Played on Windows.
Also Available on Linux.
Forager is a new game from Hopfrog. It’s an interesting take on the incremental or idle genre and was originally done as part of game jam but a demo has been featured in a Humble Monthly Bundle and now a full release published by Humble Bundle. It’s time to look at what the final product brings.
Let’s just get the graphics out of the way before we start talking about the gameplay of Forager. Graphically, I find Forager to be appealing. There is a simplicity to the designs in Forager, but at the same time, the character looks good and can do a great variety of actions. Most of my time in Forager was actually not spent looking at the player but instead looking to what my next goal would be, whether it be a tree to chop down, rocks to mine, or a building I’m waiting for progression on.
The main character of Forager is a little plain looking. He starts as a white blob that is swinging a large pickaxe at the world chopping down trees and mining stones with it, and while most of the game involves that, as the game goes on there are more and more resources for the character to collect.
Everything looks great, but the main character looks odd.
Forager has the ability for the player to collect accessories, and will continue to gain them by opening chests. For instance, the player might get a top hat that gives bonus gold. While the bonus is always accrued, the top hat becomes one of many accessories. There’s a huge amount of variety and there are four slots where the character can equip accessories. While most of these don’t change the character that much, it’s a nice way to customize your own character.
The way to change the outfit is a little strange, the player has to unlock an NPC and then enter their house to get access to the wardrobe. But it appears every achievement (or feat as it’s called in the game) seems to award another customization option. Also earning a certain number of feats adds even more customization as a part of the Extras so players will have many options as the game goes on.
Outside of the main character, the worlds start by being filled by trees, rocks, and bushes, and from there the player simply has to knock everything down and collect the resources dropped, whether they be “wood”, “stone”, “ore”, or “berries.
The player is able to change the world by placing his own buildings, and it allows him to develop the world, however, these aren’t very aesthetically pleasing. Almost every building that the player places with the exception of the windmill feel artificial and cold.
The buildings in the game feel unnatural or cold.
Overall though the game does look good, especially when you expand into the other 4 biomes. But it only looks good. The iconography of the objects is right. Trees look like trees, but they don’t really stand out as “Forager” trees, just generic versions of trees, the same is true for the Ore, Berries and more.
Some NPCs will talk to the Forager, but there’s not much there.
There’s not really a story in Forager. Forager starts with the character appearing on an island and then the game grows from there. There are a few NPCs who talk to the player, and a few make a couple of clever jokes, but overall, each character is just giving the player a “Fetch” quest. Or rather a collect quest. There is everything from collecting Bugs, to grabbing enough flowers from the current biome. None of these are particularly deep, but that’s by design. These are just goals for the player to chase down.
Forager calls itself the “idle game that you want to actively keep playing”. I have an issue with that to start. Forager really isn’t an idle game, I believe it’s more of an incremental. While most “idle games” are incremental games, Forager really isn’t “idle” the player can’t just sit back and let the gameplay itself.
There are some points where the various buildings will be working on large orders of thousands of items and the player has to find something to do while waiting, but there are always resources to collect In addition, Forager has no offline progression, and it’s hard to really see it as anything but a game the player is supposed to actively play.
Major upgrades feel great however.
Though I do feel that Forager perfectly exemplifies what an “incremental” game does. Most of these games are highly reduced to be the most basic gameplay, as I talked about in my piece on Grind as Gameplay. Forager does the same thing, you start by gathering a stone at a time to construct a building that needs 10 stones, but over time you’ll be able to get stronger tools, perks that double the drop rate, and more that allow you to quickly farm hundreds and thousands of all manner of minerals without much trouble.
The beginning of Forager starts rather slow. While mining stone takes an average amount of time, chopping down trees is a bit of a chore and is one of the less entertaining parts of the game, but it’s all part of the idea of an incremental. Without a grind in place, there’s wouldn’t be many challenges to Forager. Still, I find some of the early game elements, especially trees to be a touch slower than I find enjoyable.
Eventually, the player will build a Forge and the Forge offers a new pickaxe as that’s one of the places where you improve your tools and items. The first major goal it offers is a “Jelly Pickaxe” Which requires wood, bars of metal, and 4 jelly slimes. At first, this seems like a good place to start.
I was trying to figure out how to find Jelly for almost 30 minutes, and then I finally decided to generate some money, and from there buy new land and suddenly I found Jellies, earned by buying new land. Forager does this thing where it locks off content by hiding it behind a variety of gates. In this case, I had to buy new land.
But this process is barely explained, in fact, much of Forager seems to avoid telling the player what to do or where to do it to get pieces they desire. While I abhor obsessive hand holding in video games, Forager has an issue in the opposite direction. I unlocked a sprinkler and was unsure exactly what it did. According to fans, it makes holes that are dug wet. That would make sense, but since I already had an upgrade to my shovel that did that automatically it was a bit pointless.
