Also available on: Mac
Developer: The Sims Studio
Genre: Life Simulation
Between its three core games and the countless expansions that have been added to its framework, The Sims pretty much has all bases covered already. Recent add-ons for its latest iteration have explored everything from career development to holiday-making, so where EA would take the franchise next has been the subject of much fan speculation. Who would have guessed they'd send it back to the Middle Ages and practically reinvent its gameplay? While The Sims Medieval sounds like yet another obligatory update, it's actually a standalone game that singlehandedly reinvigorates a series that has been running the risk of turning stale.
While there have been some radical overhauls here and there, there's no mistaking this for anything other than a Sims title. The core principals remain unchanged. Taking control of those virtual beings known as Sims, the player shoulders responsibility for their wellbeing and oversees their everyday lives. In previous games, this involved a whole manner of tedious non-events, such as ensuring your characters cleaned up and visited the bathroom. They still have basic needs to sate, though the system has been efficiently streamlined, so hunger and energy are the only things that really count. That's not to say the level of depth has been compromised. There are still endless customisation options when it comes to your Sim's physical appearance and home decoration, plus there's scope to shape your own destiny.
Marking a departure from its forbears, the game doesn't allow you to take command of just any Sim in the field of play. The player starts out controlling a monarch and selects a Kingdom Ambition. These range from imperial domination to the accumulation of wealth, dictating the path you will go down from the off. You work towards your ambition through the completion of quests. Activating a quest puts you in control of a Hero Sim, and this is where the game asserts its own identity. Managing an entire family in previous games was not unlike attending to a room full of spinning plates, so Medieval's focus on one character at a time will be a welcome change of pace to anyone who found this migraine-inducing.
Things are more structured this time around. Quests have clearly defined goals and character development, and a broad flaws and traits system keeps things interesting. Each Hero Sim possesses two traits and one flaw, some of which are more apparent than others. Those with the Adventurous trait won't shy away from battles, while those with the gluttony flaw have to be fed twice as much (making it by far the most demanding quality). Other values are more amusing than anything, such as Unkempt, which means your character will be prone to flatulence. Despite fixed objectives, gameplay isn't completely linear. There's enough flexibility to complete the quests at your own pace and spend the rest of the time doing as you please. Whether wooing maidens and getting married, or causing trouble and ending up in the stocks, Medieval still possesses that sense of unpredictability and freedom the series has always maintained.
Once a Kingdom Ambition has been completed, you have in a sense won the game. Although new Ambitions are unlocked, you have to start up a kingdom from scratch to tackle them. If you've formed an attachment to your realm, you can continue playing outside of the structured quests, but the option to access the new content without having to restart would have been welcome. The unlockable Kingdom Ambitions are definitely more challenging, not least because they impose restrictions on the amount of quest points (which are required to access missions) you have. This requires careful strategy, as the player must take note of the amount of points a quest costs to embark on, and the amount its completion accumulates.
As presentation goes, the game looks pretty much identical to The Sims 3 apart from the medieval aesthetic. The cutscenes are well rendered and expertly animated, and the music and trademark Simlish dialect fit the setting perfectly. There's even a voiceover from Captain Picard himself, Patrick Stewart, whose tones add some class to the concoction. On the surface, it looks polished, but the glitches that have long plagued the series still haven't been laid to rest. Sims will become trapped behind scenery indefinitely, which sometimes forces you to abort a quest. Camera issues are a more prominent gripe. At times, locating your Sim is like finding a needle in a haystack when a sizeable piece of scenery obscures them from view. That said, the option to 'follow' an active character helps counterbalance this somewhat.
In summary, camera gripes and minor bugs don't stop The Sims Medieval from breathing new life into the franchise. The addition of quests and character development makes this the most unique addition to the fold for as long as we can remember, and the structured objects and streamlined mechanics feel like a welcome change of pace. This one will give fans of the series a few knights to remember.
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