I've been a big fan of The Sims ever since the original game took up way too much of my time 11 years ago. And while I've played countless sequels, expansion packs, and spin-offs, none of them have been able to recreate the same addictive experience I felt with the first game, until now. The Sims Medieval, on the surface, sounds like yet another way for EA to milk one of its most popular franchises, but that knee-jerk reaction couldn't be further from the truth. In actuality, The Sims Medieval features everything I loved about The Sims, but completely reinvents the gameplay to create an experience that's much more role-playing game than open-world sandbox.
Just like any other Sims game, The Sims Medieval has you controlling people during their everyday lives. They have basic needs that must be met, though The Sims Medieval has slimmed down this aspect to only two needs, hunger and energy. Thankfully, this means you no longer have to make sure your Sims are having fun or using the bathroom. The goofy sense of humor, Simlish, character creation, and home decorating are all here as well, but that's just about where the similarities end.
Behind the Scenes
How did we review The Sims Medieval? Head over to Nicole Tanner's blog for a breakdown of which Hero Sims were used, how long we played the game, and more.
In The Sims Medieval, you don't have the ability to take control of any Sim in the world, which is a big change from previous Sims titles. Rather, you have a set of "Hero Sims" with very specific jobs that can only be controlled if they're directly involved in the active quest. Even though this might seem limiting, my Sims play style has always been to focus on one Sim at a time, so I didn't really feel that constrained by this element.
Each Hero Sim can be quickly selected using pre-set parameters or created from scratch in the character creator. In addition to their looks, Hero Sims each have two traits and one fatal flaw, which have a big impact on how they behave in the world, and how much of a pain they'll be for you to control. Sims affected by Gluttony are seemingly always hungry, and have to eat at least twice as much as Sims without this flaw. While this certainly adds to the challenge, it can get pretty tiresome. The other flaws that don't have anything to do with eating or sleeping are much easier to manage.
The traits and flaws don't always introduce a new layer of challenge, though. Some of them are pretty funny and keep the game amusing in unexpected ways. Evil Sims will stop and laugh maniacally at random times, Unkept Sims will pass gass frequently and laugh after doing so, and Sims with Weak Constitutions will vomit all over the place.
One of the coolest new features that really makes The Sims Medieval stand apart from its predecessors is the use of quests and kingdom ambitions. The ambitions are broad over-arching goals that range from simply building up your kingdom to seizing power in all neighboring territories. You satisfy the ambitions by completing a number of specific, smaller quests. You can pick and choose which quests to undertake, how you will approach them, and which Hero Sims will be involved. I really enjoyed this set-up as it gave me a satisfying amount of direction while still providing me with plenty of choices to make. The quests also enabled a bit of story to form, which helped defined my characters beyond their traits and flaws.
With all that said, you can still take your time completing quests, leaving you plenty of options to do whatever you want, like in previous Sims titles. You can romance other Sims, get married, have kids, run around causing trouble in the kingdom, and even die. The only notable thing missing from The Sims Medieval is the ability to buy property and construct buildings from scratch. You can customize the indoor walls, floors, and furniture in your buildings, though all items have a specific Medieval flavor to them. You won't find any lava lamps or televisions in this game. Once again, I didn't really miss this option as I've never spent a lot of time making buildings in previous Sims games, but if that's one of the things you love about the Sims, you'll be disappointed with The Sims Medieval.
Once you've completed a kingdom ambition, you've essentially won the game. You can continue to play with your current kingdom, but it becomes much more free-form, allowing you to select any of your Hero Sims and play with them, without any specific quests. After completing one ambition, you'll unlock a couple of new ones with a different set of quests. To play through a new ambition, you have to start your kingdom over, which is a bit of a bummer, but definitely keeps the gameplay fresh. The later ambitions are more challenging to complete because you have a limited number of quest points to spend on selecting quests. This adds a nice level of strategy to the game, as you have to analyze the cost of the quest versus the reward. It's even possible to fail at an ambition by not making the right choices, meaning you'll need to go back to a previous save or start over to rethink your strategy. The ability to fail isn't something I've seen in previous Sims games, but it fits right in here.
All of these gameplay elements work well together to provide an experience that still feels like The Sims, but also feels like something completely new. In addition, the Medieval setting and all of its intricacies add to the fun. The world is filled with plenty of detail from the buildings and furniture to the complex patterns on the clothing. There were plenty of moments that made me laugh out loud, like when the Physician treated a patient by slapping a big leech on his forehead, when someone got arrested and sent to the stocks to be humiliated as others hurled eggs and tomatoes, and when a Knight attempted to prove his worth by jumping into a giant hole to do battle with the dreaded pit beast.
Although I had plenty of fun playing The Sims Medieval, it's not without its flaws. Like all Sims games before it, The Sims Medieval suffers from Sims getting stuck walking in circles or screaming and stomping their feet when someone's in their way. The camera can also become an issue at times. You have the option to "follow" your active Sim, which is really useful, but if you're speeding along in super time, it might take some camera finagling to be able to see your Sim behind some of the scenery. I also encountered a glitch that forced me to abandon a quest, as the Sim I was supposed to get an item from got stuck in the forest. After speeding through a few days, hoping she would free herself, I finally gave up and moved on to another quest.
The Sims Medieval also seems to be pre-primed for expansion packs, as there are a number of areas your Sims visit, but you can't actually see, much like going off to a job in the original Sims. The forest, village, and cave are all examples of this, and given EA's affinity for expansion packs, I can't help but wonder if this was deliberate. However, The Sims Medieval is a very expansive game and still feels like a complete package, unlike The Sims 2 and 3, both of which removed features that had already been available in the original game, only to release them later as expansions.