There was a time before Forager where I naively thought I was immune to the kind of compulsive play that clicker games foster. I was wrong, very wrong – in fact I don’t think I have ever been more wrong. What day is it? I’ve lost all track of time. I went to get some wheat and eggs and lost three hours of my life. In short, I cannot drag myself away from this fiendishly addictive and deceptively simple video game.
Forager has its origins in a Game Jam and is the product of a solo developer, HopFrog, who seems to have been able to tap precisely into the parts of the psyche that respond so well to this kind of repetitive, incremental play. It’s helped in no small part by some really lovely lo-fi graphics that have a crisp, defined style and helps keep some of the more hectic moments easy to track.
The indie roots are clear with Forager. There are hints of Stardew Valley and Terraria with some fetch quests and dungeon delving thrown in for good measure. Initially you are provided with some focus by the proprietor of a local museum who asks you to contribute to the collections therein, but most of your time will be spent with your own set tasks.
The map starts small with the resources easily gathered and quickly replenished. As you accrue money you can expand your territory by purchasing adjacent pieces of land that hold different resources on a variety of different biomes. Gathering resources and killing enemies will generate XP for your character, and upon levelling can be spent on an extensive upgrade tree focused around foraging and farming, machines and industry, magic and economy. Which skills you choose to put your XP into is entirely dependant on where your next focus is, which does have some downsides. Forager provides you with next to nothing in terms of direction, and as such it is remarkably easy to find yourself spending your hard earned points in areas that are essentially better activated further down the line. None of it is wasted, but if you do find yourself in that position the worst you will experience is a feeling that you are grinding a bit more than is absolutely necessary.
Forager is not a stressful game all, and there is never any sense of real danger despite some of the enemies it throws at you. Death does have a minor impact in terms of knocking some of your progress back; however the more annoying aspect of dying is that you get a “Game Over” screen that punts you back to the main menu. It is confusing at first, creating the impression you are playing a single-life rogue-like, but you can load up your save and carry on pretty much where you left off, albeit minus some resources. In this respect the “Game Over” feels a little off, creating an unnecessary step to getting you back in the action, or perhaps, on reflection it has been a deliberate choice to pull you back into focus given the addictive nature of the gameplay?
The core loop is satisfying and enormously addictive, so much so I have started to question whether the compulsive nature of Forager is actually a good thing or not. It is far too easy to lose hours to this game as there is always one more thing to go and do, be that upgrading your equipment or working towards another piece of machinery that will ease some of the grinding. The pace of new acquisitions is pretty well judged as well, giving you a feeling that each tier of grinding is just the right amount before you discover automation for that particular task.
While it is possible to back yourself into a corner a little in terms of how and where you spend your upgrade points, the speed with which you gather resources means that it barely registers that you are spending more time on something than you perhaps needed to. Forager is a surprise then, a deceptively simple, incredibly compelling, intelligently paced piece of software. Just make sure that you have nothing to do on the day you choose to start playing!
Lovely pixel visuals
Loads of things to do
Lacks a little direction
Easy to back yourself into a corner with upgrades