Can Forager compete against survival-craft classics?

Over a year after it’s release in April 2019, the indie survival-craft game Forager has everyone talking again after it’s inclusion in the Humble Bundle’s September Humble Choice bundle – incidentally, that’s where I picked it up from too! 

I’m a huge fan of the survival-craft genre having sunk more hours into Minecraft and Terraria than I dare to admit – and after reading the stellar reviews on PC World and the Indie Game Website, I was totally ready for Forager to blow me away.

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The Gameplay

Forager’s controls are as simple as it comes – learn how to move, learn how to click and learn how to bring up your inventory and, congratulations, you’ve mastered Forager. 

Forager’s gameplay is almost as simple as it’s controls. The premise of the game is to gather resources, build tools and buildings, and explore more of the map. The gameplay feels quite slow and ambling, more like a quiet stroll through the woods rather than a mad dash to survive in the wilderness like it’s survival-craft siblings.  Despite this  laid-back style, the game still feels like it clips along at a good pace. I found myself actually making a lot of progress in the game almost by accident without realising how far I’d come. Your character gains levels and skills quickly, and the rewards in the early stages of the game feel impactful. You gain skills, recipes and abilities using a simple perk-point system as you meander through the levels. Overall, it’s a relaxing and gratifying gameplay loop which requires minimal effort.

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The Graphics

I understand what the developer of Forager was going for when he chose a pixelated, low-res style – it worked great for Minecraft and Terraria after all – but somehow,  instead of being stylish and distinctive, Forager feels quite harsh and jarring. The colour palette is extremely (almost excessively) bright and the pixelated graphics don’t have a lot of shading – I found it plain and overly minimalistic.

The screen always feels cluttered with objects, like the islands you’re building on aren’t big enough for both your character, your buildings and the scenery. And because the resources respawn, any space you clear to work in doesn’t stay clear for long. The constant battle against the over-encroaching, infinitely-spawning resources can actually be a little stressful. It mimics the feeling of hoovering the living room carpet – you hoover and hoover until the carpet looks spotless, you turn your back for five minutes and there are already more crumbs.

When all is said and done though, I acknowledge this is just personal preference. Other people find Forager’s graphics to be charming and fun. “Different strokes for different folks” as they say.

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The Grind

There were points whilst playing Forager that I felt like I was playing one of those grindy mobile games – you know, the ones that try to irritate you into spending money on microtransactions by locking content behind paywalls and grinds – except, in Forager, there is no option to pay your way out of the grind. Grind is an intrinsic part of the experience – grinding wood to make coal, grinding coal to cook food and smelt metals, grinding metals to craft tools and buildings, grinding coins to access more areas.

On that note, I have a bone to pick with Forager being advertised as an “open world” game.  To me, if I have to grind coins to buy more territory to explore, then that disqualifies Forager from being an “Open world” game. It’s not “open world” if the map is locked off to me until I earn enough coins to purchase more areas. In Minecraft and Terraria you can explore the entire overworld with no tools or weapons as soon as you start a new game – allowing the player the freedom to go where they want and explore the environment at their leisure what makes those games “open world.”

Grinding the same resources for hours is an integral part of Forager’s gameplay.  If you’re someone who embraces the grind, then this won’t be an issue for you, but buyer beware – grinding resources is not optional in Forager, it is mandatory.

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Videogames Make Me Happy concludes…

The problem with Forager is that, when we consider all the things it does well – an addictive gameplay loop with a simple premise that doesn’t require much thought – it feels like it would hold up far better as a casual mobile game than as a “videogame” on PC and consoles. It’s easily picked up, easily put down, and easily understood. I can definitely picture myself playing Forager on the train or the bus, in the waiting room at the dentist, or on the toilet. But can I see myself actively sitting at my computer at home and playing Forager? Unfortunately, I can’t.

To me Forager feels like a classic example of “Jack of All Trades but Master of None” – it tries to do a little too much, and fails to excel in any one area. When I think of the various facets of Forager’s gameplay – farming, exploration, crafting, etc. – I find myself comparing them to other successful games that have executed similar styles of gameplay much better. For example, if you enjoy the farming aspects, Stardew Valley is the better game. If you enjoy the dungeon crawling aspects, then Terraria is the better game. If you enjoy crafting and creativity, then Minecraft is the better game. It feels like there are lots of other cheap games that do what Forager is trying to do, but better.

Overall, perhaps Forager is best suited to a portable console like the Nintendo Switch which can take advantage of it’s casual, accessible gameplay. For now, if the urge to partake in some virtual bushcraft overtakes me, I’ll stick to the survival-craft classics.

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