Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Sims Medieval Review

I never wrote a list of what features of The Sims 3 I found boring. So it is somewhat spooky how EA managed to get hold of that list and to eliminate exactly those boring features from The Sims Medieval (TSM), and to replace them by some rather good role-playing game elements. Gone, of course, is the boring American suburb setting: Instead of playing rather ordinary people you now play the monarch of a fantasy / medieval kingdom, plus several of his subjects, from the wizard to the blacksmith. Gone are 4 of the 6 needs, with only hunger and energy remaining: No longer are you spending most of your day on potty breaks or under the shower, you now have more time to do the fun stuff, or pursue your quests and responsabilities. And gone is the general lack of purpose: The game is now organised in campaigns called "ambitions", and structured into quests.

The quests are definitively the highlight of The Sims Medieval, because they are putting what modern MMORPGs call a "quest" to shame. In TSM a quest is closer to the original meaning of the word, a search, a medium-term goal with several sub-tasks. Here the game for me pretty much hits the sweet spot between sandbox and themepark gameplay: While you are always on a quest while playing, there is no time-limit. If you neglect your quest tasks too long, the game gently reminds you of that by lowering your focus and quest progress. But in general you have plenty of time for all sorts of other activities; and blindly just following the quest tasks is actually not even giving you the best result, as you need the other activities to keep your focus bar high.

Not only are quests thus much longer than a "kill 10 foozles" trivial errand in a MMORPG, but The Sims Medieval also offers plenty of choices during each quest. Already when starting the quest you can often choose an "approach", for example when a wild boar appears you can choose whether to try to hunt him or to save him from other hunters. If the quest isn't made for one specific profession, you can choose which of your characters to play the quest with. And during the quest tasks, and during other events, you often have choices to make on how to proceed. Choices with actual consequences! Because there is no over-arching scripted story, you aren't fobbed off with fake decisions all leading you back to the same story on rails.

But of course TSM is still a Sims game, that is there are plenty of sandbox elements. While you can't change any more how big your houses are and where the walls are, you can still furnish your various buildings. Your characters can still interact with other sims, be it NPCs or your own characters. Every character has traits, normally two positive and one negative one. New, and playing more like a MMORPG, is the ability to gather herbs and ores from nodes distributed all over your kingdom, and to craft items from the resources thus gathered. And your kingdom has lots of interesting locations your sims can interact with.

Of course The Sims Medieval is no MMORPG, but it is an interesting demonstration of what a MMORPG *could* be if developers wouldn't neglect the "world" aspects so much. In spite of being mostly populated by NPCs, your litte TSM kingdom feels a lot more alive than the totally static worlds of online games. People go about their business, and your actions and choices make a visible difference to their virtual lives. And that makes The Sims Medieval a lot of fun. Recommended!

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