There are a number of items in the game, and the fact is that if the player isn’t aware of what their function is, they might not be able to use them efficiently. The lack of instruction becomes more and more frustrating as the game goes on.
There’s a nice museum to display items, but it is a simple item sink. Still fun to try to complete.
This isn’t helped with how some of these systems are unlocked. Players unlock upgrades and progression by using Skill Points to unlock different Abilities. A single Skill Point is unlocked with each level. Some abilities are as plain as just giving the player 30 gold coins, but others such as “Industry” will unlock Steel and Glass, which are essential for a number of upgrades.
In fact, many of these upgrades are dependant on others. While playing the preview, I unlocked the Marketplace which required Leather which comes from a Sewing upgrade. So without the Sewing upgrade, the building that was unlocked with the Marketplace was worthless, but there was no way to find this out without trial and error.
It also doesn’t help that there’s no way to experiment. After buying the skill, the game saves and suddenly the player is locked into any choice he made, whether it be a good choice or bad.
It also becomes an issue that player levels in the game become farther and farther apart. If a player makes a bad choice, the next level can be quite a distance away. By the end of the game, I found that I was no longer leveling through normal gameplay, but instead either usual special objects that were created to level.
The problem is the grinding that is understandable to get levels early on in the game to unlock features, grows and makes it so players feel they take so much extra effort that they don’t feel that it’s worth it to chase these levels. Yet these levels are a primary form of progression in the game so the player can unlock new features.
Similarly, the cost of buying new land, which unlocks new islands for the player is set up on a progressive scale. By the end of the game, I was stretching and reaching for every coin, because I wanted to unlock all the areas and features of the game. Each area is randomized, so I was unsure if the next area would be a new location, a new adventure, an NPC or just empty land.
Achievements have a purpose as they unlock bonus content.
These progressive values tend to slow down the game, but where the land cost increases at a reasonable rate, so the player can eventually reach it with more work, it’s the level system that feels completely out of whack, and since not every skill is the same, buying the wrong skill or buying a skill at the wrong time can set a player back.
Overall though, as long as the player is reasonable, they should be able to make smooth progress for quite a bit of the game. I found I was able to easily hit level 40 without much trouble, over that time I had enough skill points, to unlock most of the manufacturing systems, as well as farming, digging, vaults, banks and more.
There are really three acts to the Forager. The beginning of the game is when the player is just exploring the new game, players will make mistakes such as not generating gold when they can or not buying enough land to expand but Forager appears to be very careful with how it punishes the player. I don’t believe the player can ever regress in such a way that they can’t return to the point. Forager constantly spawns more and more objects for the player to gather, so if the player accidentally burns too much wood in making coal, more wood will appear before long.
In the first act, the player is learning the rules of the game and is engaged in exploring everything that the game throws at them, and there are a lot of interesting features in the game at this point, and it’s fun to explore everything with revelations about how to efficiently do most tasks coming up.
The second act of Forager is really when the player is invested in growth. Whether this is the player’s level, which again is a bit slow for constant progression, or buying new lands, the player always has something to target. They can chase money, resources, or even buy new gear as there is always some challenge that’s relatively reasonable.
As the player progresses though they’ll eventually buy all the land available, and get better gear. I don’t know exactly when I would say the game changes into the end game phase of it, but it’s clear once the player reaches it.
There are a few different things available late in Forager, and it’s some of the more interesting content. There are a few dungeons that players will have to fight through. They are somewhat challenging but overall pretty easy to play through, though they do offer an interesting twist in the gameplay. I’m not sure if I fully agree that they fit in with Forager’s format, but they have some solid puzzles and interesting mechanics.
Ha! That’s what you think. Oh wait, he got me.
In addition around this time, I finally had developed some of the end game recipes including a couple that allows for automation, and more powerful versions of the staffs available from the dungeons.
The downside though is that this becomes all you’re working for, but if you consider that you’re building automation long after the need for most automation is complete, then it’s not as necessary. Similarly, the end game items require so much grinding that they become trinkets to mostly show who has wasted the most time.
It’s not that there’s a huge quantity of goods required, by the end of the game, I was able to run around gathering up hundreds if not thousands of items in seconds. Instead, most of the end game gear requires specific trinkets. These become painful to farm. Most of them are rare drops, but many of them come from digging or fishing traps. All of these are hard to come by.
