Capsule Review: Forager

A game of progression with a little too much friction to be relaxing and which doesn't give the player enough information to make plans for that progression.

(A note on versions - Forager received significant post-launch updates. This review is based on a version with the Appreciation and Combat updates.)

Forager borrows mechanics from a number of genres including idle games, building games, and action RPGs to create a unique mix that emphasizes resource gathering and progression based on upgrades and crafting.

Chop down trees, mine metals and gems, defeat enemies, pick flowers, and so on, by clicking on the relevant nodes that spawn randomly on the map. Each action increases your experience and you periodically level up and gain skill points that can be spent to unlock a variety of mechanics and crafting/building options. Money, which can be earned a few ways depending on your skill setup, can also be used to expand the map by buying new islands - these feature a few different biomes with associated resources and also include some unique characters and objects to interact with. As you progress you can craft better gear and buildings with various effects, increasing your power over time.

For me, there are two main ways progression-for-its-own-sake can be interesting. One is as a quasi-meditative experience - relaxedly clicking shiny objects to fill meters for a while can be satisfying as long as the rewards keep coming and there isn’t too much friction to jolt you out of it. The other is as an exercise in planning and optimization - strategizing for efficient collection and allocation of resources can also be satisfying as long as you have enough information and freedom to devise and enact your plans.

I found that Forager doesn’t quite manage either of these. It has too much friction (through inventory management and a lot of fiddly menus and crafting chains that just get more complicated as you progress) to be relaxing and too much unpredictable complexity (the sprawling skill tree is poorly explained and it’s very difficult to figure out how to get needed resources) to actually be able to plan meaningfully.

In theory, you’re supposed to start by gathering resources manually and then craft your way up a tech tree to automate collection and production. But the game does a poor job steering you toward this progression. Several times I’d spend a skill point on something that sounded interesting, only to find out that I couldn’t actually do anything with it yet because it required materials that I had no idea how to get. Along the way, I kept running afoul of the tight inventory limit and needing to juggle my possessions with a frustrating menu.

I couldn’t effectively plan ahead, but neither could I relax and go with the flow. I kept feeling like I was playing the game wrong but that the game wasn’t willing to provide the information I needed to play it in a more enjoyable way. I could have looked at a wiki, but that shouldn’t be required and it also would have spoiled the surprises that the progression is supposed to provide.

There’s a solid core here, but I wish that for now the updates would focus on adding polish rather than content. If the game made it more clear how to enjoy it and streamlined its menus and inventory management, I’d find the result much more appealing.

I Stopped Playing When: I had an okay time at first, but as I bought more islands and skills that didn’t seem to help me progress, the game started feeling repetitive and frustrating. Around six hours in, I encountered my first dungeon, which was exciting until I realized that while in a dungeon you don’t have access to the parts of your inventory that are in vaults, making them even more obnoxious for inventory management than the rest of the game had been. That was the last straw for me and I abandoned the game.

Docprof's Rating:

Two Stars: Meh. The game has some merit - it probably held my attention for at least an hour or I came back to it for more than one play session. But there wasn't enough draw for me to stick with it for the long haul.

You can get it or learn more here.