A (Brutally Honest) Sims Medieval Review

As someone with an abiding love for The Sims 3, I found the Sims Medieval to be a very strange game. It's essentially an RPG in which you complete quests for XP, yet also something of a simulation game, so whilst you're reporting to Master Woodchuck with your 16 ounces of stone, you can also get to know him and ask how his family is doing. This should have been a great idea, but unfortunately, The Sims Medieval falls very short in several key areas.

The first is in understanding what makes an RPG worth playing. After spending some time with The Sims Medieval, I wondered if the makers had actually ever played a good RPG. What makes a good RPG good is the ability to identify with and 'inhabit' your avatar's skin. That's difficult in The Sims Medieval for several reasons, which I will get to in just a moment.

But before I tear out The Sims Medieval's throat, here are a few positive points:

  • Character creation graphics are better, much better than they are in The Sims 3.
  • The game runs faster and much more smoothly than it does in The Sims 3.
  • Combat is fun, albeit completely random as far as I can tell. You initiate combat and then watch your sim go at it like a slack jawed bystander.

Unfortunately the game is plagued by an extremely clunky camera. For the first half an hour of the game I couldn't get the camera to rotate or zoom at all. It would only pan in, out, right and left, which was not ideal. Then at some arbitrary point, the rotate option became briefly possible when the icons on the orientation buttons changed, but within a minute or two it was back to the panning. I worked out why this was, and will share it with you now. The Sims Medieval has four different view modes. If that weren't enough to make you gnash your teeth, rotate and zooming is only readily available in Follow mode. If you are in Watcher mode, you can only pan back and forth and side to side. And here's the real kick in the teeth, if you hit the W A S D keys whilst in Follow mode, it shoves you abruptly back into the awkward and mostly useless Watcher mode. There is some method to the madness perhaps, but to be honest, it just feels wildly broken.

The explanation for much of the game's weirdness is that you're not supposed to identify with the actual Sim you're playing. No, you're supposed to identify with some omnipotent god like figure called 'The Watcher'. I found this concept just a wee bit clunky and just crow-barred in there whenever possible, usually as an excuse for being inconvenienced.

The Sims Medieval might very well have fallen in between two stools. Its going to disappoint Sims fans who enjoy a sandbox style of gameplay and rebel against being forced to 'go to the forest to collect wood', especially when the 'collecting wood' part of things is as simple as selecting your sim and choosing the 'collect wood' option. It feels entirely pointless, with the player actually being removed from the game. Instead of doing anything, you watch your sim do it - apart from when the sim goes into a rabbit hole, in which case you're even spared the work of watching. Basically The Sims Medieval appears to have been an attempt to create a game that plays itself.

The thing with The Sims franchise has always been that you feel a little bit removed from your sim's life because it's just a matter of clicking options to make them do things. What saved The Sims 3 and its predecessors is the fact that you could get your sim to do whatever you wanted. You could build a massive house out of pink fabric and replace the lawn with carpet. You could force your sim to reproduce until new babies slept under trees. You could tell great sweeping stories of your own choosing and create a world as bizzare as you wanted it to be. The 'click option' mechanic made sense in a world where walling your boss up alive for an entire weekend was possible.

But The Sims Medieval allows none of this. Build options are extremely limited and linear style quest play is onerous. Combined with camera controls that seem to think they know what you want better than you yourself do, it falls far short of being a great game. I'd advise purchasing The Sims Medieval with great caution. It's no Sims 3, and it's not much of an RPG either.

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