First thoughts: Sims Medieval

The Sims franchise is a guilty pleasure. I’ve been a fan since the very first installment oh so long ago. I also remember seeing the first expansion priced at $29.99 (quite a step up for the time being). The latest installment attempts to add a bit more focus to the open-world game play of the best-selling franchise.

Focus has been the issue with the series from the very beginning. Many folks looked at the idea of controlling a household person by person as a world of almost limitless possibility. Others just scratched their heads and said, “So I just make him pee a lot?”

The first attempt I remember to add focus to a Sims game had to be The Sim’s: Bustin’ Out. This is also the installment I liked the most.

In Bustin’ Out your character began at his mother’s house and had certain goals to reach before he could move out to a bigger house with more challenging roommates, etc. All of the sandbox goodness was still there. There was just a ton of fun to be had as well.

The Sims: Life Stories and Castaway also added a bit of plot to the open world design with varying degrees of success. But it was the World Adventures expansion to The Sims 3 that really upped the bar for the franchise. Finally the sims could do a bit more than cook and clean their way past objectives. Tomb crawling and collecting added another dimension to the game, and it’s clearly one that the designers enjoy.

The Sims Medieval takes the idea to the next step.

TSM focuses on kingdom building and questing. You begin by designing your monarch. You’ll notice a character creator that’s a bit slimmed down. There are minimal costume choices for each type of sim, though the facial structure tools are pretty much the same. You also don’t start with families or roommate. Just one sim.

The biggest change will take some getting used to. You’re not going to focus on one sim in TSM. You CAN use one sim to do many quests, but you’ll find many of the ones you create being used rarely.

Again, this is NOT the same type of sandbox game that The Sims 3 is. The idea is that you’re the Watcher, and you use these hero sims to build a kingdom.

You can’t just dive into gameplay either. To actually begin living mode, you have to be on a quest. A quest is a short plot to follow while you assume the life of one of your heroes. Usually it’s something quick and easy like find a missing child, kill a monster, defeat a wizard or find an heir, etc.

The temptation is to simply check off the steps of the quest, and I did that for a huge chunk of my first play through. But you need to increase your quest performance as well. For that to happen you need to keep focus. To gain focus you have two daily tasks to complete (things like collect leeches or write laws). You also need to keep your needs met.

Though you only have to worry about hunger and energy in TSM, meeting your sim’s other needs will help build focus as well. So don’t neglect things like bathing and socializing just because there’s no specific need for them either.

You can’t neglect your quest either. If you take too long, your performance will begin to drop.

When you complete a quest, you gain resource points. These are used to purchase buildings for your kingdom. When you purchase a building your kingdom grows. Each kingdom has four aspects, safety, culture, well-being and knowledge. Completing quests adds points to your aspects. Adding building increases your kingdom’s capacity for aspects.

Some buildings will also let you add new hero sims to your kingdom. For example, a barracks will need a knight and a wizard tower will need … well, a wizard.

I haven’t finished my first run through yet, but I’m almost out of quest points. (You can only take a limited number of quests, so it’s likely that you’ll play through more than once).

TSM is fun for a while, but it really shows the age of the Sims engine. The conversation system is the same one you’re familiar with, and it feels ancient. Relationships hardly matter in TSM, so I’m not quite sure why some options are there. I can only assume it was easier to rename them than remove them.

The camera is horrific. The ability to freely rotate is gone for the most part. You’ll always be stuck looking in the exact same angle of each building. (Pretty annoying when someone’s standing in front of that bowl of soup you want to eat.)

I wish there was a first-person, free-roam mode for this game. It would be a lot more fun to explore a medieval world that way.

So far this feels like an intricate mod of The Sims 3. TSM could have benefited from a more ambitious effort. A real combat system would have been nice.

Rather than have live mod only an option during quests, it would have been better to have a regular live mod with quests only opening up if the right conditions were present. For example, if your blacksmith made level 5, they get the next quest.

The core design seems to be the issue. The implementation isn’t too bad, but I can’t see this game having any real staying power.

And one quick note: Your bard gathers inspiration by clicking the ground. So when you need inspiration from the stars, just click the ground at the docks.

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