If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! That’s what a lot of gamers ask from developers. Yet at the same time we want innovation. What a fickle bunch we are! So what do you do if you are behind one of the highest selling (if not the highest selling) PC games of all time and you want to innovate but not lose your current fans? Simple: Add a second line of games to the series to give us more choice!
That is exactly what the Sims developers have done with the latest Sims game. It is not an expansion, yet it is pretty much the same game with a lot of tweaks. So it innovates on the Sims platform without shunning the fans. No, the hardcore fans will get more expansions to their game. For the innovation cravers we get The Sims Medieval!
From the get-go you can tell that this is still a Sims game, but there are enough changes to warrant a standalone release. You are ‘The Watcher’ in medieval times (get the clever title now?) and you watch over your kingdom. Not in a perverted stalker kind of way – more in an ‘interested to see what happens’ kind of way. You decide that all is not well in your kingdom, and you need a ruler. So you create a monarch to rule the land and stick him in a big castle all of his own. This monarch then runs around performing your menial tasks. As he jumps through your hoops you are rewarded with quest points, which are used to purchase more quests. And so the cycle continues.
The point of the matter
After a while, the monarch has enough points to buy another building – either a wizard’s tower or barracks, or an abbey perhaps. These buildings need a champion to run them, so you create and appoint special heroes to take charge of them. Wizards for the wizard tower, fighters for the barracks and so on. Now you can have these heroes jump through your hoops too. You are now becoming the hoop master!
But unlike other Sims games, you are not free to create your kingdom in the same way. Buildings are purchased, not built, and you can extend them with predetermined extensions – the castle can have a ballroom extension, for example. You can decorate these rooms to liven the place up, but compared to the vanilla Sims there are not enough items, especially after the vanilla Sims now has about 10 million expansion packs (Hyperbole much? – Ed). It does, however, give you finer control over the Hero Sims’ environment.
Your Sims are also a lot easier to manage from day-to-day. They only have two needs: hunger and energy. Thus your monarch does not need to interrupt court to run to the loo. When you create your Sim you have to choose two traits that will make him or her a fit ruler for the nation. However, you also choose a character flaw which can severely affect how well they perform their duties. The philanderer cannot perform his duties if he has not done enough philandering, for example.
Every day your Sims also needs to perform a set of required duties, almost like a daily job they need to attend to. These duties are normally pretty lame tasks that see the Monarch hold court and listen to the nation’s needs. He then decides how to spend the kingdom’s money, either helping the people or ruining them. This in turn affects his popularity with the people to the point where he will be jeered or cheered.
A view to a kill…
The building views have changed to be a set view from one side of the building, and switching between structures takes place on a circular camera path. The camera is fixed in the middle and pans around the different buildings, making it easier to find these constructions, but at the same time it feels pretty restrictive. Moving around the land is performed in the same old Sims way. Areas other than the buildings you bought consist of the town square with a water well, the docks and the stockade. Yes, you have a working stockade and as monarch you can send people to the stock and throw tomatoes at them. If they are real bad you can throw them to ‘the Beast’! This is not quite the rugby player from the Sharks, but is scary enough.
For the first time your Sims can also use weapons for combat. Your Sim can build up his fighting ability and gain special skills during combat, and making sure your weapons are sharp enough before combat will help determine who wins the fight. Nobody dies in the fights though, and the loser simply runs away humiliated.
Finally, crafting is also introduced to give it even more of an RPG feel. The Wizard, for instance, needs to find the right herbs and plants to make certain spells and potions. In her spell and potion books it shows her what elements are required to make certain items. This normally forms part of her duties, but quests also require certain items.
The Sims Medieval replaced a lot of repetitive tasks like going to the loo with other tasks. The problem is these tasks soon become very repetitive themselves. Sitting in court quickly feels like a chore, and running around looking for the right herbs for your spell rapidly gets tiring.
I came! I saw! I wanted to build!
The lack of being able to build your own castles also takes away an extremely big part of what makes the Sims so addictive. Entire communities are built (Haha! see what I did there?!) around the buildings of the Sims. I understand that some people find the building process a chore, but rather make it so I have a choice. The introduction of quests gives the Sims Medieval more of a point than vanilla Sims and lends a distinct RPG flavour. However, having your Hero Sims perform demeaning errands does not fit the status of these characters.
Yes, the faults with Sims Medieval are small compared to the big changes. Being able to make a real difference in the kingdom rather than being an insignificant pleb in the streets is satisfying. And being able to perform real tasks with a story behind them adds weight to the developer’s attempt at storytelling in a game series that is renowned for being completely open-ended. Yet even these tasks become repetitive and boring.
The high point of the Sims franchise for me was somewhere in between the Ambitions and World Adventures. These packs gave you real tasks and rewards, more so than your average ‘going to work, earn money, come home and spend money’ loop that you tend to fall in with the Sims. The Sims Medieval tries to capture that fun part but takes away too many of the other options like building homes and just being a simple nobody. It does not give you the choice of being a hero or not.
Good, but too different?
You still get a good game, but Sims fans might just be disappointed with some of the watered down features. Other players will find it not quite RPG enough, and I feel that very few people will get enough of either to warrant the purchase. It is a worthy companion for the Sims player, but don’t expect it to replace your current Sims collection. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… Turns out they may have broken it.
- The Good: Be a hero, make a difference; crafting and new skills are fun; different focus on tasks and rewards; will appeal to non-Sims fans.
- The Bad: New tasks soon turn to chores; might not appeal to Sims fans.
- The Ugly: Fighting the Beast is the funniest part, but why does he always win?