I remember playing The Sims when it launched in February, 2000. Back then, my husband, who had no real interest in playing the game himself, was content to watch over my shoulder and provide a running commentary for my Simming experience.
Your Sim is getting mad, he would say, indicating that my Sim characters plumbob (the little gem that floats above the active Sims head) had turned yellow. "She has to pee.
Yes, I know, I would grumble, but I think Id better feed her first so she doesnt die of hunger.
Its over a decade later, and some things never change. In The Sims Medieval, based on what is arguably the most popular PC game franchise of all time, Sim characters still need food and rest. But some things do change, and those changes make The Sims Medieval more than just another derivative spin-off designed to make scads of money for EA Games.
The Sims Medieval is based on The Sims 3 engine. Ive heard quite a few Sims fans complain that The Sims 3, the sequel launched in the summer of 2009, wasnt enough of a departure from The Sims 2 to make it stand out and that its success comes from riding on the coattails of a crazy-popular franchise. It might be easy to assume that The Sims Medieval would suffer the same fate, making it a must-have for hardcore Sims fans wholl buy any game with The Sims on the label, but a probable so-what for everyone else. But let me set the record straight right here--The Sims Medieval may have traits in common with The Sims 3, but it is its own game. And not only does it take a different tack, but its fun.
The Sims Medieval is rated T for Teen. Sims will engage in the act of Woohoo (yep, thats sex, folks), although some bumpty-bump under the blankets and a few sighs and giggles are all youll see or hear. (Gone are the cut-scenes from The Sims 2 that hallmarked things like a first Woohoo or First Kiss, to my dismay.) Theres alcohol use--Sims partake of wine and ale. Theres mild violence--youll find Sims dueling, holding one another up at knifepoint, or hurling one another into a pit Sparta-style.
Really, the only thing you need worry about much is likely to be the addictive gameplay thatll keep you up much later than intended.
Gameplay - 95 / 100
In The Sims Medieval you arent just an anonymous player manipulating virtual people, you are The Watcher, an omnipresent being controlling all of creation. (Well, not all of creation--just its people. The rest, we assume, can take care of itself.) The opening cut scene, narrated by none other than Sir Patrick Stewart, describes how the people The Watcher created initially prospered but then began to suffer due to their own lack of judgment. Reflecting on these events led you to an epiphany, Stewarts voice says, People are dumb. And so, rather than sit by idly watching your creations self-destruct, you realize that you must have heroes to lead and inspire them.
Youll begin The Sims 3 by selecting an Ambition--essentially your first gameplay campaign. The tutorial and first Ambition is titled, appropriately, New Beginnings. Youll take the first steps into populating your kingdom with hero characters by creating a Monarch. While you can select premade characters for any hero, the games robust character creation tools are available to you, so its much more fun to create your own. Youll be able to tweak your characters look right down to facial bone structure and select a hairstyle, facial hair (for men, at least), and clothing. Youll also need to select two traits for your hero (such as Good, Ambitious, Excitable) and one fatal flaw (like Drunkard, Gambler, Insomniac).
You begin at Watcher Level 1 - Peepsmith. (Strong Bad fans will enjoy the reference.) Youll start off with 50 Quest Points (QP), which youll expend as you embark on quests and adventures. Most quests in the New Beginnings Ambition require between 2 and 4 QP, so youll be embarking on quite a few quests before you finish the Ambition and move on to the next.
I created a monarch named Elisabeth and selected Good and Whale Ate My Parents (I couldnt resist) as her traits. For her Fatal Flaw I chose Insecure. (Youd be insecure too if a whale ate your parents.) Your characters satisfaction with her life at any given moment is reflected in her Focus--basically the same status bar Sims players are used to seeing which tells them whether their Sim is enjoying life or getting a bit emo. Your Sim will receive Buffs, either positive or negative, which affect her focus. Every now and again, Elisabeth would experience Whale Rage, and that Buff would negatively affect her Focus until she vented to another Sim. Sims with the Drunkard trait will have to have a drink or theyll become peeved. Sims with the Licentious trait will well, you get the picture. (And if you dont, look up licentious.) Sims can receive positive buffs from things like eating a good meal, being well rested, buying new stuff or completing daily responsibilities, which are optional side-quests your Sim performs as part of her job.
While none of the things Ive described so far, from traits to buffs (called moodlets in The Sims 3) to maintaining a happy Sim with a green status bar and plumbob are new to veteran Simmers, the game provides you with much more of a purpose than past Sims titles have. Not only will you be completing quests by tackling objectives and keeping your Sim focused, but youll have to be a good Watcher, too, by selecting quests that improve your kingdoms standing in areas such as Security, Well-Being, and Culture. If you dont attend to your kingdom as a Watcher should, things will start to go awry. I neglected my kingdoms security and soon found bandits and cutpurses populating the roads to important locations within my village. My hero Sims couldnt travel anywhere without crying, Help! Im being mugged! as some rogue took their money.
As you complete quests, youll earn Resources (RP). Youll spend your resources upgrading your kingdom by adding buildings such as churches, barracks, a wizards tower, merchants and so on. While there are some buildings that simply add to your towns aesthetic appeal, most of the buildings require you to create a new hero character to attend to them--a wizard for the wizards tower, a knight for the barracks and so on. Depending on which characters you choose to bring into your village, more quests will become available to you, and each quest will utilize a different character or characters. Youll manage only one Sim in your opening quests, but soon quests will require Sims to work cooperatively so that youre managing two or more at a time.
The quests themselves are fun, and their results often surprising and amusing. Theyre not exactly masterpieces of storytelling--this is The Sims were talking about, after all, not Knights of the Old Republic--but theyre entertaining. (How can you not like a quest that has dire chinchillas?) The Medieval setting is enchanting (if not all that historically accurate). There are warlocks, plagues, portents of doom and more to keep the fantasy high and the fun rolling along. Oh, and theres no privacy in a castle. Make a note if youre planning a licentiously inclined monarch.
