializing systems, and a revised career system, among other things. And with the first expansion pack, World Adventures, your sims can branch out into a very different profession--that of globetrotting adventurer. Sure, the expansion adds various new additions to the base game that are quite helpful and useful, such as an expanded in-game tutorial system and the ability to build basements in your house. But, the real attraction is flying out to one of three international locations (Egypt, France, and China) and becoming a tiny, gibberish-speaking Indiana Jones.
We've already extensively catalogued our time in Egypt in our previous coverage, so this time around, we'll focus on China and France. Unlike Egypt, where the geography is built around a few major dig sites, the China adventure area is laid out in a mostly even split between unspoiled wilderness and community lots (including peaceful parks for meditation, ancient tombs to explore, martial arts academies, and merchants). The France area, however, is laid out like a country villa--there are small clusters of community lots separated by long country roads. Fortunately, in all lots, your sims can quickly travel from place to place by way of bicycle or scooter (which they'll use automatically), and at these different locations, they'll be able to not only seek out new adventures in ancient tombs but also partake in local color.
The expansion offers new cultural options that start all the way back with character creation--your sims can choose Egyptian, French, or Chinese music as their personal favorites, as well as new cuisines, such as crepes and dim sum. There are even new traits, such as "adventurous" (a sim recovers well from jet lag to travel more often and improves visa level more quickly) and new life goals, such as fully exploring all major tombs or reaching physical perfection as a martial arts master.
However, the culture really starts to come into play once you begin your travels abroad and meet new sims that look very different from the ones that live in Sunset Valley. These include the kung-fu monks in China's monasteries and the beret-wearing "nectar" tasters in the French vineyards. You can also soak up local culture by exploring new social options that are unique to those regions, such as challenging another martial artist to a sparring session or learning a French country song from the local vintner.
Our own outing began with a trip to China to start training in the ways of the warrior and maybe get some really good egg rolls. Landing at any foreign location will start your sims out in front of the adventure board--a bulletin board where tomb-raiding missions are posted. We quickly found our first mission: a notice to recover an artifact from a local tomb. Once we accepted the quest, the new adventure journal appeared onscreen and let us simply click on the name of the quest giver to automatically route our sim there by bicycle. In no time, we were being briefed on the mission by the crabby old man who posted the notice (and also automatically added him to our sim's contact list to develop as a potential friend--or enemy--later).
Then, we headed out to the ancient tomb itself to loot it. Fortunately, because this was a beginner tomb that wasn't terribly involved, we didn't have much trouble defusing the few traps, pushing sliding statues onto pressure plates, and eventually looting the place of its ancient coins. These coins are World Adventure's new currency, which lets you purchase special adventure-specific items. The first tomb areas in each foreign country will necessarily be shorter and easier because your sims will start out with a "visa level" of zero. This means that they'll be able to stay for only three in-game days, though after completing various exploration quests, they'll be able to extend their visas further to take longer vacations and even purchase vacation homes on foreign soil.
To be honest, we were less interested in exploring tombs this time out and more interested in soaking up some local color. To this end, we sent our sim directly to the local martial arts academy in China to pound away at a wooden training dummy until he increased his skill in martial arts. This is one of the new career-related skills that will not only let your character perform cool moves and animations, as well as spar with other martial artists, but it will also let you rack up any number of statistics (such as the strongest board you've ever broken or level of martial arts belt achieved). It will also let you hold martial arts tournaments--with various achievements to unlock along the way.
As it happens, the athletics skill from the original Sims 3 plays into your martial arts skill, and thankfully, the monasteries in China are stocked with the latest in exercise equipment to help your Chuck Norris wannabes strengthen their bodies and skills all at once. Then again, China is also home to other attractions, such as the peaceful Scholar's Garden (which grants all sims an enhanced mood thanks to its meditative silence), a fortune-cookie maker, and even a fireworks display your characters can use.
Once we'd increased our martial arts skills and conquered our first Chinese tomb, we headed back to Sunset Valley on our expired visa but were soon hopping aboard a plane again. This time, we headed off to the French adventure area. France seems like a more laid-back, residential area where instead of kicking, people use their feet to stomp grapes. We decided to try our hand--and feet--at the art of making bottled "nectar" by visiting the local vintner shop, which has dozens of bottles of the stuff on racks for you to peruse, taste, and purchase. You can also achieve a minor mood boost from the "nectar" because it is so "sugary" (wink, wink). There's a merchant who will happily sell you a portable nectar-making still to bring home with you, as well as different bottles of vintages, and various types of grapes. We also decided to use the picturesque French countryside to launch our sim's new photography hobby by purchasing a store-bought camera and snapping a few shots from the new first-person interface. Each location will actually have a number of set pieces that you can capture to rack up special achievements and unlock awards. The easiest include snapping photos of people and landmarks, but there will be some very challenging hidden photo opportunities scattered throughout the world.
Once you stock up on grapes, you can then dump 10 bunches of various combinations into the tub of a still and get stomping, though if your nectar-making skill is low, your sims will probably end up falling flat on their rears in the process. However, once you increase your skill enough, the nectar you can create will fetch a nice asking price. In fact, the new expansion's skills offer a viable new way to make a living without having to report into the office each day.
From what we've seen, World Adventures will have a lot to offer--new areas to explore, new people to meet, new socializing systems to learn, and lots of brand-new ways to play The Sims 3 offers plenty of opportunities to grow and expand your sims, as well as their skills, along familiar-but-different paths. The expansion will ship later this month.