‘Forager’ Is the Best Indie Game That I Can’t Bring Myself to Play

Welcome to Game Pass Gems. Join us on the journey through the underbelly of Xbox Game Pass. Maybe we’ll find your next favourite game. This edition will focus on the handcrafted full time pixel job that is Forager

The appeal of Forager is something that I cannot deny. It scratches a primal itch that few other titles can come close to scratching, fundamentally appealing to the animal brain. The beauty of repetition in the pursuit of avarice. It is a gorgeous title with a downright invasive soundtrack that burrows its way into your ears and eyes with the voraciousness of the most benevolent of brain worms. A perfect fusion of idle game and adventure game that seamlessly, even bewilderingly, merges the genres with effortless finesse. And yet it is not for me.

I have the sort of backwards brain that idle games just click with. The compulsive urge to make numbers turn into bigger numbers, then into even bigger numbers. The carnal satisfaction of being able to walk away from the keyboard, or even turn my machine off, returning at a later date to spend my accumulated numbers on bigger numbers than ever before. My save on Cookie Clicker makes so many numbers that it causes my CPU to overheat. This is my domain, there will be no unions, all life belongs to the machine, and the machine makes numbers. Ultimately, for reasons that I cannot quite explain, the mere concept of a game playing itself resonates with me greatly. Forager does not play itself.

Forager‘s core gameplay revolves around the idea of harvesting objects to gather resources, to build machines and structures that allow the refining of resources into other resources by clicking on any given object in the map and waiting for a little bar to fill. These resources in turn can be turned into things like equipment for the player character, such as bows or swords to fight the adorable monsters that show up every so often, or backpacks to increase your inventory capacity. Eventually, these resources can be made into coins, which can be spent on expanding your patch of harvestable land. Often, expanding your land reveals unique structures that present puzzles that reward you with things that improve your harvesting capabilities, or NPCs that provide you with quests, which similarly wind up improving your harvesting capabilities. Think Legend of Zelda but you have to earn each section of the map.

This concept is not where my problems with Forager stem from. The compelling idle style gameplay of clicking on objects to get other objects definitely hits the same spots that similar titles hit. My issues stem from the persistence of labor. In a standard Idle game, the player is quickly offered an alternative to clicking on the MacGuffin in order to gain currency. Essentially automating the process. There is no such option in Forager. Regardless of how much of the map you discover and how much equipment you unlock. You’ll always have to perform the action of gathering the basic resources that you need for anything. It doesn’t matter how many cool bows or potions or magic rods or bombs or wings or hats you collect, you’ll always have to click the rocks to mine the iron that fuels the whole industrial machine. My issues do not stem from Forager as an idle game, they stem from forager as an adventure game.

This is not to say that the adventure aspects of Forager are in any way inadequate. The feeling of discovering a cool new structure that leads to a mysterious dungeon is second to none. The tangible progress felt when you collect enough stuff to upgrade your sword makes me tingle inside. Strolling about the gorgeously drawn world is endlessly charming, and humming along to the aforementioned soundtrack will haunt my passive mind for weeks to come. It is an excellent adventure title, the problem is that I simply can’t be bothered after my hard day tending the fields. The idle aspects of forager, while perfectly integrated into the systems and mechanics presented, only serve to make mountains out of the wonderful content molehills that are discovered on a regular basis. Every puzzle presented a whole new cost-benefit analysis. Would the potential rewards be worth the time spent when that time could have been spent refining more coins? Even after I discovered a combination of unlocks that allowed me to make money by shooting my bow, enhanced by another unlock that made my bow shoot three arrows at once, and another that gave it unlimited arrows. I still found myself struggling to justify the mental investment of a new puzzle when I could be working towards meeting the ever-increasing monetary demands of unlocking more of the map. The wonderful feeling of progress is eternally at odds with what that progression reveals. This is my domain, the workers are on strike, the foreman is running the factory, the factory requires my attention, all of my attention.

Forager is a wonderful game, I loved it, you’ll probably love it too. Everything about it is an achievement of game design in some way or another. Truly it is a hero of the indie genre. My time spent with Forager was far from wasted. It was a delight. I would sincerely recommend it to anyone in an instant. The problems with Forager aren’t with it as an idle game or an adventure game. The problem with Forager is me.

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