By Jaime Skelton (MissyS)
It’s been incredibly hard to tear myself away from Forager enough to write about it. Fifteen hours in, and my structures create a pleasant tick-tock-THUNK rhythm as they go about processing materials and crafting items. It’s the kind of self-made industrial music that makes you feel like being productive, makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something grand. I am a master of my little world of islands chained together by floating wooden bridges, and it feels like nothing will stop me from pushing until I have every last skill, every last feat, that the game currently has to offer.
That is to say, Forager is the most addictive game I have played in a number of years. Sure, I’ve dropped over 300 hours in Siralim 3 this year, and Forager promises only about 20-25 hours of content right now. But I can easily walk away from Siralim 3 any time I want, and often play it in smaller spurts throughout the day. Forager, on the other hand, has a way with gameplay loops that so seamlessly erases the accomplishment boundaries that normally give players a place to mentally ‘bookmark’ their game until the next play session. I don’t play Forager for an hour at a time; I play it for five.
With that experience in mind, it’s been easy to see why Forager has gathered such an enthusiastic fan base, one that’s rapidly growing with its launch in mid-April. Dissecting its success, however, is a little trickier. It’s got so many great elements bundled together in a single package. It has cheeky NPCs and dialogue; cute, cool, and relatable cosmetics; dozens of feats to achieve; classic RPG elements; modern sandbox design; and a gameplay loop that is so neatly packaged that there’s rarely a moment that progress isn’t felt. It pulls inspiration from many titles, with elements likened to Stardew Valley, Fez, Terraria, Zelda, and Minecraft. It isn’t perfect, but its flaws are well hidden.
Forager Gameplay: It Never Ends
Forager is, at its core, a sandbox role-playing game. You begin as a lone explorer on a small, isolated island. You must gather the resources around you, then use them to build structures that help you process more resources and build more things. Gradually you expand these activities, as well as purchase access to more land. This land comes in the form of square island plots, which are sorted into five biomes. The location of the biomes on the map are pre-determined, and the islands hand-crafted. But while neither of these elements are random, the placement of each island is randomized, meaning that each play through may islands unlocked in different orders and placements.
As a sandbox style game, the choice of what to focus on and achieve first is up to the player. Much of this choice is powered by the skill system. There are 64 total skills to unlock, available on a square grid that begins in the center. These are sorted into four categories/quadrants: industrial, economic, magical, and farming. The player gains one skill point per level, and can unlock skills in any order they choose, so long as the skill is adjacent to one they have already unlocked – a radial skill system, as it were. As with any game, there are community recommended paths that make progress a little easier or more efficient, but picking without a guide isn’t really punishing. After all, you gain experience for everything.
Mining, foraging, combat – all are done with a very simple click, or click-and-hold. There’s no fancy abilities, although later on you will unlock magic rods that come with a point to aim system with an on-screen reticle. Movement is done with WASD, and you can hit the spacebar to roll-dodge (also a speed efficient way of moving). All of the keys can also be remapped, although most feel natural and easy to adapt to.
Besides gathering and crafting, there are several other goals to achieve. There’s a Stardew / Animal Crossing style museum to collect various objects and complete for rewards. NPCs are scattered across the islands that offer specific fetch quests for special rewards. There are several puzzles as well, scattered on the islands and in towers that host special challenges. There are also four dungeons, built similarly to Zelda dungeons with puzzles to solve, keys to find, and even secret rooms to discover. All of these grant even more tools, goodies, and power to the player. From humble beginnings, you can ascend to near godhood with powerful spells, potions, scrolls, and weapons at your disposal.
Forager Criticism: Plenty Good Enough, But. . .
If my addiction to Forager doesn’t make it clear enough, let me spell it out: Forager is a great game. Despite being an approximately 20 hour game (as of review), it is high value gameplay. If you’re not sure, you can even try the demo. I also have to point out that this is just the beginning for Forager: the game has a further roadmap that will add more quality of life updates, new content, and more. So long as HopFrog follows through, that game value is only going to increase over time.
The greatest flaw with Forager is content scaling. This is a two-edged problem. On one extreme, the power granted by gear becomes so great so fast, there is little challenge in combat. This leaves most of the game’s challenge in solving its puzzles and optimizing your lands. It’s scaled badly enough that you can one-shot bosses long before you get your final weapon. On the other extreme, the material and time grind shoots up exponentially for the last set of gear and weapons. This leads to a common scenario, where players have completed most content and are simply left to grind for the last gear and feats, something that far outweighs the quick five to ten minute grinds that characterize the earlier parts of the game.
Another criticism I have is the lack of motivation for choice in play through. While I’ve praised the game’s open-ended nature, there are some elements in which the player – should they wish to complete all the feats as required of them for completion – must follow a certain path. Alternate paths would add a great deal of replayability to the game, and give meaning and consequence to some choices (such as what you might do with those giant beets). This could also be used in elements such as gear (what if you don’t want a demonic weapon?), puzzle solving order, etc.
There are also more minor issues to consider. One (though certainly not minor for some people) is that the game heavily utilizes screen shake, yet there’s no way to turn it off. Early on this isn’t too bothersome, but the more you develop and get your personal factories running, the more you find the screen bumping and shaking constantly. Another is the lack of description or explanation of some items or buildings. For instance, I had no clue what either the Lighthouse or the Power Plant did, and ended up building them in locations where they were practically useless. Animals exist in the game, but there’s no real way to manage them or herd them into fenced areas to keep an eye on them. There’s also an issue in that the Steam page cites a couple of features, like raids and NPC combat assistance, that aren’t actually available in game yet.
Final Thoughts: Great (4/5)
Forager already has the makings of an indie cult favorite: accessibility, a bright memorable world, addictive and open-ended gameplay, and a small development team that sees the game as a passion project. It is absolutely charming, and despite its limited play time and replayability, is remarkably engaging for any who enjoy these style of friendly sandbox games. It’s a unique experience that blends a lot of great elements from great games, and it’s absolutely worth buying.
On the same token, I must again caution that the game is both complete and incomplete, with a roadmap of features yet to be released. I believe that the game’s success and its passionate development team, paired with Humble Bundle, will see Forager grow into the foreseeable future. All the same, it’s important to purchase games based on what they are, and not what they might become. I’m looking forward to what the future holds.
Note: A game copy was provided for review purposes.