For reasons I don’t really want to get into now, I very recently played Farming Simulator 2015, so drawing a direct comparison with Farming Simulator 2017 is going to be easy.
If I’m honest, I have always thought I could be a farmer. Early mornings, sipping a cup of hot black coffee off the stove, watching the sun break over the horizon before jumping on my horse and heading out to survey my lands. Maybe freeing a cow that got its horns caught in a fence, bending down, grabbing a hand full of dirt and looking off into the distance with a look on my face that says; “Ah, this is good…”
And as the sun sets, I’d ride up to the homestead, the smell of fresh baked bread and home-made chicken pie would greet me…
That would be nice if that’s what farming really was.
Speaking to people I know who are involved in farming I’ve realised that a large part of your day is spent trying to prevent people from taking your land through dodgy land claims, trying to get government to understand if they don’t help farmers, the poor are going to suffer, grow crops when there is no water, and sleeping with one eye open so you can prevent your family becoming a farm murder statistic…
So, for me, not really a viable career choice.
That’s where the Farming Simulator franchise finds its niche, I think…
People who want to experience farming vicariously.
Since the first in the title was released (Farming Simulator 2008), I have been more than a little curious. What on earth could this game entail that got over 4 million people to part with a not insubstantial amount of money?
Do you need to fight off alien teenagers making crop circles on a night out, joy riding their parental units’ space ship?
Do giant meat-eating worms swallow up a paddock of cows?
The simple answer is No.
Nothing like that.
It is just what it says it is. You are a farmer, and you need to work your land to make money. You get a piece of land, either somewhere in America, or you can choose to farm in a very beautiful Nordic/Scandinavian-looking country in Europe.
I chose America, cos dang it, I like America!
So after a very brief tutorial explaining the basics of ploughing, planting, and harvesting, I got stuck in. I started out life as a farmer with a very basic equipment list, and an eye-watering debt with the bank. If you don’t make a profit, you will lose your farm, so this game is realistic. I’ll be honest, I love that. There needs to be a threat to keep me interested, an antagonist, and everyone hates the Bank!
So I started. Plough the field. Plant. Then wait….
(Insert cricket sounds…)
I found out a little later that you can speed up the growing period.
Soon I had a load of beautiful golden corn, on its way to market. I was already planning what I was going to spend the money on. Probably a woodcutting machine! I was going to diversify and get into logging. The woodcutting machine is a little on the steep side ($170k), but I’d take the pain because as every good farmer will tell you, it takes money to make money.
When I dropped the harvest off, I made NOTHING!
Well, not nothing, but closer to nothing that something! My dream of the woodcutting machine had to take a back seat – for a loooooooooong time…
You need to manage EVERYTHING! How much fuel you use, feed, water and and and… This game is as much a debt simulator as it is a farming simulator. The statistics page is overwhelming at first, and stays that way throughout your “gaming” experience.
It took me ages to build up enough money to get a second field, which is what you want to do, cos that makes you more profitable. You can hire Ai’s to work for you, and they are a big improvement over the ones in 2015, but they bring down your profit margins and they are still only slightly more useful than a chocolate pitchfork.
I was still hanging onto the belief that diversification was the way to go. You can farm animals, get into logging, or buy some expensive machinery and offer a service, like plot mowing, but if you decide to do this, there are no tutorials on how!
You actually need to know about it in real life if you want to make a go in this virtual world! I spent a large chunk of my very hard earned profits to buy some sheep and lost half of them to frost bite. And the game wouldn’t let me sell them as pre-frozen packs… some simulator this is…
I didn’t know what to do, and the game offers no help, but I think that might be the point.
I eventually devolved to ramming things over with various tractors and tried to make my own crop circles and turn my farm into a tourist attraction, but 2017 doesn’t have that option yet. What it does have over 2015 is that now you can control the train that collects and delivers your produce, you can farm pigs, and finally, sunflowers!
The vehicles are a massive improvement on 2015, and now you have 250 of these beauties to aspire to. I say aspire because it takes so long to make any kind of money that you will probably never get your digital hands on most of them. There is no deformation physics and you cannot ramp any of them.
This is different to something like SIMS, which has entertainment value. This is more like Flight Simulator, where accomplishing something based completely on reality is its own reward.
So, it’s not entertaining, but is it realistic? I don’t know.
I’m not looking to learn how to farm, I want to have fun building a huge farming empire and own all of the beautifully rendered machines on offer. I want to have the option of farming free-range or going all Monsanto GMO and destroying all the other farms around me, I want options that this sim just doesn’t offer…
I don’t expect to get everything in a single day of playing either, I mean, I played Skyrim for 2 years to get to level 70, I’ll put in the effort, but this game just doesn’t give the motivation to do that…
The game does throw challenges at you, where you need to accomplish X in Y time (or keep your sheep alive for longer than a day) and you get rewarded with money, but the effort versus reward ratio makes it very difficult to stay excited.
There is a Gold Edition, which adds more equipment and…. well, that’s all. What I would like to see is a DLC called South African Farming. It’ll be just like the America and European game except all your ground will be swirling pools of dust, you will need to hire a lawyer and spend large amounts of time batting opportunists out of court who say your land is theirs because their granny was buried there 20 years ago, hide your meagre profits under your bed to prevent government taking all of it in the largest protection racket the world has ever seen, and fortify your property, teach your kids to shoot and spend whatever is left of your day in survival training so you can be ready for when they break in and try to hack you to pieces with your own garden tools.
Now that’s a game I could play!
Until then, I think my time with Farming Simulator is done. It is just too slow. It isn’t entertaining enough and I think it may be too good a simulator for a casual Joe to be able to enjoy.
Unless you are actually thinking of becoming a farmer, I would say rather spend your money on something else.