I always find it difficult to explain the appeal of Farming Simulator. It’s certainly a marmite genre; you either love it or you hate it. The game is pretty much what is says on a tin. You own and expand your farm, buying more fields and new equipment to use, diversifying into whatever branch of farming you wish, whether it’s crops, livestock or forestry.
While Farming Sim veterans will be able to dive straight into the career mode, there are a set of simple tutorials for those new to the series. These teach you all the basics; from ploughing to harvesting, and give an introduction to the more intense aspects such as looking after animals, or the machinery required for forestry. FS 17 has also introduced a handy Help section to the pause menu, allowing you to quickly read up on a processes, or a little recap on the difference needs of different animals.
Even after playing the last three installments, I still get confused between hay and straw, and the actions required to produce them, so the little guide is the perfect way to refresh my memory.
Growing any sort of crop has a long list of tasks to undertake along the way. Occasionally ploughing your field is now required to get the maximum yield, before you get to cultivating it and seeding. Your choices here include wheat, barley, canola, corn, potatoes and sugar beets. Sunflowers, soybeans and oilseed radishes have also been added to the game, expanding the list of crops that you can grow. You then need to fertilise, whether through the use of fertiliser spreaders, sprayers or alternatively using a presumably foul smelling slurry produced from your cows. Depending on the difficulty, you might need to fertilise three times during different stages of crop growth.
Once fully grown, you’re finally able to break out the combine harvester with a suitable header – or a forage harvester, depending on the crop – and harvest you produce, before storing it or taking it to sell at the several stations around the map. Drivable trains are a new addition that can be used for transporting large amounts of your crop around the map.
Each selling point offers different prices that react to supply and demand, pushing you to grow a wide selection of crops to maximise your profits. With those profits, you can then upgrade your equipment to whatever you chose. Perhaps a more powerful tractor is your heart’s desire, a wider cultivator, or a bigger harvester. The choice is entirely yours to how to manage your farm, and as with previous games, you can always hire helpers to do a lot of the busy work for you.
Alongside the chickens, sheep and cows from before, pigs have been added to the game. Animals have always been considered ‘late game’ as they are expensive and difficult to maintain, although provide the greatest profit. The difficulty comes from the equipment required, cows are especially expensive, due to their complicated dietary requirements, but on the flip side, once you have established your heard, their milk is sold and you can also use their slurry and manure to fertilise your fields, saving you money. Although not as intensive as cows, pigs also require a mixture of foods. Maximising their productivity will enable them to reproduce, after which you can sell them and all other animals too.
The other alternative to crops or livestock is forestry. Introduced in FS15, not much here has changed outside of the addition of poplars. These can be planted in your fields and harvested by a forage harvester, after which the woodchips can then be sold and converted into energy at the biogas plant. There are a few more machines to try out though, which slightly lowers the entry level for serious mechanised forestry.
For me, one of the best additions to the game is the new mission system. In previous games, the other fields around the map that you didn’t own remained static, but you now see them being used for growing crops. You can help out your fellow farmers by completing tasks for them, earning you a bit of cash on the side. This also results in a much greater variety of missions on offer, from ploughing to harvesting. In the early stages of the game, it’s also a great way to be able to use higher end equipment that you know is many hours of game time away.
Should you want to get a piece of the more advanced equipment even sooner, you can always lease equipment from the shop. After paying an initial fee, you pay for each operating hour and day you have that equipment leased out. It certainly makes the game more accessible than before, although PC players have previously enjoyed this feature through a popular mod.
Speaking of mods, FS 17 is the first time that mods will be available on console. There is a thriving modding community on PC, adding more vehicles, maps and new features to the game. Although we don’t yet know which mods will be allowed on consoles and the limits on what they’ll be able to do, it’s certainly a welcomed addition to the game.
I’ve noticed some small graphical improvements on PC, although many of the models remain the same. The interiors for example, still feel slightly lacklustre as only certain elements of the dashboards work, and on-board computer screens are mostly static. The lighting system has been improved, with rotating beacons now reflecting off of other objects for example, and some of the ground textures now look sharper, although soil deformation is still a dream away.
Although I’ve been unable to try it, the multiplayer is also said to have been improved. Console players can invite up to five friends to join them, while on PC the limit is sixteen. If you can find a group of friends to join you, you can make quick work of working on your fields, while having some relaxing fun at the same time.
With over 250 vehicles and equipment, Farming Sim 17 is bigger and better than ever. Although it’s still not going to be a game for everybody, this edition is more accessible and complete than ever before. Gamers that have no interest in slow-paced repetitive gameplay will likely be disappointed, but for those that enjoyed the previous games will find that there’s just about enough new features to justify a purchase.