There are a lot of theories about why video games are addictive.
Most media coverage revolves around research claiming games flood our brains with dopamine and affect changes on par with drugs or sex. This research is … not great. The nuances of neurochemistry notwithstanding, sometimes games are just so hecking good you can’t stop.
What makes certain games so addicting? The science is even hazier and, truth be told, this is something more easily understood when you experience it yourself. Much like the definition of pornography, you “know it when you see it.” And you will absolutely see it when you dive into one of the chillest, most addictive crafting sims on Xbox Game Pass.
Forager is one of those indie games positively oozing wholesome vibes. At a glance, it seems similar to the undisputed king of cozy indies Stardew Valley, but if you take Forager for a spin you’ll find a different game with far more intensity. The pace itself is much quicker, with an emphasis on foraging (shocker) instead of farming, and with plenty of crafting to send you scurrying after bugs and berries all night and day.
And scurry you will, because Forager manages to immerse you with a pleasant relentlessness by streamlining the mechanics that make the crafting sim genre so popular.
For starters, you can interact with the environment at a generous distance. Unlike other titles in the space, you don’t need to stand *just so* to dig up a square or plant a seed or pick up an item. So you breeze around the map doing tasks lickety-split.
Also, your pickaxe never breaks. None of your tools have any durability which immediately makes it 30 percent less annoying than most titles in the genre, where these items require constant crafting and repair. The only limit on your productivity is your stamina bar, easily replenished by eating fruits or cooked fish or, eventually, bread, sushi, and cheese.
Everything scales up quickly, including your character, as you gain XP from every plant you cut and rock your mine. Leveling up unlocks points for a skill tree that both makes you more efficient while unlocking more things to do. You get buffs for production, new objects that open up new recipes or storage, even slot machines. There’s surprising depth at every level, and a massive amount of equipment and challenges to pursue.
This rapid consumption is balanced by an innovative map mechanic. Instead of plopping you in an open sandbox, Forager exists as a series of small squares of land. You start out on something basic, earn a little gold, then buy another square. And another. And another. And soon the squares you buy have interesting quest-giving characters on them, or exotic materials, or are a different biome (snow, grass, desert, etc). The grind of the game is in directing your rapid consumptive clickageddon towards the goals you uncover as you expand.
And like any good indie game Forager has a feel-good story behind it. If you check the “extras” section you’ll discover a short comic from creator HopFrog that includes a quirky child’s biography, a deathbed promise and, eventually, a dream come true. It’s a small thing but adds some warm vibes to a game that is already well designed, endearing, and potentially habit-forming.
Forager is available now on Xbox Game Pass for a monthly subscription fee. It’s available for purchase on PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, iOS, Android Microsoft Windows, Linux, and Mac.