Have you ever stopped to smell the pigs? I have. For 15 hours, I sat right in front of those beady-eyed monstrosities and questioned what it was to be a man. We are not born of any unique substance to separate us from the chaff, but it took an introspective journey through Farming Sim 17 to figure that out. The elements that comprise our bodies are so common that even the soil we tread upon forms neural networks, like the workers I hired to plough those very fields as I went about odd jobs like a rogue monoamine floating through the synaptic gap of existence. So, yeah, FS17 is okay, just don’t expect to fall in love with farming because of it.
If you’ve never played a Farming Sim game before, let me paint you a picture of what it’s all about. You’re a farmer stranded in the middle of GENERIC EUROPEAN COUNTRY #23, well known for its bountiful fields and impassable mountainous edges. You start the game with some fields, a couple of vehicles and a bit of money. What you do from that point on is entirely up to you. You can stick to the good ol’ days of harvesting wheat from the fields, or you can branch out and try your hand at rearing some cows. That’s it. That’s all there is to the game. The game is just FS15 all over again, from controls (which are tight!) to gameplay (which we will get into!). It is with this revelation where you begin to realise the seemingly terrible mistake you’ve made.
Farming Sim has something of a reputation for being, uh, mind-numbingly dull. My last escapade with the series can attest to this. The monotony of farming isn’t the game’s fault; it’s just that farming is really, really boring. At about the half hour mark, I remember contemplating ingesting some potassium to help the crops grow better and end my suffering. Thankfully, FS17 distracted me with the promise of jobs that you could accept from other local farmers to earn a bit of extra money. So, if you set your workers to work your fields while harvesting another farmer’s crops, you can double your productivity and get paid to do it. FS15 had a similar system, but FS17 lets you take the jobs from whatever field you’re next to rather than having to drive all the way to a job board for a possible dead end. These farmers serve a second purpose, though, and once you realise that the economy isn’t a one-person show, everything you thought to be real fades into obsolescence.
In previous entries of the franchise, you were the only person that had any effect on the economy. With the addition of the farmers around you, the prices you sell crops at are much less static than they once were. Instead of gaming the system by hoarding crops in your silos, you can watch as other farmers sell their harvest and plan your profiteering accordingly (or so I believe). I never did, but you can, and it’s a very welcome addition from FS15’s shallow system. The economy is a lot more enjoyable to interact with since it’s a tad chaotic, but this is not to say that the grind is easy to overlook.
To call FS17 a dull drudge would be like calling The Horus Heresy series of books a bit dragged out. The primary goal of the game is to get rid of your debt, and while it’s not a difficult task, it is incredibly tedious. Ploughing a field involves driving straight for a minute, turning around and repeating this process until half an hour has passed. You need to repeat this process for cultivating and fertilising, and then you have to wait longer than the heat-death of the universe for the crops to grow. There is an adjustable time scale, but even on the highest setting, crops take so long to develop that I started adopting the set-and-forget approach to playing the game. It can take about 8 hours to wipe away your debt, but you won’t be focusing on money by the end of that period.
At around an hour into my playthrough, it clicked in my head that this wasn’t a game you’re meant to play. FS17 is more like a background task to occupy your eyes and hands while you do something else. Even after buying some pigs, the only thing I could do with any certainty was wait. I had to wait for pigs to reproduce, crops to grow, vehicles to drive, anything that needed to be done involved waiting. So, I did what any sane person would do in my situation. I put on a podcast, adjusted my seat and waited like a god damn champion. Still, waiting is far from an engaging mechanic, so I eventually resorted to investigating the mods, and holy crap, everything makes sense now.
Say what you will about the base game, the mod support for FS17 is phenomenal. If you’ve ever thought that Farming Sim was a bit too arcadey, there are mods to amp up the realism. If you want more maps, vehicles or even money, there are mods for that. You don’t even need to start entirely new games to test out a new mod. The implementation is fantastic, and more mods are being released every day. The popularity of these games makes way more sense when you consider how moddable they are, even though they aren’t… Fun…
I can appreciate FS17 on a lot of levels, especially its complete lack of intrusive DRM, but that doesn’t stop it from being a monotonous drag. If you don’t like farming or the peaceful Zen state you go into when you’re hauling ass down a field in a harvester, this game isn’t going to convince you otherwise. Farming isn’t going to release endorphins into your bloodstream quite like, say, Titanfall, but there is still merit in FS17’s mechanics for people that do enjoy farming. There’s heaps of additions from FS15, more things to keep you occupied as your workers handle the menial stuff (more or less) and an economy that’s way more engaging than before. Let’s put it this way: It took me longer to get bored of FS17 than it did FS15. If that’s not high praise, I don’t know what is.
I can’t help but come away from FS17 with a sense that I’ve… Enjoyed it? I think? I don’t know because there was never a point where I actively made the connection between waiting and satisfaction. If there’s one piece of advice I’d give to someone who was interested in this game, it’d be to give it a go with a podcast in the background. There are plenty of mods to spice things up, but the core gameplay is far from an engaging experience. I don’t know what else there is to say. Canola OP, pls nerf.