Forager, Steam's Latest Hit, Is All About The Grind

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When I first started playing Forager, I nearly fell asleep. My little marshmallow man spawned on an abandoned island, and I was all alone, sans direction save for the option to build a furnace and hack at some trees to collect supplies. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. Then I leveled up, and things began to change.

Forager, a base-building and crafting game that came out on Steam yesterday, has quickly rocketed to the top of the platform’s best-sellers list. It’s a laid-back little game that’s one part Minecraft, one part Stardew Valley, and one part clicker game à la Clicker Heroes. In it, you, as the aforementioned marshmallow person, react to being left alone to die on an island by inventing capitalism.

I partially joke, but that is kind of Forager’s central appeal: You start with nothing, and then by gathering resources with ruthless efficiency and crafting a base that automatically spits outs goods and products, you become a tycoon of industry, a farmer baron, a master builder, the ultimate adventurer, or—in my experience—some combination of those. Also, resources spawn infinitely, and you can do anything you want if you just put in enough work. It’s Capitalism (But Actually Fair): The Video Game.

Progression really is Forager’s entire appeal. This is a crafting game stripped down to its very bones (which, themselves, are probably a crafting resource). In my time with it, I’ve yet to encounter a story or NPCs or an incentive to move forward beyond the sheer joy of it. That, however, is where Forager shines. At the outset, it moves slowly, but after you level up a couple times and unlock new crafting branches, it picks up the pace in a way that borders on terrifying. New resources poof into existence at a lightning pace that made me want to ask IRL trees if they’re even trying. Before long, your island is a floating rock encrusted with gold, minerals, flowers, cows, slimes, and tens of other harvestable resources besides. Mashing your pickaxe against these living loot containers is satisfying, producing all manner of chunky sound effects and visuals.

You’ve also got to juggle feeding resources into structures you’ve crafted to produce better items, building more structures that serve different purposes, selling items, buying more land, and exploring that land. Oh, and you’re leveling up constantly, granting you new abilities from one of the most smoothly designed skill trees I’ve ever laid eyes on. It’s incredibly compulsive. Each new land you buy appears out of nowhere as though it had been shrouded by some haunted ocean fog, and you never know what it might contain. Maybe a big chest. Maybe a puzzle that’ll unlock a big chest. Maybe a cool item like “nerd glasses” that boost your XP gain by 20 percent. Maybe a fairy fountain. Maybe a dang museum to your accomplishments. I’ve found all these things and more, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. My achievement completion rating is currently at one percent.

It’s also a lot. At one point, I glanced over at one of my islands that I hadn’t visited in a bit, and I was overrun with chickens who, left to their own devices for long enough, take big ol’ shits on everything. So I had an island of overgrown forests and chicken shit. This gave me actual anxiety. There’s nothing in the game that says you have to keep everything tidy. And in fact I like that, mechanically speaking, Nature Reclaims All In The End. But Forager is one of those games where there’s so much happening that you’re constantly tip-toeing across the line between mastery and chaos.

If I’m being real, I’m not sure how much longer I’ll spend with Forager. It’s extremely well-made and obviously a labor of love, but I’m the type of person who generally needs more than pure progression to stick with a game for the long haul. But for people who love throwing themselves headlong into finely-tuned progression machines and letting their bodies get ground up by the gears, Forager is a near-ideal game. Meters fill and numbers go up, up, up. It’s a time waster, but there are far less satisfying ways to waste time.