I liked A Kingdom for Kelflings. The 2008 fantasy city-builder was my first dance with the resource management genre. You took the role of a giant who would assign smallfolk to collect and deliver resources while you planned the kingdom’s layout. You always knew where you were going and there was a great sense of pacing. Plus, it was fun to watch complex supply chains in action. Forager, on the other hand, is like a strange combination of A Kingdom for Kelflings and Minecraft but lacks any goal or sense of freedom.
A Minecraft player grinds for resources because they want to build something. Grinding is an aesthetic choice, a means of bringing you closer to your ideal structure. There’s nothing wrong with living in a cobblestone shack, but the chiseled stone brick is there if you’re looking for something more. Likewise, in A Kingdom for Kelflings, you grind to work toward the castle. The goal is set for you, but you can customize the layout of your city, the colors of buildings, and you can decorate it with adorable little topiaries.
I bring this up because Forager seems to misunderstand what grinding games are all about. In Forager, you grind so you can unlock the ability to grind so you can unlock the privilege to grind in new places so you can grind faster. It’s not building up to anything. The skill tree makes grinding more efficient. There are complex buildings that require hours of grinding to create and all they do is make grinding easier. It’s not leading up to anything, and that’s Forager’s biggest problem.
You start on a tiny island with nothing but a rusty pick-axe, which you’ll use to chop down rocks and chisel away at trees. Collect enough resources and you can make a furnace, an upgrade station, or anything else. Don’t worry about running out of supplies, resources randomly respawn every few seconds. The early game feels like Minecraft. You’re collecting resources, but you don’t quite know what to do with them. The buildings menu is largely blocked off with no clear way to move forward.
Curiously, there’s an experience bar at the top of the screen. Harvesting a resource grants a little XP. Max out the XP bar and you get a perk from the skill tree. Perks either unlock new resources, unlock a new building, or increase the effectiveness of an existing ability.
Here’s the problem. You can’t see the whole skill tree. Skill tree choices are invisible until you unlock the adjacent skill. Also, the perks don’t have recipes or descriptions. I bought the Bank skill because I wanted to make money. Turns out I needed steel to make the bank. I had no way to know that prior to making my choice and because I didn’t know the recipe for steel, I couldn’t prepare for it (who would guess that steel is equal parts gold and iron). The only way to unlock steel was to grind, by hand, through hundreds of trees and rocks.
The Kingdom for Kelflings vibes kicked in once I had steel. I needed to make a supply chain that would create coal from wood, smelt iron and gold ingots, and then combine them into steel. There are no smallfolk to help, you have to do it all by hand and simultaneously collect resources. There’s no way to automate this early on. Only after grinding for hours do you unlock the privilege to grind faster.
You know what? The gears are already full of muck, let’s throw a wrench in there and see what happens. As if the grinding wasn’t enough, you have severely limited resource space. This becomes painful as crafted items compete for space with your food.
You need food because you have a stamina bar. It drains very quickly and there’s no hotkey to eat inventory items. Whatever catharsis I found in mindlessly grinding was constantly interrupted by opening the menu to eat a dozen pumpkins.
After about four hours of this, I purchased a handful of additional islands which were so packed with resources that it took considerable time just to walk from one end to the other. In that time, I had unlocked a skill that caused crafted items to automatically go into my inventory (instead of dropping to the floor) and another skill that allowed me to create mining rods. This combination effectively transformed Forager into an idle game that won’t allow you to idle.
Mining rods shoot a laser at any resources within their range. Place one on every island and you’re collecting hundreds of resources per second, all of which automatically enter your inventory. However, at this point, new structures require “Royal Steel” or “Royal Clothes.” Making just one of either of these items requires one of each kind of gem. Each rock has a small chance to drop one kind of gem. That means, this section of Forager consists of constantly removing useless items from your inventory, so you have open slots, anticipating the moment your first gem appears.
Unfortunately, mining rods create a massive problem. A clear space spawns enemies. Mining rods are so effective that the entire map becomes clear space. You can’t idle or even reliably delete items from your inventory because you’re constantly being attacked. This wouldn’t be an issue if you could collect resources inside buildings or if you could build fences to create safe areas. Instead, just as mining is constantly interrupted by eating, resource management is constantly interrupted by enemies.
A few hours later, I unlocked the Powerplant skill. I had no idea what powerplants do (again, skills have no descriptions) but I was determined to make that my end goal. The powerplant requires 4 electronics, which are extremely labor intensive to make.
After hours of doing nothing but watching my inventory, I had 2 electronic components. Then, something amazing happened. I made my third electronic component and one of my perks pinged. The piece doubled. I had now had 4 electronic components, enough to finish the powerplant. I actually shouted “YAHOO!” This was my first positive reaction to Forager, but it wasn’t because I was happy in my achievement. It was because I got to skip another hour of doing nothing.
I placed my powerplant and nothing happened. There was no sense of pride, no sense of accomplishment. The powerplant only exists to speed up other grinding mechanics. I still felt empty, like there was something missing. So, I sold everything in my inventory, totaling a cool 100,000 coins. That was enough to buy most of the islands.
Then I discovered Forager has dungeons. Each biome has two quests. One is a traditional bullet-hell crawler (similar to a melee-based The Binding of Issac) with an emphasis on puzzling. The other is a puzzle tower that might take the form of riddles next to pedestals or an Akari puzzle. These are really fun. They’re a nice break from the grinding. It’s strange how disconnected dungeons are from the rest of the game. The dungeons even have bosses.
Unfortunately, the reward for finishing these dungeons is either magic items that make grinding easier or combat items that make combat stupidly easy. I know I keep coming back to this point, but the grinding doesn’t lead to anything but more grinding. If you follow the economics skill tree and buy all the islands, you can walk right into the dungeons. If dungeon crawling was the goal, they should appear sooner and there should be more of them. In fact, if dungeon crawling is the goal, you can just upgrade your character and ignore the rest of the grinding.
This is why framing devices are so important. If Forager started with an introduction where a wise sage or a goddess told you to ready yourself and fight the evil, it would have been amazing. I want to see a version where you start on an island with a difficult dungeon and have to grind and upgrade your gear. All the pieces would click together. Instead, you start without a goal or even the knowledge that dungeons exist. Dungeons and puzzles are the stars, but the beginning is based entirely around grinding without a goal. If I hadn’t sold all my supplies, I wouldn’t even know this content existed.
Forager is two vastly different games. There’s the tedious idle-like grinding, which never achieves true zen because you’re constantly opening your menu to eat or closing your menu to dodge. Then there’s the dungeon crawling, which is fun, but comes much too late.
If Forager was all dungeon crawling with grinding as a means of upgrading your equipment and unlocking new areas, I would have loved it. Instead, Forager not only disregards the value of your time, it actively disrespects it.
TechRaptor reviewed Forager on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the developer.
Forager demonstrates the importance of anchoring players in the world. It has great content, but that's hidden away behind random chance and hours of grinding. The idle-like mechanics are irritating at best, but the dungeon crawling and the puzzles come into their own. I only wish the rest of the game lived up to the excitement of finding a dungeon.
- Cute Art-Style
- Engaging Early Game
- Fun Dungeons
- Delightful Puzzles
- Tedious Stamina System
- Boring Idle-Like Resource Management
- Useless Skill Tree Options
- Grinding Without Reason