The Sims series has a long tradition of letting players create their own stories. The games aren’t just about guiding an imaginary person to social success or financial ruin; the narrative you wrap around your sim is part of the fun. Public humiliation, opulent homes, and shattered dreams are what I remember most from my time with a Sims title. The Sims Medieval veers away from the traditional open-ended gameplay that made these highlights possible, relying instead on hero-based quests and kingdom management that left the Sims fan in me unsatisfied.

I’m glad that EA is trying something different with the Sims, but the move away from familiar territory often leaves Medieval caught between two styles of gameplay without mastering either. It tries to provide strategic kingdom-building, but it doesn’t go far enough. It tries to give you the satisfaction of leveling up heroes, but doesn’t give a sense of improvement. These new features provide a few fun moments, but they aren’t refined or engaging enough to support an entire game.

You start by creating the kingdom’s monarch, but you’ll eventually be able to create a variety of heroes, including spies, wizards, and priests. You select a quest and choose the heroes to undertake them, but the tasks are far from compelling. For example, one quest involves satisfying the demands of a creature in a cave. The demands are easy to meet, simply involving a string of click-to-complete activities (Find a child. Make him a ward. Send him into the cave). All of the exciting parts of the quest – like exploring the cave or interacting with the creature – are not in the player’s control. This routine is constant; you run around doing busywork with little payoff in terms of gameplay.

That isn’t to say that Medieval isn’t rewarding in other ways. The amusing commands and unexpected interactions retain the unique humor that the series is known for, and the premises for many quests are entertaining, even if the process of completing them lacks the same spark. You don’t have complete freedom to explore the funny stuff at your leisure, since you are only given control of sims when they are on specific quests, but that doesn’t make the gems any less enjoyable.

With quests taking up so much of your sims’ time, EA has made concessions to ease the moment-to-moment management. Sims only have two basic needs (energy and hunger), which means you’re spending less time worrying about their well-being. You aren’t free from responsibility, though. Your heroes still have to perform tasks according to their class – wizards may prepare spells or collect ingredients, while monarchs may pass edicts or hold court. I like the way this simplification keeps you making steady progress without getting bogged down, and the game dishes out experience points for just about every little task. However, since you complete most quests by clicking on things and selecting the relevant option, gaining levels doesn’t really change how you approach your objectives.

Apart from overseeing the lives of individual sims, you also have a kingdom to manage. You’ll increase attributes like security and culture by completing quests, and you’ll also earn points that allow you to erect new buildings and fill out your initially sparse realm. Some buildings even unlock new hero types (there’s no build mode, though, so don’t expect to design your own castle or wizard’s tower). The big problem with this aspect of the game is that it doesn’t even remotely compete with actual strategy/simulation titles. Yes, it may be deep for a Sims game, but Medieval will feel shallow to anyone familiar with the strategy and RPG titles from which it draws inspiration.

Considering the sheer number of spin-offs and expansions, it can be easy to overlook a new addition to the growing Sims series. When each installment only offers a slightly different flavor of the same gameplay, they all start to blend together. Despite the problems with The Sims Medieval, at least it isn’t more of the same. Next time, I’d prefer something that’s also good instead of just different.