The Sims Medieval: Best version ever?
The reason I posted the Lem short, “How Trul’s Own Perfection Led to No Good” was due to the fact that I’d read at some point that the Cyberiad had been a source of inspiration for The Sims back when it was still being developed under the working title “Tactical Dollhouse Simulator”. And none of the stories in that collection match the actual game play better than that story in particular.
While the Sims Medieval still doesn’t approach anything like true autonomy, however? It’s still a near-perfect use of the Sims 3 engine: I give it four point nine-two of five stars just because there are a couple of odds nits I’d pick with it, but damned if I wasn’t completely thrilled and impressed by the end product. Spoilers ahead, below the fold.
The most notable difference, as pretty much anyone might already been aware of if they’d read another review anywhere, is that Medieval features very focused, goal-oriented play; it is not a sandbox and it’s entirely possible to lose the game (albeit also kind of tough to do, since the mechanics are very forgiving).
I think if you were to poll the majority of Sims fans, the original “Makin’ Magic” expansion would probably win as all-time favorite add-on, and Medieval takes this element and cranks it up to 11. The different hero classes are almost perfectly unique from one another, and a lot of fun to play, but the Wizard/Witch hero class is hands-down my favorite.
The second best part is the story telling involved in the different missions; they aren’t just compelling as a narrative to grinding through the goals but cleverly contrived in their own right. There’s a lot of very subtle, laugh out loud and vaguely adult humor present as well — one quest, designed for the bard class, actually requires the player to subject themselves to ergotism, i.e. the dark ages equivalent of going on an acid trip.
There are plenty of other surprises as well, but it needs to be said that both the visual design and soundtrack are stunning even though they aren’t state of the art, and compliment each other perfectly.
In terms of weak points, I experienced some aggravation in that certain of the quest requirements are kind of opaque, and it can be frustrating trying to work out exactly what one needs to do to meet a particular goal. One quest required that I prepare “spiced venison”, for example, which eluded me forever until I finally learned that the only way the dish can be prepared is using a fire pit, which is actually a pretty uncommon item in the game unless you purchase one outright, but nothing about the quest actually suggests or even hints that this is what you’re supposed to do.
I was also a bit baffled in that the merchant hero class has the option of visiting neighboring territories (assuming one has already established treaty arrangements or annexed the land in question) to collect all manner of strange artifacts, some of which are used by other hero classes like the blacksmith to craft special items, themselves. Who trades what and what you’re actually supposed to do with it is both convoluted and has yet to strike me as suited to a specific purpose outside perhaps something that will see greater utility when expansions begin to become available.
It’s also true that there’s no way to play through all the scenarios provided without repeating the same quests over and over — even with variations intended change the dynamic depending on which hero class you select to complete the mission with, you can’t help but wish that there had been a few more included.
It’s also difficult to see where there’s much opportunity for modification to accommodate fan-created content, although I suspect a quest editor may be doable.
My strongest criticism of Medieval isn’t even specific to the game, however — it’s the way that EA creates expansions split between adding new features (like weather or vampires and so on) and new content that is purely cosmetic in nature.
I also wish they’d do a simlar re-imagination of the engine and build the thing around space colonization, thus finally delivering something along the lines of Sim Mars, but for some odd reason, this sort of game just never really catches on (“Space Colony” by Firefly, as an example, is an absolute joy and belongs on everyone’s must-play list, even though in terms of gameplay, it’s even more restrictive than Medieval).
In conclusion, The Sims Medieval incorporates all the very best elements of everything that made the original so charming and fun to play and in many instances, improves on them. Having played every variation within the franchise with the exception of a couple of console titles? I wouldn’t hesitate to say that this is the best version of the game, yet, and in a lot of instances, don’t think even the good reviews I’ve read truly do the effort justice.