Two Life By You characters having a conversation in a gym
Image via Paradox Interactive

Forget The Sims 5, Life By You is the life sim to watch

Life as we know it is about to change.

When talking about life sims, it’s hard to ignore the plumbob in the room. EA’s The Sims has had an iron grip on the genre for over two decades and, while many have tried, no newcomers have been able to take its crown in all that time. But one upcoming release may just be in with a chance.

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Marketed as “one of the most moddable and open life-simulation games,” Paradox Tectonic’s Life By You has been garnering plenty of online buzz since it was announced in March. With the former head of The Sims label, Rod Humble, at the helm and trailers so far showing an open-world life simulation that offers players a level of detail not seen in the genre to date, this mounting interest is no surprise.

As a lifetime fan of The Sims, Life By You certainly had my curiosity. And after a behind-closed-door gameplay demo at Gamescom 2023, it now has my attention. 

The devil in the details

Life By You character heading to work at the gymn
I feel the same going to the gym, Ronnie. Image via Paradox Interactive

It’s hard to deny the similarities between Life By You and The Sims. From the need meters, which gauge factors like whether you are hungry or need the toilet, to the UI itself, Paradox’s life sim gives me a serious sense of déjà vu. Initially, I couldn’t help but feel like it was simply a The Sims knockoff, but it’s the attention to detail that sets these games apart. It’s almost like Paradox has set out to fill the gaps in EA’s mammoth that I didn’t even realize needed filling. 

In this demo, we followed Ronnie, an athletic yoga instructor with a humble home (coincidentally) right across the street from the gym she works in. Character creator doesn’t exactly break the mold, allowing you to customize your character’s look and set aspects of their personality such as likes and dislikes that will influence their conversations and day-to-day. Instead, what caught my attention was that the buildings surrounding Ronnie’s abode weren’t simply lifeless boxes. As you hover over the open world, you can see the other characters going about their lives in their homes. The world exists outside Ronnie. This is made possible by the “emergent storytelling engine,” King Choi, studio director of marketing, told me.  

Life by you character teaching a yoga class in the gym
I’m uncomfortable for you, Ronnie. Image via Paradox Interactive

I watched Ronnie run across the road to the gym, beginning the start of her working day—no rabbit holes or expansions here. Instead, Ronnie was able to change into her work uniform, man the front desk, or even talk to her colleagues. As someone who loves mundane tasks in life simulations, as many players do, this realism really struck me. 

It was jarring, in a good way, to watch Ronnie speak to her colleagues in real English, rather than some made-up language. These conversations are contextual and while simply speaking to someone isn’t exactly a reason to throw a parade, this was an opportunity for me to see the customization options for dialogue. You can change the previously set responses to your conversation by deleting the default text and typing in almost any alternative response you want, allowing you to make them more personal, though filters will prevent certain words or phrases from being used. These replies have an emotion or intention attached to them, however, so while the person you’re talking to will engage with your intention, how they react may be a bit off. For example, Ronnie was speaking to her co-worker, Elijah, and one of the antagonistic responses was changed to “I didn’t expect to see you at work today after last night.” In response, Elijah said, “Annoying you is the most useful service of all,” which would have fitted the original, unedited, dialogue options but feels off in response to the edited dialogue. 

Despite this hiccup, Life By You, in its current state, mostly shines in its attention to details that are important to life-simmers. It seems to push the current parameters of what’s possible in a life sim with small features like the ability to grow, pick, and arrange your own flower bouquet, or watch how the animation of putting together a bagel is different than preparing a salad. This is most evident in building, however, where you can take a window and stretch it to the size and shape you want, or get really detailed in the pattern and color of your wallpaper.

Simulation competition

Life by You character looks at finished flower arrangement.
Brightening up an otherwise quite boring kitchen. Image via Paradox Interactive

Many aspects of Life By You feel a bit uncanny valley. The visuals leave a lot to be desired. Characters are dead-eyed and the world looks outdated, almost like the PS2 version of other life sims. It isn’t in early access yet, however, so I’m hoping we’ll see more polish ahead of the full release.

Right now, however, Life By You appears to have the bones of something great. It has challenged my perception of what’s possible in a life sim game, expanding the boundaries set by The Sims though, admittedly, faltering in its overall visuals and polish.

With The Sims 5 on the distant horizon, however, I find myself questioning whether Paradox’s new contender is doing enough different to compete with what sounds like a shake-up to EA’s Goliath. But one thing’s for sure, Life By You is one to watch and I can’t help but hope this David has what it takes.

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Vic Hood
Vic is Gaming Editor at Dot Esports. An award-winning games journalist, Vic brings experience from IGN, Eurogamer, TechRadar, and more to the Dot Esports table. You may have even heard her on the radio or speaking on a panel. Not only is Vic passionate about games, but she's also an avid mental health advocate who has appeared on both panels and podcasts to discuss mental health awareness. Make sure to follow her on Twitter (@hood_vic) for more.