The Sims Medieval brings some irony to this popular series of life simulations. Whereas the proper Sims games make the mundane aspects of everyday life interesting, this Renaissance faire spin-off takes interesting concepts and makes them mundane. It’s initially entertaining, fueled by the peculiar charms that have always made these games so delightful. But eventually, the pleasures of calling the local bard a lack-witted cur are undercut by the sensation that you’re just treading water and never really getting anywhere. Of course, you could say this about those previous Sims games, but their joy came from your ability to make a life as worthy as you liked. Just as your little digital people built relationships with each other, so you built relationships with them, and the stories you played out in the game were born of your own imagination. In The Sims Medieval, you don’t play out your own stories–you play out someone else’s. And you do so over and over again in a weird computer-game version of Groundhog Day. The first 10 hours or so are pleasant ones, and some worthwhile ideas work out rather well. But in the end, The Sims Medieval lacks imagination–and it lacks the tools to let you flex your own.
The game begins by letting you create a sim called a hero; in this case, your hero is a monarch in charge of a kingdom. Your king (or queen) doesn’t have an enormous selection of outfits to choose from, but this is more like Ye Olde Sims, so you wouldn’t expect a plethora of sunglasses and tank tops. Luckily, the create-a-style feature from The Sims 3 returns, which lets you customize those garments using various patterns and colors. So, at least initially, you get a taste of that dollhouse appeal you expect coming into the game. You gussy up your monarch, give him or her a couple of traits (fun loving, vain, and so forth) and a fatal flaw (perhaps gluttony or hubris). Then you head to your castle, where you might expect to find raucous adventures or, at least, a chance to exercise your decorating skills.
As it turns out, you find both, but not in ways you might have expected. Your first tasks are to collect flowers, write laws, and defeat a giant bear–an eclectic array of activities for the kingdom’s ruler, to be sure, though this introduction is expanded upon in due time. After the multi-hour tutorial (during which, incidentally, you cannot save your game), you are whisked to a kingdom view, where you get the chance to add a new structure to your land and possibly a new hero to create along with it. Some structures, such as the lighthouse, don’t come with a new sim. But if you build a wizard’s tower, you get to create a wizard to live within it. If you go for the barracks, you get to design a knight to enjoy it. Each of these heroes can interact with various objects, and each other, in typical Sims fashion. Sidle up to locals and get to know them. (Or spit in their faces, if you fancy your sim one of those aforementioned curs.) Head to the fireplace and whip up some vegetable stew or bear meat soup. Head to the docks or to a local stream and see if you can catch a few fish. You can also use a chamber pot, take a bath, or enjoy the tunes from a music box, but you don’t need to give the usual basic needs too much concern: The only such needs you’re required to meet are hunger and energy.