At first glance, one might think that The Sims Medieval is just another expansion for the hugely successful Sims franchise. The fact it's a full-price game however and stand-alone will make you think otherwise: so let me start off by saying this isn't an expansion. Yes, it uses the Sims 3 engine, a lot of it in fact, but the setting and gameplay are quite a bit different.
What originally attracted me to this game was it said it gave the opportunity for players to role-play a character and perform quests to better your kingdom. To me that sounded a bit like a Fable III clone and since at that stage there was no word about Fable III coming to PC, maybe this game could plug the gap?
I haven't encountered any issues with the sound in this iteration of the Sims, making it already better than the Sims 3. Most of the audio is similar to its predecessor, including the ability to give different voice sets to your Sims. This time though you've got the introduction of many sounds you'd expect from a medieval village.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting much in the music department, but the music has grown on me. The music, being mostly medieval music which is dominated by lutes, recorders (I'm a real sucker for recorders and tin whistles) and harpsichords, complements the game extremely well. You hear different music when you visit different locations (e.g. going to the churches will have choir music) and there is variety of music to fit not only in-game play but the quest-related comics that pop-up every so often to help immerse you and your characters in the story.
With such a sensational soundtrack, it probably comes as no surprise that it was scored by a veteran film and TV composer, John Debney. Mr. Debney has scored soundtracks for films such as Iron Man 2, End of Days, and the Emperor's New Groove to name a few. He's also worked on projects for Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
The graphics in this game are basically the same as the Sims 3, hence the pretty average score (it's based off a two year old engine)! However, the graphics are still reasonably good and I especially like the art direction in the comics they use as cutscenes for your quests.
Unlike the usual Sims games, this one actually has more of a plot. Each quest that you perform has a start and end, and a story that unfolds as you use your Heroes to complete them. Consequently, this game already trumps the Sims 3 in terms of plot. The game is almost worth it for the hilarious intro cinematic alone!
In The Sims Medieval, you play a variety of campaigns which have offers you a platinum, gold, silver or bronze award depending on how close you achieve them (e.g. annexing a certain number of foreign territories, building a certain number of buildings, etc.) These are achieved by completing quests in each campaign and to complete the quests, you use your Heroes to do so. If The Sims Medieval was a traditional RPG, Heroes are like the professions or classes you can pick. You only get access to a particular profession once you build the structure that corresponds to it, and you can only have one Sim with that profession at a time. Having more professions increases the multiple ways you can complete a quest. For example if you had a knight, you could stop an invasion the old fashioned way - fighting! However, if you have a mage, you can handle it without having to lose any troops at all.
Remember when I mentioned in my Sims 3 review the addition of all these features that you'd usually find in an RPG (i.e. an inventory, quests, etc.)? Well The Sims Medieval takes full advantage of them which makes the aforementioned embarking on quests possible. You even have other territories you can annex by doing certain special quests. Also each profession have different skills, some of them even having mini-games, like the blacksmith forging weapons, or a doctor healing patients. All of these are definitely welcome additions which makes the game that much more fun than the Sims 3 and making the game more like... well... a game!
Unfortunately the game is still more like The Sims 3 than a proper RPG (see my awesome chart), but it's definitely a step in the right direction in my opinion. You still need to do chores for example that distract from the quests, although sometimes the mini-games related to these chores can be fun in themselves. You also can get experience points from them, levelling your Heroes (another hallmark of RPGs).
The game isn't as replayable as the Sims 3 due to it cutting down on many of the customisation features and also not allowing you to build houses. Also, children don't age to an adult in this game (although they are available as an heir to a hero/heroine if they meet an untimely death). Finally, the pool of quests you can pick from in each campaign are the same from campaign to campaign, so you'll eventually repeat some of them.
To alleviate this somewhat, the Sims Medieval does have the dreaded achievements which so many games have nowadays. Grabbing achievements apparently unlocks extra stuff though, so it does have its uses. Instead of playing the campaigns you can also play in a sandbox mode, meaning there is a mode for those preferring open-ended gameplay.
The game is pretty well polished, but it is using a lot of the old Sims 3 engine and interface after all. Unfortunately, since the engine is based off the Sims 3, this also means it has its fair share of problems as well. For example, sometimes certain items/quests can become bugged meaning you have no option but to reload from a previous save game.
Overall - 9/10
The closest the Sims has come to a role-playing game yet. Some of the annoyances inherited from its parent series holds it back though...
As I type this review, it appears that this game is being sold at half the price I purchased it for at EB! You can get it off Steam for $50.