Greetings, lovely readers. Long-time readers of the site knew that the return of Ginia would eventually herald the return of all things Sim to this site. That time is now, so you may rejoice or grieve as you please.
In March 2011 Electronic Arts released The Sims Medieval, a welcome change from the minor expansions and item packs available as DLC for The Sims 3. This new game is a departure from traditional Sims-style gameplay. Set in a Medieval era (hence the name, durp), the player assumes the role of “The Watcher” and must build up a kingdrom from the ground up. The game begins with the completion of a throne room for the new kingdom, and the player is prompted to choose a monarch to lead the kingdom. There are a number of other structures that the player may in time add to the kingdom such as clinics, barracks and a wizard’s tower which all require what is called a “Hero Sim” to maintain it. These are Sims that the player can customize and even control during certain quests. Yes, that is correct, this game contains quests, and the Hero Sims essentially represent many common RPG job classes, such as Wizards, Priests, and Knights. The game progresses through questing, and at the end of each quest the kingdom is awarded with things like resources which can be used to build new structures, or increases atributes for the kingdom such as well-being, knowledge, or culture.
A staple of Sims gameplay has always been customization. Many gamers have spent countless hours building Sim houses, picking out just the right wallpaper, arranging furniture just right, and carefully coordinating their Sim’s wardrobe. In The Sims Medieval the player does have many customization options, but it is not a primary focus of the game. The game’s emphasis is firmly upon questing, and on the growth and direction of the kingdom. Certain core elements to Sims gameplay are certainly present, of course, just in a more watered-down version. For example, in The Sims 3 each Sim had five traits (physical, mental or social) that the player chooses, the player could remodel houses, and the player would select a Sim’s wardrobe, right down to what socks they wore. In The Sims Medieval however, the Sims have only three traits, buildings can be redecorated but their structures cannot be modified, and each Sim has only one outfit without the option to nitpick over which shoes they wear. These elements seem to be there to appease long-time Sims fans, but again it is clear that the developers do not want players to spend hours on end building cute little houses for their Sims to live in and throw parties at.
Visually the game is pleasant. The Sims Medieval introduces what EA has branded “next gen Sim technology” to provide more realistic graphics. Facial expressions and skin textures have all been enhanced to appear more natural, and the world has finer detailing and more realistic texturing. The sound design is also a step up from previous Sims games, with more variety in character voices, and better use of ambient noise to aid the player in feeling more immersed in their fantasy world.
Although The Sims Medieval is clearly aiming to be more of an RPG than a casual simulation, it is still fairly light and superficial. The quests are simple, although EA insists that it is possible to get what amounts ot a Game Over by failing or dying. The player is often presented with choices such as “which building to create next?” or “Do you kill this person or teach them a lesson?” The game attempts to offer a choice between good and evil, offensive and defensive, greedy or generous. It is impossible to stray from one’s chosen path accidentally, making it easy to be the leader everyone loves, or the tyrant they all fear. The game is about as sophisticated as Fable in that regard. All in all though, it is a welcome departure from previous Sims games, although it will always be overshadowed by tactical RPGs that actually are tactical RPGs. It is difficult to straddle two genres, and few games will do so successfully.
The Sims Medieval is many things, but one thing that is certainly is not, is a re-skinned Sims game with a Medieval flair.