In addition to our main Game of the Year Awards 2021, each member of the PC Gamer team is shining a spotlight on a game they loved this year. We'll post new staff picks, alongside our main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
I've been curious about the Farming Simulator series for ages, but I always pulled up short of actually playing because it just looked so darn complicated. My idea of farming in games is clicking on some dirt while holding a seed, then coming back in a few hours and finding a fully grown ear of corn I can grab and stuff directly into my mouth. At most I'll maybe add some animal poop for fertilizer and dump a can of water over it now and then. I consider that Expert Mode.
But I finally jumped into Farming Simulator 22 with both feet, and I can report that—well, yeah, it is so darn complicated. I spent most of my first several hours alt-tabbing out every few minutes to scour a wiki or watch a video that would tell me how to do basic shit like cut grass or feed a cow.
That's because, honestly, farming is complex as hell and cutting grass or feeding a cow is a multi-step process requiring a bunch of different machinery that usually needs to be connected and pulled by another piece of machinery. And it's not like these machines are called GrassMaster X1 or Cow-Feeder 9000. Clicking and scrolling through menus while peering at hulking masses of shiny metal and spinning blades with names like Claas Jaguar 960 Terra Trac or Case IH Autostoft 8800 Multi-Row, it's hard to know where to look for what you need even when you know what you need. There's a pretty extensive in-game help menu that lays out the broad strokes of how to do a farming thing (which will then let you do another thing, then another thing, and eventually the thing you actually want to do), but very little of it is intuitive for a beginner.
But, dang. Finally discovering how to do a bit of farming, and then properly doing it, is incredibly satisfying, even when (or especially because) it can take months of in-game time. Creating a field, plowing it, seeding it, watching the crop grow, harvesting it, collecting it, and selling it or using it to create products is kind of a rush. Even something as simple-sounding as delivering grain and dumping it off at a flour mill is almost thrilling because not a single step of it was actually simple.
And the machines, as coldly named as they are, are amazing to see in action. Like I said when I started playing, the various types of equipment in Farming Simulator 22 are as cool as sci-fi spaceships. Watching a harvester fill as it chews its way across a field, seeing a baler spit out a beautiful cylinder of hay, or using a tree-felling machine slice a trunk into perfect logs is just plain fun. Harvesting a field of beets sounds mundane, and it is mundane, but it's also pretty spectacular, especially if you spent tens of thousands of dollars on leased machinery to plant those beets months ago.
Despite the complexity, Farming Simulator 22 still is, in a way, friendly to newcomers. It's daunting to consider all the different things you can farm—cotton, wheat, corn, potatoes, sorghum, grapes, olives, sunflowers, and more, plus livestock like cows, chickens, and even bees—but you don't need to bite off more than you can chew. I started with a tiny little plot of land and just focused on learning how to grow a single crop, and while I did it pretty poorly while spending a small fortune, I still did it and felt like a damn farmer when I was done. Beginners can also toggle off certain settings like seasonal crops, crop withering, weeds, and more to ease into the sim instead of trying to tackle it all at once.
As Luke pointed out in our review, the series could stand a bit more personality, or even just a little bit of style, when it comes to some of the scenery and the character models. It's a nice looking game, but not exactly drenched with style. And the AI could use a little more brainpower—I've been run off the road by horrible AI drivers more than once, and the computer-controlled workers you can hire often exhibit terrible judgement (or no judgement) while driving vehicles or equipment around.
Despite 20 hours of play I still feel like an absolute beginner. I still regularly need to alt-tab out to read a quick guide or watch a video on how to do the thing I want to do. But I've barely even scraped the surface of all the different crops and how to farm and profit from them, which makes me want to learn. If the next field I plant is as satisfying as my first few, I think I'll be farming for quite a while.