In the interest of full disclosure, I confess that I am hopelessly addicted to any game that provides a grinding mechanic. I pour countless hours into repetitive gameplay, consuming every base builder, farming sim, and dungeon looter I can get my hands on. It’s my gamer kryptonite. So needless to say, the concept of Forager is exciting to me.
When the opportunity came for me to play Humble Bundle‘s and developer HopFrog’s much hyped crafting adventure sim, I set an entire day aside knowing I’d be sucked into the zen like act of building, assembling, and upgrading!
So You’re Alone on an Island…
The game opens with the adorable Forager, a half-Kirby-half-Michelin-Man sprite, on a deserted island with nothing but a backpack and a pickax. Onscreen, there’s a menu, experience bar, health and energy icons, and a counter telling you how many coins you have. That’s it – you start with humble beginnings.
A single exclamation point encourages you to open the menu and select crafting options to build a forge. By harvesting randomly generated resources on screen, you gather enough to build your first building. With every resource harvested, structure built, and item crafted, your experience bar increases to the next level. Each level gives you a point to increase your efficiency in a skill tree composed of four branches – foraging, magic, economy, and industry.
The Forager encourages you to build so you can earn money to buy the lands around your island and expand. The gameplay really gets going when you do so. The crafting menus are full of buildings and items to assemble. There are tons of islands and biomes for you to unlock. Everywhere you look, there are dungeons that provide combat, treasure chests to open, puzzles to solve, and NPCs that provide you tasks to shake up the routine.
Navigating the Navigation
The controls are easy enough to pick up. I found swinging a sword to be simple enough. Harvesting with the pickaxe borrows heavily from the Minecraft-punch-trees mechanic. Picking up resources and managing them in your inventory is an all too familiar part of this game genre.
It’s noticeable that a feature to better manage your energy bar is absent. Every resource you harvest and enemy you defeat drains your stamina, so you constantly need to feed the Forager. Towards the endgame, when I’d become so efficient at harvesting and collecting, it was jarring in the gameplay to pause every minute to open the inventory so you can munch on berries. This game needs more hotkeys.
Although the interface works well most of the time, I often couldn’t find items I’d just unlocked in the building menus. Initially, I invested too many skill points in one tier of my tree. Later, I realized that it was a better strategy to unlock all of the tiers gradually. Some guidance in the form of onscreen hints or an unlock icon in the menu would make the gameplay more fluid.
Sandbox games provide so many mechanics at times that some features are underdeveloped, and it’s apparent in Forager. Base building, puzzle solving, sim farming, and dungeon slaying are such unique gameplay dynamics that its hard to perfect each one. In Forager, base building clearly had the developer’s focus.
Specifically, the dungeons and combat features are fun but simple in what they provide, and farming seems non-existent. In the hours I gave to this game, I probably only spent a handful of minutes on farming and magic crafting. These gameplay elements need to be fleshed out and offer their own unique rewards for a better experience.
The Art of Discovery
The narrative of Forager is absent. I found myself asking the same question as the hours rolled by – what actually is this game? It’s part Legend of Zelda, part Stardew Valley, part SimCity. I have no idea who the protagonist is, and the game is devoid of a story.
Overall, however, I think this isn’t really an issue. Yes, the game abandons you to figure out how to play and work your way through its content. This can be jarring for some casual players, but I firmly believe anybody that finds this to be a problem is missing the point of the game.
I’ve rarely ever seen an exploration and crafting game embrace the unknown to the extent that Forager does. The game revels in what it doesn’t tell you. I found myself laughing sometimes at the absurd situations I found myself in with every puzzle, dungeon, and island I unlocked. The characters in this game are all funny and full of life. Every hour spent in Forager is an hour you spend enjoying the discovery of a visually beautiful 8 bit world filled with secrets.
Part of the joy of this game is the mystery! With all the video games that exist nowadays to spoon feed you narrative and gameplay development, it’s refreshing that Forager exists. Who cares if you’re simply on an island in the middle of nowhere discovering Capitalism? Go enjoy how much there is to do and see and build!!!
A World of Possibility
Crafting is often a design choice in a game. Here, it’s your purpose. I found an amazing amount of playability in this game through wanting to craft all there was to craft and seeing all there was to see. It’s fun, replay-able, and addictive.
In conclusion, while some people might be caught off guard by it’s open ended approach, the sheer size of Forager coupled with all of its content will reward most players with hours of enjoyable fun. In short, the game did not disappoint. With the exception of a few minor interface and gameplay issues, I can honestly say Forager is as wonderful as it is unique to play. The indie game, like many others, can be found here.