The original The Sims brought out a frightening dark side in me, every time I picked up the game. Everything would be fine for an hour or so, as I was happily guiding and watching my virtual people. But then, inevitably, Something Bad would happen, and there would be screaming. And fire. I would like to blame the lack of concrete tasks--I'm the sort of person that needs a little direction or I become...creative. So, wracked with a confusing amount of guilt (and a keener understanding of exactly how long a Sim can live in a 10x10 doorless room), I would put the game to rest. Thankfully, The Sims Medieval changes all of this, giving me what I've been craving in The Sims since its beginning--goals.
That being said, The Sims Medieval is not simply The Sims 3 with swords and dragons--players who come to the party expecting such will be disappointed. Some of the Sims-y elements have been toned down to make way for more task-oriented gameplay. Most noticeably, the Medieval Sims are quite a bit less complex than their modern-day brethren. Although the playable characters are major movers and shakers in the community, each Sim now only has two statistics to keep in check--hunger and energy. Coupled with three Traits (two beneficial, one less so), players have much less to juggle while guiding their charges through their tiny lives. Sure, Sims can still do many of the things they've always done. But players who want nothing more than simply raising families, building houses, or living virtual lives are missing the point of The Sims Medieval. This time around, players are trying to build an entire Kingdom, and each individual Sim is a cog in the works.
Players are once again given the role of an omnipresent observer, although this time around things are a bit more formalized. Given the title of Watcher, players are tasked to guide their Kingdom by taking control of the major characters and shaping the Kingdom's history. Each game starts out with players choosing an Ambition, the ultimate goal for a particular Kingdom. At first, only one Ambition is unlocked--additional Ambitions become available as Watchers succeed in Kingdom tasks. Once an Ambition is chosen, the Watcher jumps into the Kingdom to begin their meddling.
Initially, a fledgling Kingdom looks much like an empty neighborhood from the original The Sims. However, only certain buildings can be constructed, using precious Resource Points, and none of the buildings are customizable in construction. Players can (and must) still furnish these buildings to keep their Sims happy, but the overall design is pre-set. For some, this lack of design function could be a turn-off, but I found building to be my least favorite part of The Sims--I'm just not creative in that fashion. For me, the ability to simply jump into the action of a new building (and associated Sim) without the tedious construction time is a bonus. Most of the buildings unlock a new type of Sim, and a full complement of these Hero Sims are necessary for the health and well-being of the Kingdom.
Players must begin the Ambition with a Monarch, with additional Sims becoming available as their key building is constructed. Sim creating is a breeze. Players may pick from two pre-generated choices, completely randomize their character, or carefully go through each step of the process. Once a player has chosen three Traits and decided what the character will look like, the Sim can begin his or her Quests.
Each Ambition allots a set number of Quest Points, which can be spent to begin the various Quests. A nice selection of Quests are available at any time, but many are limited to the type of Sim that can undertake them. So the Monarch will not be able to try a quest limited to the Magician, and the Spy certainly cannot try a Healer-only Quest. Some of the Quests offer various solution paths, depending on the Sim type assigned as primary, while others require a party of Sims to carry out. The multiple-path Questing options allows for quite a bit of replayability, as players can try completely different Sim combinations in subsequent Ambitions. Gameplay is completely familiar The Sims fare. Players control their Sims through the use of the Skewer, and context-sensitive actions are available for many objects and Sims. Time is once again expressed in that strange Sims-esque way, and it seems to take an inordinate amount of the day to accomplish even mundane tasks. Thankfully, time can be compressed by fast-forwarding whenever desired, and a further option to fast-forward until a command is completed is welcome indeed. Of course, fast-forwarding does cause players to miss all the wonderful interactions and amusing quirks that are central to the series.
Once a Quest begins, the current Sim must balance their day-to-day duties with the overall goals of the Quest itself, all the while trying to keep themselves well fed and well rested. Exactly how well a Sim fares at their daily tasks depends on an attribute called Focus. A Focused Sim will have a much better chance at just about everything, from sword-fighting to brewing potions to making Royal Decrees. Maintaining a positive Focus is at the heart of the game, and can be quite tricky at times. Almost akin to happiness, Focus increases when Sims do things they like, such as having nice things, doing well at their jobs, eating a good meal, of having a nice hot bath. Hunger, exhaustion, and shirking their daily responsibilities will bring the Focus score down quickly, making life much more difficult. Each Sim must complete two job-related tasks each day in order to stay happy. Letting these tasks go by the wayside, even to complete the more important Quest-related tasks, can result in Focus loss and, eventually, can result in the Sim being placed in the Stocks. Letting Quest-related tasks go unanswered can result in additional Focus loss and eventually a failed Quest.
Completing jobs is not only important to further the Quest, this is also a primary way a Sim gains experience. In an RPG-lite fashion, Sims gain experience by doing, well, just about anything useful. As they "level", they get better at their specialties--priests become better at leading their flocks in worship of the Watcher, Monarchs become better at ruling, Spies become better at skulking about.
Succeeding in a Quest results in rewards of Resource Points, money, and experience, in addition to adding (or subtracting) Kingdom attributes. The Kingdom has four attributes--well-being, safety, culture, and knowledge. Should any of these attributes become too low, the entire Kingdom suffers. Allow well-being to drop, and plague and pestilence stalks the lands. Lose track of safety, and bandits terrorize the kingdom. Completing quests and constructing buildings brings these totals up, bestowing many benefits.
Once all the Quest Points are spent, the Ambition is over, and players must undertake a new Ambition (or replay the current one for better rank). The entire Kingdom is reset with the new Ambition, which may turn off some players. But, with a new bank of Quests to choose from, and a different set of Kingdom goals for each ambition, there is plenty to do to keep quite busy for a long time.
Once again, The Sims Medieval is all about building up the Kingdom, with each individual Sim being a player in the drama. I found this to be a refreshing take on the Sims formula, wrapped as it was in the clever and charming Sims style. Players wanting yet another rehash of The Sims may be disappointed in the lack of building customization and character depth--those players would do well to just stick with the latest title in the main The Sims line. For those wanting something a little more goal-oriented, with some lite RPG fun thrown in, The Sims Medieval is a fresh face on a very well-polished series.