Updated Tue, Mar 29, 2011 by Shayalyn
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 character’s plumbob (the little gem that floats above the active Sim’s head) had turned yellow. "She has to pee.”
“Yes, I know,” I would grumble, “but I think I’d better feed her first so she doesn’t die of hunger.”
It’s 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. I’ve heard quite a few Sims fans complain that The Sims 3, the sequel launched in the summer of 2009, wasn’t 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 who’ll 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 it’s fun.
The Sims Medieval is rated T for Teen. Sims will engage in the act of Woohoo (yep, that’s sex, folks), although some bumpty-bump under the blankets and a few sighs and giggles are all you’ll 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.) There’s alcohol use--Sims partake of wine and ale. There’s mild violence--you’ll 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 that’ll keep you up much later than intended.
In The Sims Medieval you aren’t 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,” Stewart’s 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.
You’ll begin The Sims 3 by selecting an Ambition--essentially your first gameplay campaign. The tutorial and first Ambition is titled, appropriately, “New Beginnings.” You’ll 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 game’s robust character creation tools are available to you, so it’s much more fun to create your own. You’ll be able to tweak your character’s look right down to facial bone structure and select a hairstyle, facial hair (for men, at least), and clothing. You’ll 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.) You’ll start off with 50 Quest Points (QP), which you’ll expend as you embark on quests and adventures. Most quests in the “New Beginnings” Ambition require between 2 and 4 QP, so you’ll 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 couldn’t resist) as her traits. For her Fatal Flaw I chose Insecure. (You’d be insecure too if a whale ate your parents.) Your character’s 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 they’ll become peeved. Sims with the Licentious trait will…well, you get the picture. (And if you don’t, 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 I’ve 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 you’ll have to be a good Watcher, too, by selecting quests that improve your kingdom’s standing in areas such as Security, Well-Being, and Culture. If you don’t attend to your kingdom as a Watcher should, things will start to go awry. I neglected my kingdom’s security and soon found bandits and cutpurses populating the roads to important locations within my village. My hero Sims couldn’t travel anywhere without crying, “Help! I’m being mugged!” as some rogue took their money.
As you complete quests, you’ll earn Resources (RP). You’ll spend your resources upgrading your kingdom by adding buildings such as churches, barracks, a wizard’s tower, merchants and so on. While there are some buildings that simply add to your town’s aesthetic appeal, most of the buildings require you to create a new hero character to attend to them--a wizard for the wizard’s 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. You’ll manage only one Sim in your opening quests, but soon quests will require Sims to work cooperatively so that you’re managing two or more at a time.
The quests themselves are fun, and their results often surprising and amusing. They’re not exactly masterpieces of storytelling--this is The Sims we’re talking about, after all, not Knights of the Old Republic--but they’re 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 there’s no privacy in a castle. Make a note if you’re planning a licentiously inclined monarch.
The system is actually quite deep--you’ll be collecting resources and crafting to earn money and complete quests, and you’ll 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 aren’t nearly as needy as they are in other Sims games. Although you’ll still have to prepare and eat food and ensure that your Sim gets his rest, you won’t have to worry about things like using the bathroom, bathing, having fun and socializing--those needs aren’t 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 won’t have to take the reins and control your family members--they’re on their own, and they do just fine. This is a good thing, because there was no birth control in the Middle Ages, either.
The Sims Medieval runs on The Sims 3 graphical engine, so if you’ve played The Sims 3 you’ve 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 you’d expect from a next-generation PC game but manages to keep the system specs fairly modest to accommodate the game’s fan base of more casual gamers. The graphics are scalable, but on the highest settings they’re impressive enough. There are no real “Oh, wow!” moments graphically, but there’s nothing to visually break the immersion, either.
After playing any Sims title incessantly for a while, I’m always walking around with the game’s 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 that’s 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 character’s 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. It’s nice to hear a bird singing in the background while you’re 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.