In the nine years since the original Sims released, the franchise has been the subject of various sequels, spin-offs, and expansions. After all of those iterations and evolutions, I am amazed that The Sims 3 holds the same magnetic charm for me as its predecessors. While the basic concept of guiding a virtual person through the trials and triumphs of everyday life remains unchanged, the nuances have reached new highs in this installment. If you think this series is still about eating and sleeping while trying not to pee yourself, you need to see the strides The Sims 3 makes.

The meters representing your sims' basic needs are still present, but they are no longer the main factor driving your decisions. They drain slower and fill faster, which shifts your attention away from constant mood-juggling and allows you to more time to explore more rewarding pursuits. Your moment-to-moment play is driven by a series of clever aspirations that provide a steady stream of opt-in activities, which makes the whole world feel more hospitable and rewarding. Take a few days to write a novel, and you'll find it in the local library for all to read. Head to the gym for a workout, and you'll see an improvement in your physique.

Your goals can be as immediate as getting a kiss from your significant other, and as long-term as maxing out your career track. Practically everything that happens, both good and bad, manifests as a passive modifier to your mood that serves as an excellent incentive to fulfill wishes and avoid mishaps. This emphasis on little things in life gives rise to even more of the surprising moments, hilarious social interactions, and spectacular failures that make The Sims so entertaining.

I can't even list all of the other familiar elements of the series that have seen an increase in depth. Raising a child, getting promoted, and building relationships all have compelling new facets, but the object customization has come the furthest. Almost every surface of the world – from your car to your upholstery – can be modified to display the exact colors and patterns you want. You can even share your designs with other users online, though the usefulness of that feature will depend more on the community than the game itself. However, if you're not interested in getting too involved with designing your sims' styles, the game's pre-loaded options should be more than enough.

The only main feature of the game that leaves me conflicted is the focus on the open neighborhood. Maybe EA just wanted to leave some room for the inevitable expansion packs, but the world outside of your front door feels somewhat incomplete. You can walk or drive anywhere in town, but the destinations don't function much differently than previous installments – you just have travel time instead of load time. Going out isn't even that enticing; sims' wishes give them occasional reasons to leave the house, but you can still cover most of your bases in the comfort of your own living room. Staying home isn't necessarily a bad thing, though, since the game's expansive content ensures that you never get stir crazy.

I won't pretend that The Sims 3 will make a believer out of those who didn't enjoy the previous games. You're still queuing up actions for fake people in a digital dollhouse. Even with that ostensibly simple premise, the development team has crafted a remarkably layered simulation that feels like what The Sims has been trying to be from the beginning.