The system is actually quite deep--youll be collecting resources and crafting to earn money and complete quests, and youll have to learn to do at least some basic cooking lest your Sim lose Focus because of his bland diet. You can make friends, get married and have children, just like in any other Sims game. All of this micro-management would have the disadvantage of becoming tedious were it not for one great feature of The Sims Medieval--free will. Your Sims arent nearly as needy as they are in other Sims games. Although youll still have to prepare and eat food and ensure that your Sim gets his rest, you wont have to worry about things like using the bathroom, bathing, having fun and socializing--those needs arent stressed in this game. (Although, left to his own devices, your Sim will occasionally bathe or squat over a chamber pot just to keep things authentic.) Rearing children is incredibly simplified--the baby arrives quickly, requires nothing more than nursing (yep, the old-fashioned way--no baby bottles in Medieval times) and cuddling, and soon becomes an independent child who takes care of himself. In fact, you wont have to take the reins and control your family members--theyre on their own, and they do just fine. This is a good thing, because there was no birth control in the Middle Ages, either.
Graphics - 87 / 100
The Sims Medieval runs on The Sims 3 graphical engine, so if youve played The Sims 3 youve seen these graphics, although this game, of course, has Medieval buildings, furnishings, and clothing to reflect its temporal setting. The game provides the level of lighting, shadows and effects youd expect from a next-generation PC game but manages to keep the system specs fairly modest to accommodate the games fan base of more casual gamers. The graphics are scalable, but on the highest settings theyre impressive enough. There are no real Oh, wow! moments graphically, but theres nothing to visually break the immersion, either.
Sound - 87 / 100
After playing any Sims title incessantly for a while, Im always walking around with the games music stuck in my head. The Sims Medieval is no different. The music reminds me of a Renaissance fair, and it sets the appropriate mood.
Sims, of course, speak Simlish, a made-up language thats based on tones and inflections. (You can tell if your Sim is angry or trying to score, for instance.) The Sims Medieval incorporates a bit of a stuffy and vaguely British dialect (although you can select your characters voice at creation, and the amount of stuffiness varies). I was disappointed that there was no real Cockney accent.
Ambient sounds in the Sims titles can range from the authentic to the annoying. Its nice to hear a bird singing in the background while youre walking to town, or even to hear the roar of the monster in The Pit, but I could probably do without hearing my Sim peeing loudly into a chamber pot or stirring some gloppy mixture while cooking.
Value - 95 / 100
Although Ive played just about every PC iteration of The Sims I am not an unabashed fangirl. In fact, I found myself fairly well disappointed with The Sims 3 because it didnt seem like that big of an improvement on The Sims 2 and I missed the cut-scenes and other things which helped me forge a connection to my Sim characters. But The Sims Medieval takes what The Sims 3 did and suddenly makes it a lot more interesting, and for that it scores major points.
A few of the annoyances that are inherent with The Sims franchise still exist after all these years. Pathing problems still occur (although less frequently than in earlier Sims titles), so youll have Sims not making it to their intended destinations, or NPC Sims jerkily trying to maneuver their way around your character. Actions get cancelled seemingly without explanation. I even ran into a weird glitch that prevented me from entering Furnish mode, and then prevented me from saving my game progress. But glitches are few (fewer than any Sims launch Ive experienced, actually) and not game-breaking.
Value is, of course, in the eye of the mouse-holder. That said, if I spend roughly $40 and, in return, receive a bare minimum of 20 hours of fun gameplay, and I find myself still eager to head back for more, I find that Ive made a good purchase.
Lasting Appeal - 87 / 100
Theres quite a lot to do in The Sims Medieval. With 12 different Ambitions (you unlock them as you complete others, but you do start over fresh with each one) and multiple characters and quest lines for each one the game has enough content to last a good long while.
As with every Sims title, Im expecting the novelty to wear off after a while. The quests are fun and engaging, but theyre not really strong enough to be a driving force for the game, and thats not what The Sims is all about, anyhow. Will I return to The Sims Medieval after Ive completed a few Ambitions? Likely. Will I take breaks from the game? Also likely. But Im going to play the hell out of it for a while, and Im happy to have it among my archives for those dry spells when I have nothing better to do.
Pros and Cons
- A new twist on Sims-style gameplay ramps up the fun and eliminates much of the tedium.
- The game is easy to learn and will be familiar to anyone who has played The Sims, but the deep mechanics still provide some challenge.
- Lots of options! Create a cultured and refined kingdom or a warlike and greedy one--its your call.
- Plenty to do. Itll be a long time before a player runs out of quests or Ambitions.
- Dire chinchillas. Nuff said.
- Quests not exactly deep or compelling where story is concerned. Theyre mostly light and humorous.
- Some ambient sounds are annoying.
- Pathing problems and gameplay glitches are fewer than in other Sims titles, but they still exist.
As I said at the start of this review, some things never change. Just the other night I found my husband standing and looking over my shoulder once again, watching my Sims plumbob turn from green to yellow.
Uh oh, he said. The yellow is bad, right?
She has to pee and she didnt complete her Responsibility today so shes ornery, I said.
He stood and watched me play for a while longer, laughed at some of the antics of my wizard, cringed at the procedure my bloodletter performed in barbaric Dark Ages style (leeches included), and finally concluded that maybe he should give this game a whirl. Thats a first for him--hes not a PC gamer, and hes never been much of a fan of The Sims.
Even if youve played The Sims before, you havent played this game--it brings something brand new to the table in a familiar and well-loved format. Try it; you just may like it.