Back when I was playing The Sims 3, I would think about what kind of day my stinky bachelor had gone through before deciding which of the three meals in his repertoire he would cook. I am saying that actual thought would go into deciding what imaginary meal my imaginary man would eat. But it's not just that I don't care what my Sims eat in Medieval – I don't care if they eat at all. I'm trying to min/max my way through each day, driving my poor little Heroes through the night in an effort to finish each Quest as fast as possible.
Yet despite this, there is something wonderful about seeing your community come together on a larger scale. Whoever you're actually controlling, all other Heroes and members of your realm go about their daily lives, so a mission where you get your fire-and-brimstone Jacobean priest to give a terrifying sermon might see your realm's Knight and his son cowering in the front row. It really surprised me; as callously as I was playing the game, I grew to love the community I was building, which fast becomes a rich and colourful place.
Almost as rich and colourful, in fact, as the minute-to-minute game is empty and frustrating. To say that there's no challenge isn't quite fair, it's just that all of the challenge is in the wrong place. Since your (invisible) percentage chance of completing a task is only ever a matter of how focused your Hero is, you spend most of your time wrestling with this sad variant of risk/reward where the only thing at risk is your own free time. Do you go and fight the dragon and probably fail, leaving you with even less focus than you started with, or do you go to bed, do your duties as a knight, go into town, buy some boar meat, cook a good meal and then fight the dragon?
Other sources of difficulty include the interface – or more specifically how you're constantly trying to tug your character away from their irritating yet commendable programme of drinking, vomiting, laughing and getting mugged – and also the camera, which tries to swirl majestically around the realm but typically leaves anything you want to interact with out of shot.
But thinking of my town, and my terrible playwright who can't hold his liquor, and my queen whose parents were eaten by whales (she finds it soothing to go to the beach and screech in defiance at the sea), I do want to forgive this game.
Gradually assembling this whole town of pantomime personalities and then seeing each of them grow – or at least level up – as a character is a wonderful idea. Hollow as the game itself might be, the exterior has more than enough charm to tease you onward. If EA can just pull the core concept out of the dark ages, what comes next should be worth everyone's time.