While digging can be sped up by using shrines, which give one of two offered bonuses, where one might be to spawn a whole island of these digging spots. The Fishing never seems that efficient. The fishing traps become a progressive cost to build, but the cost makes it so I was only able to run around 20 of them at one time, but the drops are low enough that even that was making it hard to finish even one of these end game items, where players will have to farm 11 to complete everything
But really this end game progression just builds a giant wall for a couple of items that become unfun to really gather. While most of the game is about repetitive tasks, almost every repetitive task has visual progress. While you might need 100 wood for some task you have planned, you always see the amount of wood climbing as you chop down trees. It’s kind of the idea of an incremental.
The end game though lacks visible progression trackers and it becomes more of a slot machine, and not one I really found to be enjoyable.
There are other pieces in the End game that are dangerous or feel out of place. There’s a dark version of the shrine where the player can lose a heart for some bonuses. These bonuses can be quite good, 3 levels, 1 attack strength, or a free droid. But that’s only 3 of 8 possible choices. If the option for food drops and enemies appear as the two choices, you are forced to choose one of the two and the shrine doesn’t allow you to back out, you’re forced to lose a heart for minor rewards.
This is one of the only ways to raise your health or stat points.
While many games make the player trade hearts or stat points for major feature, this is the only place like that in Forager and they become permanent losses. It makes the Dark Shrines pointless to even interact with if there is such a high penalty for a loss.
In fact, it’s one of the two objects that even offer permanent upgrades. The player begins with 3 heart containers, and the only way to increase the number is a special spirit orb which gives an offer of leveling or stat points, but the spirit orb along with much of this content is a late-game object that takes a lot to farm.
Speaking of the hearts, the combat in Forager is a little strange. The player can take damage and may lose all three hearts, but if they do, they’ll respawn back on the main menu and can quickly enter the game where the game is rolled back a few seconds. It takes less than 5 seconds to jump back in the game and there is no penalty for the death. It’s an odd choice because the death itself doesn’t seem to matter. The combat in the game can be good at times, but with no loss of time or progress, the death never seemed to have any purpose.
Overall it feels like the end of Forager seems to be unsure of where it really wants to go and finds a place where the player is left to grind exceedingly rare items for the hope of finally gathering a special resource and it leaves players feeling that Forager is a grindy game.
Now, to be honest, Forager is a grindy game, incrementals, in general, are grindy, and at some point, the time waster aspects of the genre outweigh the fun the player has in chasing the goals, but many times it gives the player a chance to try a different strategy, or approach. Forager eventually was going to fall to this and does so.
But for Forager, it was only able to keep my attention for around 8 hours, with a couple more hours of me pushing on to try to finish the collections or feats. There are a few feats (achievements) in the game that take a ridiculous amount of time or effort, and at least one quest in the game that I think is entirely too grindy to be a good use of my time.
I do also want to say the menus in Forager are weak. There are a couple of clever inventory systems but they end up feeling more like hacks than anything. Players can build “vaults” and the vaults allow players to store 6 items stacks in them, which expands the player’s inventory. This works well when crafting because the player doesn’t have to carry “Wood” it’s just automatically placed in a vault.
Honestly, there is a lack of information on the skill pages.
The problem though is that if the player needs a specific item in his inventory from the vault, and has a full inventory, there is no way to swap items. In addition, players are not allowed to take the vault inventory into dungeons or the museum, or directly access items outside of walking to a specific vault. While these might be technological issues, the experience of walking around to each vault and trying to find where you left your “cookies” or “an emerald” and then doing more inventory management in the hope of clearing a space in your inventory to take the item you want becomes extremely frustrating.
While the Skill tree is good (though lacks helpful information) and the feats all have a nice progression bar, much of the rest of the menu feels clunky and the UI is all forced through a single interface. After a couple of hours, it becomes a little more natural, but the fact that the start and select button sit unused and only the B button on the controller will open the menu, it is a strange choice.
Of course, all these complaints and thoughts may be rendered moot, Hopfrog has posted a very solid update schedule, promising a new game mode very soon. The beta is out currently but didn’t work as expected for me, I’m sure it’ll be out fully soon. In addition, there are plans for harder difficulty, as well as more biomes, and more content, including mod support, and multiplayer eventually. These are huge goals but if the developer thinks he can reach them, it’s a worthy challenge for him to chase and can only improve the game.
Overall, I have to admit, I may have complained quite a bit about issues with the end game, and I feel they are valid problems, however, Forager kept me engaged for a solid 8 hours without problems. It’s only when the game ran out of content, that Forager’s experience weakened enough for me to stop playing.
I give Forager a
Final Thoughts: An interesting incremental that lacks a proper end game at this time, but it’s still engaging and interesting for a good amount of hours. With future support planned I only see this game improving.
Stats: 16 hours played. 61/84 achievements earned.
Disclosure: I asked Hopfrog for a copy of this game. They provided me one, I appreciate the review copy however it did not affect my opinion on the game. I am disclosing though so you can best judge my review.