I’ve lost more hours than I care to think about playing simulation games. The Sims, Hay Day, Viva Pinata – I’ve played them all and tend to get a bit addicted. So, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to check out Farm Together on Xbox One, a new farming simulation. How many hours would I lose tied to the screen this time round?
The creators of Farm Together – Milkstone Studios – advertise it as ‘the ultimate farming experience’, so I was keen to see what sets it aside from other similar games and makes it worth playing.
For one, the area available to farm is huge. You start off with one plot, with new areas to unlock as you progress. The actual layout is randomly generated but you can choose how many hills and how much water it contains. To get started there is a tutorial which takes you through the basics of how to plow an area of land and plant crops. You start on level one with a small pot of gold coins, and a limited number of different crops and trees. Each crop varies in how much it costs to plant and ultimately sell, and how long it takes before the crop is ready to harvest (although watering will speed this up). You choose crops by bringing up a menu that also contains trees, flowers, fish, animals, buildings and design items such as fences, paths and other decorative paraphernalia.
You are also offered quests to follow which ask you to harvest a certain number of plants or animals. Completing the quests will reward you with rosettes, which can be used to buy items. It has to be said though, some quests are tiresome to do – you may not want to fill your farm with ducks just to fulfill one. If that’s the case then you are allowed to discard up to one a day, but at no point do you have to follow the set path. The farming life is a wide one and you can easily run along with your own schedule and plans.
Harvesting will allow you to level up, which reveals more items to buy, including a gas pump which you can use to fuel your tractor, enabling you to move around your farm quicker, plowing, watering and planting a bigger area at once.
Your bounty can be sold at various stalls, or converted into other goods, for example wheat can be used in the bakery. Both these actions reward you with diamonds which are needed to buy objects, and XP which builds towards you reaching the next level up.
As well as customising your farm though you can also customise your avatar, although the choices are fairly limited. A nice touch however is that you can go to work with a pet dog or cat alongside you, whilst choosing the design and colour of your tractor is a decent little timewaster.
As you play through Farm Together, the game cycles through the seasons, with the year being pretty short seeing each season lasting 17 minutes. My poor farmer must have been working non-stop for around 3 years on my first play session, as I got to grips with every little aspect of the farming world. Each season brings its own weather and different crops become available to plant. Need 50 mushrooms for a quest? If you are in the wrong season you will have to wait before you can plant them.
Thankfully, the time in Farm Together advances even if you are not playing, so it is good to fill your fields with crops one day and when you come back the next they will all be ready for you to harvest and fill your coin kitty.
The other big feature that sets Farm Together apart is that it is cooperative. You can allow other players to come to your farm to help, but how much they are allowed to do is up to you – harvest, water or totally ruin your farm. Invite a trusted friend and you can give them free reign if you wish and allow them to do some hard work while you boss them around. You can also visit other online farms to check out how they have arranged their cabbages or what goodies will be revealed on higher levels that you haven’t yet reached. By helping out you earn a boost too, which stays with you when you return to your farm, increasing the number of coins you earn when harvesting. If you want more controlled help, further on in the game as your farm gets too big for you alone, you can hire staff who will look after a small area of land for you.
Farm Together does give you a lot of freedom in how you plan your farm. Some farms I visited are obviously just in it for the money – huge sprawling monstrosities with monoculture plots stretching further than the eye can see. This is intensive farming in virtual form. Others are smaller and more thoughtful in their design. It is possible to spend hours placing flowers and water features in just the right place to design a French country-style garden (trust me – I’ve been there). But that is the beauty of the game – your farm can be whatever you want it to be.
Farm Together also allows you to build a house, which is where your interior design fantasies can be played out. We are heading into basic Sims territory here, as you can choose flooring, furniture and appliances. If you get tired of farming you can also spend time cooking, painting or playing musical instruments.
So, we’ve already worked out that Farm Together really is a huge and extensive game, happily providing many hours of varied gameplay. But are there are any negatives?
A minor complaint is that despite the simple cartoon-style visuals, the rendering happens at a fairly close range, with a fair old amount of pop-up occurring as you wander your farm. Sometimes it is useful to be able to see which of your crops need harvesting from further away, rather than having to run up to them, wasting precious time.
And whilst this is obvious, it must be said that things can get a bit repetitive: harvest, plow, plant, water, repeat. There were times after a long day working my real life job that I felt like I was spending my leisure time working in a slightly less interesting occupation – just gotta harvest these apple trees and then water my lettuces before I knock off for the day… Fast-paced and exciting it is not. However, in saying this there is a quiet thrill in levelling up and revealing a new tree or animal to add to your growing menagerie.
I’ve also got a minor gripe with the length of time it takes for some crops to harvest – we’re talking two days for some items (although the longer the time, the more valuable they are) and the houses are done in four installments – each costing a sizeable chunk of gold coins and a day to complete. Who knew that using virtual builders had the same pitfalls as their real-life counterparts?
So, the big question… now that I’ve played Farm Together for some time, will I continue to spend time tending to my crops?, Well, the answer is that I might just do so. The more you play the more repetitive it seems to get; I already feel that I’ve done most of what the game has to offer and can’t see the thrill of unlocking a new vegetable is going to keep a hold on me for much longer. But popping in every now and then for a walk through the French country garden at sunset or a wade through the piranha pond is still pretty appealing.
I just won’t stay for too long.