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Sims set to go medieval

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Ye Olde Sims

You don't mess with success.

So when you're dealing with The Sims -- the most popular PC video game franchise ever made, with over 120 million copies sold  -- you
could certainly forgive publisher EA the cautious approach it's taken to changing up the series' tried-and-true virtual dollhouse gameplay. Past
attempts to break the Sims mold, like 2002's abortive The Sims Online, haven't
fared well, but for their next Sims release EA is ready to try something new.

Or something old, as it turns out. Very old.

The Sims Medieval, which releases on March 22 on PC and Mac, takes Sims fans way back to the Middle Ages, where they'll discover simulated life's rather different than they
might have gotten used to. Sure, you'll still be able to do the usual Sims
stuff -- eat, drink, have babies, set yourself on fire -- but The Sims: Medieval's gameplay will be more structured, more directed, and include a much heavier emphasis on role-playing.

Put your wizard's hat and twenty-sided dice away, though. The Sims: Medieval is going to be far from the nerdy, hey-nonny-nonnery of Dungeons and Dragons -- and even a fair
distance from Sims publisher EA's recent -playing release, Dragon Age II.
Medieval will be recognizably a Sims game, using a game engine that's largely
the same as The Sims 3, but with a period-appropriate facelift and plenty of
extras: complex, multi-part quests, player-controlled kingdoms for you to
develop, and, naturally, heroes.

Check out the Sims Medieval Image Gallery

As you might guess, the latter is where the player comes in. The Sims Medieval includes about ten hero types, which range from standard fantasy tropes (like kings, wizards,
knights, and bards) to more innovative additions like physicians and merchants.
Each has his or her own characteristics -- and their own job to do. Physicians
heal other Sims, bards sing to them, monarchs tell them what to do (and, if our
history lessons were accurate, chop off their heads if they refuse).

Your Sims aren't going to be much good as heroes without quests. Fortunately, The Sims Medieval includes plenty, ranging from simple tasks that only need one hero to more
complex feats that'll require you to draw on the talents of several of your
characters. Take the self-explanatory "The Monarch Is Sick" quest -- a physician
is the obvious choice to cure the unwell king, but he'll need help from other
characters to gather ingredients or pray for the success of the treatment.

Completing a quest will level up your characters, earn you money, and develop your kingdom, adding new buildings or improving existing ones. It'll also cost you Quest Points --and you only have a limited number of those per playthrough. Run out, and the
game ends.

Wait, what? Legendarily open-ended, Sims games typically don't "finish,"
instead letting you play out your virtual dollhouse ad nauseum. But Medieval
will put a period to your heroic adventures once you've completed enough quests
-- and when it does, the game will look at your kingdom's advancement,
comparing it with targets set at the outset, and determine how well you played.
This new, goal-oriented structure will make it more of a game -- and less of a
toy -- than other Sims titles, and that's going to be quite an adjustment for
fans.

But with over a decade of Sims games and expansions that have largely retrodden the same themes, EA is clearly gambling on them being ready for a change. We'll find out
whether they're right on March 22.

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