Morels: The Hunt 2, an intensely chill game about gathering mushrooms and taking pictures of animals, is my unexpected new obsession

To put it politely, I was a little dubious when I received an email for the upcoming launch of Morels: The Hunt 2. A game about hunting... mushrooms? Seriously? And a sequel at that, indicating that somebody had done this once already and then decided for some reason it was worth making another one? Really?

But I was also curious—the whole premise was so bizarre that I couldn't help myself—and I quickly discovered that not only is Morels: The Hunt 2 not a joke, it's actually pretty damn good. It is, quite literally, a game about wandering around in the woods in search of mushrooms, but there's a lot more to it than I expected: Fungus galore, yes, but also dozens of animals to track and photograph (including a few that may not actually exist), seven increasingly exotic locales to explore, at least one of which is underwater, and some unexpected surprises.

Morels: The Hunt 2 is the creation of Abrams Studios, a team of three brothers—Wes, Derek, and Jason—who have been avid mushroom hunters since they were children. "We still do it every year," Wes Abrams told me in a recent chat. "We always take photos of the animals and nature while we are hunting. This is basically how the game came about."

The brothers were also "pretty big gamers" when they were young, playing Mario Kart, Sonic, Madden, and all the usual suspects. Abrams said he fell away from it as he got older, and ironically it was his passion for mushroom hunting that pulled him back in.

"In real life, morel mushrooms only are out for a few weeks of the year," he said. "After the season was over, we would have to wait a whole year to hunt them again. We started to make the game at first just for ourselves so we could hunt morels all year long."

Development of the original Morels: The Hunt was mostly a hobby, the brothers working on it whenever they had a bit of time together, and it wasn't exactly a smashing success out of the gate, selling fewer than 100 copies on launch day. But Abrams said it's sold about 10,000 copies in total since its 2019 release, making it "extremely successful" in his eyes. It also opened the door to funding for a VR spinoff game, Morels: Homestead, which enabled the brothers to work together full-time for about two years.

"I think that is pretty much everyone's dream, right? Working on games with your siblings or best friends full-time," he said. "Last year things slowed down, so we aren't able to work on games full-time anymore.

"We don't make games for the money, we make games because it is something we love. We also make games about things we are passionate about. It has been a blast working on Morels 2. We have had a lot of fun with it and knowing we have a player base looking forward to the release of the game is really motivating."

Abrams said he initially expected Morels: The Hunt would mainly attract experienced mushroom hunters—who else would be interested in it?—but the opposite turned out to be true. Most of the players came to the game knowing nothing about the hobby, and it was Morels: The Hunt that inspired some of them to get out and do it in real life, which Abrams said is "fantastic." 

The brothers were also surprised by the popularity of photography in the game—some players treated it more as a wildlife photography sim than a mushroom-hunting game—which is why Morels 2 features expanded photography options and objectives.

I've spent a few hours roaming around in the game's early levels, and I've been equally surprised and impressed by the experience. The maps are relatively small, maybe the size of an average woodlot, but they're really well presented: Everything is sharp and realistic, and the lighting, particularly the way the early morning transitions into noon, is subtle but really effective. The audio is sparse, but all the sounds are generated by in-game objects, so for instance if you hear a blue jay, a squirrel, a bear, or a unicorn (I don't know what a unicorn sounds like, but they are apparently in the game), it means one is nearby—very handy when you're snapping photos.

As you'd expect, Morels 2 is a very chill game overall, but not entirely without dangers. Ticks and poison ivy are common, and you can mess yourself up pretty good by jumping off of large rocks or staying underwater too long—you won't die, but you will get a quick ambulance ride to the local hospital and a lost day of mushroom hunting. One night I decided to stay out after sundown without a flashlight, just to see what would happen. Here's what happened: I got my ass kicked by either a wolf or a coyote (it gets really dark in the forest at night) and I pinballed my face off about a thousand trees trying to run back to the safety of my cabin.

Lesson learned.

What surprises me most is how invested I've become in Morels 2. It's genuinely exciting, in a muted sort of way, when I find a nice patch of mushrooms or take a good photo of a new animal. Running across landmarks and oddities in the wilderness is fun too: There's a real feeling of discovery to it, thanks largely to a grounding in their design and placement that suggests the Abrams brothers have stumbled over a few real-world relics on their own during their hunts. And the entire thing is so ridiculously wholesome, I can't even be just a little bit cynical about it. Hell, I don't even like mushrooms, but I'm eager to get back out into the digital woods and fields and look for more.

[What] touched us the most are the messages we have received from players who have told us they were disabled, not healthy enough, or other reasons like that which prevent them from doing things like this anymore, and they just thanked us for making a game like this.

Wes Abrams, Morels: The Hunt 2 lead dev

My unexpected enthusiasm aside, there's no escaping the fact that Morels: The Hunt 2 is a game about picking mushrooms. Abrams acknowledged that some people find the whole thing dreadfully boring, and another "common response" he's heard is that people should go outside and do it in real life if that's what they're into. But, he said, not everyone can do that.

"We of course would always recommend going out and doing this in real life over playing the game, given the choice," Abrams said. "There are people who live in cities who just don't have easy access to areas like this. My personal favorite that has touched us the most are the messages we have received from players who have told us they were disabled, not healthy enough, or other reasons like that which prevent them from doing things like this anymore, and they just thanked us for making a game like this."

For the future, Abrams said he and his brothers would like to make other games besides Morels, although they'd likely still be some kind of nature simulation game. They're also giving thought to another Morels game, possibly set on extraterrestrial worlds.

"You'd have beautiful alien planets to explore, never-seen-before alien animals to photograph, and a bunch of new alien mushrooms to collect," Abrams said. The brothers have already added Easter eggs to the first two Morels games hinting that something like that might be in the offing.

First things first, though. Morels: The Hunt 2 is available today on Steam, and it is not a joke. It's really good! I hope it gets the attention it deserves.

Andy Chalk

Andy has been gaming on PCs from the very beginning, starting as a youngster with text adventures and primitive action games on a cassette-based TRS80. From there he graduated to the glory days of Sierra Online adventures and Microprose sims, ran a local BBS, learned how to build PCs, and developed a longstanding love of RPGs, immersive sims, and shooters. He began writing videogame news in 2007 for The Escapist and somehow managed to avoid getting fired until 2014, when he joined the storied ranks of PC Gamer. He covers all aspects of the industry, from new game announcements and patch notes to legal disputes, Twitch beefs, esports, and Henry Cavill. Lots of Henry Cavill.