It probably validates a series of stereotypes that I live in the heartland of North America and have always had a fondness for farming games. Many modern farming games can be associated with games like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley, which abstracts the notion of farming behind a cute veneer and approachable gameplay. Farming Simulator 2017 is a much closer representation of actual farming. Get far enough into it, and you'll be manually mixing your animal feed and keeping an eye on market prices before planning your next planting.
Out of all the simulation games out there, farming seems to be one of the more questionable choices. Simulation is much more often a term used with high-intensity things like race cars or military aircraft, and intentionally or not, FS 2017 feels like a direct counterpoint to those games. The gameplay is much more Zen-like, and it's possible to feel relaxed. You are encouraged to kick back and unwind, as nothing happens incredibly quickly.
With that said, it's still a simulation in that you should be in the right mood to enjoy it. What holds together the game is a simple premise: You are a farmer with a relatively modest operation that can sustain itself but has plenty of room to grow. What you do in the game and what direction you take in terms of your farm's development is entirely up to you. There's no plot or other driving force, so you don't have to worry about harvest goddesses or dying grandfathers.
The foundation you start with is modest but easily learned. You have a couple of tractors, a combine for harvesting, and a collection of other heavy machinery. Getting money is as simple as getting seeds in the ground and harvesting them when the time comes, but there are a few steps in between those two points. You'll use one of your tractors to till the soil and get it ready for planting, and then again to plant the seeds of your choice. Fertilizing them while they grow is optional but does improve your yields. Finally, you'll hop in your combine and harvest the crops before starting the cycle anew.
What sets apart FS 2017 is the level of immersion. You play in first-person view while running around on foot, and you can continue to do so within vehicles, though they allow for an optional third-person view as well. How well you plant a field is dependent entirely on how straight you drive your tractor and line up your next pass with the one you just completed. Regardless of what you are doing, a significant part of the gameplay could be distilled down to driving a giant piece of steel in methodically straight lines.
It sounds like a recipe that should be terribly boring, yet it manages to dodge that threshold with the ability to hire AI drivers. In the previous game, you could only hire one or two at a time, which meant you always had to jump in to take care of something. In FS 2017, you can hire quite a few more, which means you are freed up to only tackle the tasks you want to do. Sometimes, you might want to have the AI handle a chunk of your operation while you can take the time to check up on other aspects of your farm.
Once you've amassed some cash, you'll undoubtedly want to use it to improve your farm, whether it's improving the capabilities of your fleet of vehicles, buying a new field to increase your farming operation, or branching out to forestry or raising animals. These branches add new aspects to the gameplay but also require learning how to go about doing them.
When it comes to the vehicles, they all follow the same modular system. Your core vehicle is usually a tractor, which will have its own horsepower potential. They always have front and back mounts to add equipment to, with rear ones including planters and plows, and front ones can be things like extra sprayer tanks or weights to distribute the vehicle weight. Other vehicle types have their own mountable equipment types but otherwise follow the same system. It makes it easy to switch out equipment, so you can use the same vehicle in different roles as the situation requires.
Animal handling and forestry are roughly the same as they were in the previous game. Caring for animals allows for a fair range of success, which mostly depends on how much effort you put into it. Simply putting the animals into their pens and feeding them is enough to start making money. You can also spread hay in their pen to make them more comfortable. If you carefully mix their feed with a ratio of grass, silage and straw, they become even more productive, which in turn makes you more money. The animals also produce slurry, which is effectively a free fertilizer that you can use to boost your farming profits.
Forestry seems to have gotten a bit of a nerf, which is a sentence that only makes sense in the context that 2016 has been a weird year. Though you can still use a combination of chainsaws and heavy equipment to cut down trees and sell them for a tidy profit, they don't seem to be made of solid gold as they were in previous games. One nice change in the new game is the ability to strap down your load of logs once you've filled up the trailer. This changes them into a static load and removes the issue with logs flopping out of the bed.
Other new changes to FS 2017 come in the form of expanded mod support, which is now as easy as going into a menu in the launcher and downloading/enabling the mods that you want. The list is curated to some extent but features a wide array of things you can bolt into the game, from new maps to new vehicles and tweaks to the gameplay. I'm sure there are other mods to be found offline, but it's nice to have a "best of" compilation available directly via the game itself.
Another new feature is in the train system, which can be used to haul mass quantities of crops or other goods. Some areas only buy crops from the train, and in general, trains are the best way to get a large quantity of something from one side of the map to another. This lets you capitalize on times when one shop suddenly pays a premium for an item you have a ton of without forcing you to make a bunch of trips back and forth from your farm. It's basically a diesel-powered quality of life improvement.
One of the game's biggest selling points is that it is incredibly peaceful. Boot it up, kick back, and work your farm for a while. I spent most of my play time with a friend of mine who lives out of state, and the two of us worked together to keep the crops coming up and the money rolling in. That's not to say there's nothing to worry about, as vehicles have daily upkeep costs, and hiring AI workers is far from free. It's just that the worrisome bits are rarely directly apparent; if you are doing something at all, you are making progress.
That selling point can also be one considered of its foils. Without a mechanism to drive the player and without any real failure conditions, the game is what you make it. Seasons aren't represented, so you don't feel the need to prepare yourself for anything in any regard. Since nothing happens quickly, it can frustrate or bore you if you have a mindset of immediately trying to flip your small farm into some large-scale, money-making operation. Your goals are always what you make them out to be, and if one of them isn't, "kick back and fiddle with the farm for a while," it can be difficult to find the enjoyment found in FS 2017.
For me, it's that aspect of Farming Simulator 2017 that feels the most at odds with itself. When you're manually mixing feed or loading up bales of hay with a front-loader, the game feels like it lives up to the notion of being called a simulator. As deep as the simulation can get, it stops short of introducing any driving forces to anything you do, short of your own curiosity. How far that will get you into the game is very dependent on your own drive and, ironically, how much relaxation you can handle.
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