A charming game of crafting, exploring, and filling meters ad nauseum.
Forager is a vibrant and whimsical blend of elements from Minecraft and Stardew Valley, like collecting resources, crafting items and tools, helping NPCs, and exploring dungeons. While there are sure to be aspects that you find appealing, there may be an equal number that are off-putting, such as the constant need to hack apart trees and rocks that impede your movement around the 2D landscape. While I certainly had fun plunking down new land tiles to explore and regularly unlocking new abilities and blueprints, the gameplay began to feel very grindy after I had seen half of the 49 small islands that make up the world map.
You are given essentially no direction in Forager, for better and for worse. Upon starting a new game, the sole instruction presented is to open the menu and build a furnace; after that, the world is your oyster. The furnace allows you to craft bricks, iron and gold ingots, glass, and eventually even more. As you use your trusty pickaxe to chop down trees, smash rocks, and uproot plants, you collect resources like wood, ore, coal, and berries that can be used to upgrade your pickaxe, build new tools, or be consumed to refill your stamina meter. Herein lies the primary gameplay loop: harvest, craft, sell, expand, rinse and repeat. All the while, trial and error is the main way you figure out what to do next and how to get things done.
From your starting island, the center of a 7x7 grid, you can purchase adjacent islands using an increasing number of coins. As you unlock more islands, you’ll find that there are five themes or biomes in the game, including grass, desert, and graveyard. In each biome, you can harvest new materials that aren’t found in the others, and so exploration and expansion allow you to grow your crafting capabilities and enhance your equipment even further. You can also find NPCs that give you fetch quests, like bringing them 40 flowers, which yields rewards like magic potions, scrolls, or stones that improve your character. It’s always exciting to see what new features and structures you’ll find on a new island, but the rising costs of unlocking new islands force you to forage and grind for coins a little too much.
Outside of the grass-themed islands, you can find four dungeons, one for each of the other biomes. Within, you’ll encounter enemies and puzzles, in addition to a new tool/weapon, loot, and a boss battle. While the dungeons serve to break-up the repetition of harvesting and crafting, I noticed significant slowdown while navigating at least one of them, and this contrasted starkly with the speedy movement and actions of your character outside of the dungeons. Nonetheless, Zelda fans will enjoy these brief but familiar distractions in the world of Forager.
Playing Forager constantly rewards you with progress. Every object you smash apart gives you experience points, with level-ups granting access to a neat skill tree that branches outward to reveal new perks and blueprints you can unlock. If you want to focus on agriculture, you can do that; if you want to focus on commerce, be bullish on banking instead. The lack of tutorials or hand holding means you are left to your own devices, but after a handful of hours it’s easy to feel like you’re just filling meters and mindless swinging your pickaxe at everything in your way.
The absence of an overarching narrative or really any story elements to speak of means you almost have to be invested in the freeform nature and autonomy given to you to truly enjoy what’s on offer in Forager. Like Animal Crossing, there is a museum you can fill up to earn rewards, but there aren’t the quirky villagers to share their lives with you. Completing NPC quests yields a tangible reward but doesn’t create any bond between you and the quest-giver. Some of the dialogue is funny, but there isn’t enough of it to make the game world feel realized enough. In many ways, Forager seems to have taken enjoyable parts of other games but only in half-measures.
One of the promising aspects of Forager is that a roadmap of additional content is headed to the game in the near future, promising to add quality-of-life changes, new game modes, and multi-player. I anticipate that these free content drops will alleviate some of the monotony of the base game, but as it is Forager’s appeal is limited. Even though completing achievements (Feats) unlocks extras like comics and a music player, the fact remains that getting to 100 percent completion seems to be the primary objective of the game. Reaching this milestone will take hours and hours of grinding and repetition, so this is a game better played in the background, perhaps while watching TV or listening to a podcast. Ultimately, Forager has potential, but a little more scavenging is needed to take it from an appetizer to a main course.