Game Review: The Sims Medieval
Genre: Simulation / RTS
Developer: The Sims Studio
Available Platforms: PC, Mac
MSRP: $49.99 / $69.99 (Limited Edition)
ESRB Rating: T (Crude Humor, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol, Violence)
It’s not often that a franchise will turn a successful IP on its head, shake it around a little bit to see what falls out, and present it as a new game, but that’s kind of what happened with The Sims Medieval. You get all the Sims charm and character in the game, which is good. You get less “bars” to manage (Hunger, Energy and “Focus” which I’ll describe later) which is really good. You get a medieval flavor to everything, which can go either way (I enjoyed it). And then you have the shakedown elements: no home building (you can edit furniture in existing structures, but you can’t construct your own castles), an RPG-like leveling system, and the ability to control several “hero” Sims at once. When all is said and done, you have enough familiar elements here to comfort traditional Sims players while providing a new jolt of kingdom maintenance in the form of leveled Sims that forces you to plan your next move carefully.
Perhaps I’m getting a little ahead of myself though. The Sims Medieval (TSM) takes you out of the neighborhood, and into the kingdom. You will grow this kingdom by developing a variety of heroes that you can create. This starts with a Monarch hero who, naturally, is the king or queen of the kingdom. You will make laws, bestow favors, sentence criminals to death, and adventure in the woods as you perform various quests to build up both your character’s level, and the kingdom’s resources. Through these resources, you will be able to build new buildings that will attract new heroes (A smithy brings in a Blacksmith, Market a merchant, barracks a Knight, and so on). By bringing in new heroes, you will be able to tackle new quests, as well as have new paths in which to take on existing quests with (A monarch might send hunger-striking peasants to the stocks as punishment, while a physician would try to make the peasants see how unhealthy such an action is).
Ultimately, you are trying to accomplish a kingdom ambition that you select in the beginning of the game. These ambitions are essentially the overarching goal for your campaign, for example your first ambition is New Beginnings, which is simply to build at least 6 new buildings for your kingdom. While increasing the kingdom’s value is your overall goal, it will be accomplished by micro-managing your heroes on whatever quest you are on. This can be a single hero or several, depending on the quest, and if you have control of multiple heroes, then you will need to manage those hero’s individual needs as well. I mentioned before you have less “bars” to manage, and while this is true, you will find that they really just merged several of the bars into one overall bar called “Focus” which will decide how well a Hero can concentrate on their task. This can be influenced by things like whether the Hero just read a book, ate a meal, got into a fight, had their first kiss, or was mauled by a bear. Your Hero will also have 2 traits, and one fatal flaw which can also affect your focus. Traits can be things like Good, Evil, Fun Loving, Friendly, Greedy and Dedicated, to name a few. Fatal Flaws can include things like Puny, Insomniac, Cursed, and my personal favorite Licentious, again to name just a few of the selections. All of these traits have their own in-game benefits or flaws, and many also have actions that you can utilize (Lost Parents will allow you to ask other sims about your parents, in hopes that someone has heard about them). These traits keep things interesting, and certainly go a long way to creating fun and flawed characters that will require individual maintenance in order to keep happy. Managing your Hero plays like many other Sims games; you’ll interact with other objects, locations and people in order to complete tasks that keep you focused. You also will be interacting with these things in order to complete quests and responsibilities (which are like daily mini-tasks that if left unattended will cause you to lose focus).
Despite everything you will have to do in the game, your days never feel too rushed (unless you’re managing several Heroes at once, in which case the multitasking can sometimes be tricky). You will usually be able to clear your responsibilities and knock a few steps out of your quest in a day before your Hero needs to eat and sleep. Some of the Heroes you can play are a blast, and their quests are really well done. Your day will be filled with decisions that have to be made, and often you’ll be prompted for a “choose-your-own-adventure” style choice that can help or hurt your character (the outcomes of these prompts are often random – you’ll see them repeated and selecting the same option will sometimes give different results). I personally enjoyed not having to worry about building my homes, so that I could focus solely on building up the Heroes, and decorating the homes that were provided. There’s ample room for personalization in the various buildings, and things are well spread out so you don’t feel cramped (walking from one end of your kingdom to the other can take a Hero about 2 hours in-game time). The controls are familiar enough for veteran players to jump right in, and the graphics and sounds in the game are great. The Sims “feel” is all over this game, with fantastic humor throughout, and the little animations and interactions of the characters are impressive in their variety. The first time you perform a play in the Tavern, you’ll know what I mean.
The problem with a game like this is making it familiar and fast paced early on for veterans while approachable for folks new to the game. What results in TSM is a mixture of lessons and tutorials that vary from overly detailed (introducing you to game concepts that you won’t put into action until much later, thus confusing you early on) to frustratingly vague (the game assumes you know where various locations are, and while you will get your bearings after a few hours, it was infuriating to figure out where to go next at first). As such, there is a painful learning curve in the beginning that will likely frustrate players until they familiarize themselves with the controls, camera, and locale. And even then, new game elements are constantly coming at you (this is, after all, a very new concept for a Sims game), so you’re forced to deal with poor in-game guidance often. I pride myself on being able to figure games out without resorting to online guides, and was forced to do so several times during this review in order to understand what I was supposed to be doing. The first time you have to pass an Edict, you will be wishing there was more information in-game. I also found myself constantly battling with the camera, and moving from one building to another without moving into Kingdom view was unnecessarily difficult. Between the steep learning curve and the frustrating camera constantly pulling you out of the action, you will have a hard time getting hooked initially, and some may give up early.
vttym’s take: Giving up on this game would be a mistake, as once you learn the basics (often through your own trial and error, thanks to the hit-or-miss tutorials and in-game help) the game does provide a ton of fun quests, tasks and locales to explore. As you add more buildings and heroes, you gain access to a whole new set of interactions that are both fun and funny, and the traits add another layer to the management of your Hero’s needs that will have you replaying scenarios multiple times just to see how different heroes handle the same situation. Sprinkle in the fact that you have a variety of in-game achievements to unlock, and you have a game with massive replay value that will keep you going thanks to a great Ambition system that has you do more than just buying buildings. The Sims Medieval does enough right, oozes charm, and introduces enough new gameplay elements to overlook the burdensome camera, occasional bugs (read: stuck sims) and steep learning curve. Buyer beware, though: Stay away from the Limited edition; a few in-game items does not warrant the $20 price increase.
+ Great new RPG gameplay elements
+ Immense depth and replay
+ Hilarious Sim animation and story
– Camera is unwieldy
– Game is very difficult to get into due to poor tutorials and vague new concept introduction
Final Score: 8/10