Game Review

Forager (2019) [Switch]

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“Human beings thrive on action. Stagnation does not wear well with us. We are said to have our origins as hunter-gatherers. We run and chase. We are problem-solvers. We must be continuously tested and we continuously test ourselves. And it will not end until our lives end because of life itself.”
-Art Buchwald

 

 

Forager is a game that required my patience before I could even play it, since I waited a bit for its console release. Was it worth the wait?

Yes and no.

I’m a big fan of these kinds of games built on tried-and-true systems involving item acquisition, crafting, and construction, those which typically take the form of farming simulators and the RTS game of yore. When I first saw Forager, I could tell right away what it was. It waves the flags of its influences proudly.

Touted as a combination of Stardew ValleyMinecraftTerraria, and The Legend of Zelda (the 2D variety, of course), it’s easy to see connections to series like Harvest Moon and Rune Factory, or visually games like FEZ or Minit. Where Forager succeeds is in treating the gaming scene as a buffet line and adding a little bit of this and a little bit of that on one platter.

At the same time, Forager avoids the more involved, more complex, and more time-consuming systems present in games such as the ones mentioned above; something like a relationship-development system with NPCs or marriage to bachelorettes is completely absent. Side quests, too, are fairly minimal; there are maybe a dozen side quests in the game and Forager has its characters snarkily and openly acknowledge the nature of these as fetch quests developers put in games to inflate the play-time. Even farming, one of the most ubiquitous systems in games like these, is downplayed and, dare I say, irrelevant. I hardly ever needed to rely on traditional agriculture to progress as it’s a redundant way to obtain certain items.

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Forager plops your avatar on an isle of trees and stones, gives you a bit of direction as to what to build first, and then leaves you to it. You’re free to progress as far as you like, as fast or as slow as you like. You’re giving a multi-purpose pickax which can shatter stones in search for coal or ore, but it can also chop down trees for the lumber you need. Natural resources respawn quickly so you’ll actually need to keep up with foraging on your small island or it’ll soon become overcrowded with forest.

A stockpile of wood and rock, cotton and fish and berries later and you’ll be ready to build another set of buildings: smoking furnaces that turn ore into metal bars, anvils on which to hammer out new tools, spindles [] for working with thread and leather, but then you’ll run into another problem. Instead of the trees overcrowding the island, you’re overcrowding it with all your stuff. That’s when you’ll need to purchase another plot of land adjacent to your island, and in this manner you slowly build the world map piece by piece, venturing into graveyards and deserts, frozen wastes and accursed realms, uncovering towers and rivers and ancient artifacts, even dungeons and enemies.

You’ll need to craft like crazy, gaining level-ups and picking abilities off a skill tree, to make the most of the land and build up your foraging empire.

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Screaming.

All this shouldn’t be unfamiliar territory for most gamers and as you can see, Forager takes few risks and adopts some of the most efficient systems in other, highly addicting games. It just puts a few spins on them with some polish and then calls it a day.

In light of specificity, let me pick out an example of what I’m talking about: something that saves a heckuva lot of time is an ability which will pick up crafted or foraged items automatically. It doesn’t matter if you’re off-screen or far away. The items will navigate to your inventory without worry. You can easily couple this with quarries that generate stones full of ore, surround the plots of land with tesla coil-like towers that blast away at the rocks and rake in the metals. You could also set a bunch of furnaces to craft 999 of an item and set another device to craft items based on those items from the furnaces. This chaining of automated crafting was one of the most addicting systems in the game, by far, and you can bet your patootie I sat back and relaxed while the items came rolling in (until I was sunk beneath an inventory avalanche of several thousand Iron Ingots).

Well, when I wasn’t fighting off hordes of skeletons, of course. Nothing ruins chilling in a beach chair with your beverage of choice in hand as your furnaces bury you in ingots like some cadaver sneaking up behind you!

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visuals Visuals: 7/10

Simple shapes full of right angles and primary colors, Foragers is a world of squares and light, the exploration of a child’s drawing, yet somehow just as compelling in inviting the player to explore as a game with a fully visualized HD wilderness, albeit much more impermanent. I loved the visual cues of discovering new islands with dirt of another color: purple for graveyards, red for wastelands, blue-white for ice, and yellow for desert sands. I also enjoyed the Seussian flexibility of structures functioning, wobbling and stretching like cartoons as they churned out those precious ingots.

As you can tell from the screenshots, things can get cluttered rather quickly, especially if you’re like me and locate almost your entire HQ on the original island (note: you can later extend landmass by plugging up rivers, which sounds horrible for the environment). Monsters will still raid the halls between your forges and factories, and you can dig up items on any spare spot of earth. You gain the ability to automatically retrieve any item that falls to the ground without having to go and pick it up manually, so this isn’t so much a gameplay issue so much as it is an aesthetic one. Forager is every disorganized sock drawer you’ve ever had. Just toss in a few rogue slimes and a bazillion notifications that your socks are going missing. Oh and the radial circles which appear around your attack towers muddy and darken the look of the game, as well, especially if you’ve built a lot of them very near each other.

