Forager (2019)

Idle games are a strange beast. Looking at them from a distance, it’s hard to see why anybody would enjoy watching numbers on a screen increase. But once you spin up an idle game, it’s like crack. It turns out that these types of games are dopamine generators, making them hard to stop playing. Forager is not solely an idle game like Cookie Clicker, but it combines the traditional waiting and production boosting loop of idle games with a top-down adventure game. It keeps you busy adventuring instead of idling and doing nothing, making the formula even more addicting.

You begin your adventure in Forager on a single island full of natural resources. As you being collecting materials such as stones, wood, and coal, you will be able to build some basic structures to unlock better gear which in turn lets you harvest resources more efficiently. This is the gameplay loop that will carry you until the end of the game. You also will collect gold, which can be used to buy more islands which contain additional resources. 

What keeps Forager interesting is how quickly you unlock new things. It always felt like I was minutes away from being able to make significant progress in some way. Whether it be crafting a new item, unlocking a skill, buying an island, or building a new structure, there was always something around the corner to keep me playing. That feeling of “what’s next?” never disappears, and the game keeps you sufficiently entertained while you are acquiring these new and shiny objects.  

As you wait for your banks and factories to produce gold and resources, Forager fills the idle void by encouraging the player to continue adventuring. Resources constantly regenerate, so you will repeatedly loop around all of your unlocked land to collect anything that has spawned. It’s not an excessively interesting form of gameplay, but it does keep your hands and mind at least somewhat busy while your machines chug away. There are monsters, puzzles, and the occasional boss, but these are minimalistic. Most of your time will be spent breaking down rocks, trees, and ores. At least until the endgame when most processes are completely automated.

A major flaw that I had with Forager was how the gameplay loop falls apart towards the end of the game. Once you unlock most of the skills, buildings, and islands, there isn’t much left to do other than wait around for the last few items to be produced. Anything that needed is automatically mined and collected. I just sit around and wait. This is exacerbated by the fact that the late game items take an absurd amount of time to produce. You can of course create more buildings to speed up the process, but each subsequent building of the same type increases in cost. Either way, it still takes a lot of time spent doing essentially nothing just to generate a few late game items.

My main issue with Forager is how empty it all feels in retrospect. After consuming a couple weekend afternoons and burning out during the late game of Forager I was left with the question: what was the point? There is no real objective of the game other than unlocking things. Combat is absurdly simplistic so there is no feeling of accomplishment. It’s not even like you can intelligently construct hyper-efficient islands that churn out resources faster. It’s just a matter of killing time and sending quick dopamine hits to your brain as you unlock new things. There’s no artistic merit, there is no challenge, there is no feeling of discovery or awe. It’s the video game equivalent of scrolling through social media for hours on end. Addicting but vapid.

I think Forager could have been improved immensely by developing its combat some more. I get it, the point of the game isn’t the combat. But there needed to be some substance to the game other than collecting resources. It could also alleviate burnout in the endgame as you have an ultimate goal to work towards. Maybe offering a gauntlet of increasingly difficult bosses would both allow the player to kill time practicing will items are being made, as well as have a constructive goal to keep them interested. As the game stands now it’s just an addicting time killer.

Overall, Forager feels like half of a game to me. If it had leaned heavier into either combat or efficient resource management (à la Factorio) it could have been a more rewarding experience. Instead, it’s just a good way to kill some time if you really have nothing better to do. When playing a game, I want my brain to be engaged in some capacity, not just idling for the sake of it. It is for these reasons that I give Forager a 5/10. Unlocking new things is fun for a moment, but the satisfaction quickly wears off when you realize those new things are purposeless.