There’s a kind of insane appeal to all this, but focused or neatly presented it is not.

 

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audio Audio: 5/10

Honestly, I had to keep turning the volume up (in-game and on my tv) in order to catch the soundtrack. It was that invisible, perhaps inconsequential. Listening to the music in isolation, it’s cheerful and upbeat, energetic and simple, the audio equivalent of the graphics in a game which looks as if it could easily be played on mobile. Take that as you will. It’s not bad music. It just isn’t all that memorable.

gameplay Gameplay: 6/10

What happens when the entire game is the collectathon? When there is no punctuating goal or summary event? In Forager, there is no going to sleep at the end of the night to tally your work through the day, no life-changing event to prepare for, no ghost of your grandpa who will evaluate your progress after a few years. All there is is the hunt.

On the one hand, this makes Forager so completely addicting for someone like me. On the other, it means the end of the game can seem anti-climactic. There are a bunch of feats to complete, skills to collect, artifacts to unearth, lands to unlock, and equipment to build, including an armada’s worth of pet droids… there are helpful accessories, badge-like awards for completing dungeons, even a printable coloring book and a series of webcomics you can access from the title screen, but these are simply checklists to mark off and when they’re done, that’s that. There is also a “community center” kind of building you can collect items across multiple categories for to unlock some special items; I sensed this was kind of an end-game goal but this too is anti-climactic when completed.

The fact is, despite the number of things to do, Forager just doesn’t take that long to complete. As cool as the game’s cosmetic suits are which let you dress up as characters from other indie darlings, the game is just plain short. If you were hoping for an endless run of a game like a Harvest Moon, you may be disappointed in this one’s brevity. There is the promise of more content to come, though.

Inaccuracy is also an issue, and this is where the game struggles as a home console port. Your forager can manipulate objects with his tools in adjacent squares, but getting your marker on the exact square you want can be tricky more often than not, resulting in a few accidents here and there. Your character doesn’t move isometrically through the gameplay is essentially isometric for construction and deconstruction.

For all its dungeons and treasures, Forager is a wonderful game with addicting gameplay held back by a lack of precision, its own impermanence, and its lack of real goals. There was really no way to answer someone who asked me about the aimless, latter parts of the game: “So what am I supposed to do now?”

Not use the Switch’s touchscreen controls to pick up items.

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accessibility Accessibility: 7/10

The controls of Forager are easy to learn. New players will find the most difficulty in figuring out what certain items do, what different crafting materials are good for, and so on. Even by the end of the game, I wasn’t exactly sure what rainbows in jars were for or what situations I needed to use magic scrolls in. Some items are so quirky or so rare, plus there are simply too many items for all of them to be of any reasonable use in the game’s short runtime. Still, Forager gives you the reins when it comes to playing at your own pace, so you have plenty of time to figure things out on your own. Don’t expect a cryptic NPC to help.

replayability Replayability: 5/10

While the game is extremely addicting, it only lasted me about 3 night’s worth of play. It flew too close to the sun. A player could start the game over and redo the collecting, but that’d just be checking off the same checklists. I’m not completely sure that adding more content to the game really solves the issue, unless we’re talking lots more landmasses or significant late-game additions. A final ultra-boss might’ve gone a long way.

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These are not the droids you’re looking for.

challenge Challenge: 4/10

Deaths aren’t huge setbacks in Forager and it is easy to keep up both your hearts and your stamina bar (gotta keep stuffing your face), and this on top of the easy, short dungeons make for a game without a lot of challenge. You can go from a newbie to raking in millions of items every minute very quickly. Maybe the hardest things in the game will be solving some of the more complex puzzles? But even these you can always look up online.

uniqueness Uniqueness: 6/10

Forager, as mentioned, takes some great ideas from a lot of different sources and fuses them into a miniature hydra. That hydra doesn’t have the sharpest teeth or the brightest scales, but it’s sensational upon first meeting. No idea where this metaphor came from.

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mypersonalgrade My Personal Grade: 9/10

Was it worth the wait? It took longer to wait for Forager than it did to play it to completion. I finished the game in an addictive three-day fling (but what a fling!) and I never looked back, except for a few furtive, longing glances over my shoulder. If there were more to Forager, or more added, you can be sure I’d be back in it digging up every last tidbit I could get my grubby little hands on. For the time being, though, there’s not much left to do in it for me. That said, I did enjoy the time I had with it, intensely. It’s pretty rare that a game will actually keep me up past midnight anymore!

Aggregated Score: 6.1

 

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