This is an Early Access Review and as such opinions and scores are based solely on the state of the game at the time of review and subject to change as development progresses leading up to final release.
Anyone remember a little game called FarmVille back in 2009? That was the year I got my first iPhone; the year I joined Facebook, and the year I got addicted to not only cultivating my own farm but engaging with all the farms of my friends. A lot has happened in 11 years. I still have an iPhone, newer and bigger than my 3GS; I stopped using Facebook, and I gave up my virtual career in mobile farming. Big Farm Story is trying to tempt be back to those greener pastures with their casual approach to farming, or more precisely extreme gardening…at least for as much as I’ve played.
Currently in Steam Early Access, Big Farm Story is more story than farming with a super-casual approach to what is more of a massive activity set than a proper game. From my best judgement I’d say the target audience is pre-teens and senior citizens; perhaps kids can play with their grandparents. Those expecting something as sophisticated as Farming Simulator (insert year here) can hop on their tractor and keep on driving.
Big Farm Story kicks off with an actual story where you, as a little girl or boy (you choose) are learning how to farm with your grandpa. Jump ahead many years later and you get a mysterious letter from grandpa basically giving you the farm. In the early access version of the game the letter was blank so I have no idea why I’m really going back to the farm. Hopefully text will get added to that page in a future update. Anyway, I return to the farm just after a big storm to find grandpa is missing and the place is a shambles; time to clean-up and fix up the old place and make it my own. Thankfully, a fellow from a neighboring farm offers up some tutorial advice on fixing the well, planting crops, and getting started with my new life.
Big Farm Story is a totally addicting cocktail of progression and evolving quests, collectibles, side-stories, and endless exploration. Your farm is just the central location in a substantial map of areas you will explore and re-explore through repetitive backtracking that somehow never feels repetitive thanks to new discoverable items that repopulate the scenery every time you pass through. Farming quickly takes a backseat to the entire game flow, but I somehow managed to always keep my crops in rotation so something was always growing while I was out exploring the countryside.
In addition to the farmland you also inherited the old house which you get to fix up and decorate as you like with all sorts of furniture, plants, paintings, wallpaper, etc. Later on you can even add-on and remodel the house with new rooms that can hold even more furniture and decorations. Everything you do in the game earns you XP and as you level up you get to choose from three rewards (stickers) that will help you as you progress deeper into the game. Many of these items unlock side activities that offer their own rewards. You can dig up piles of dirt once you have a shovel. You can chop logs into lumber with an axe and use lumber to make repairs or add onto your house. You can mine rocks with a pickaxe. You can fish with a pole, although you need special licenses to fish at night or at the nearby lake. You even need a special book of mycology to safely hunt mushrooms.
There are markets and produce stands where you can buy seeds to plant and grow into produce that you can sell back to the merchant. You can also shop for all those home decorations to customize your place. Later on you will discover market contracts that require you to find a certain amount of certain items that will earn you greater rewards and special items. The market resets daily (real time) and the more contracts you complete the more your market will level-up and increase its rewards. As you can see, there is an endless cycle of regenerative content that continually repopulates the world around you. There are always flowers to pick, fish to catch, stones to collect, lumber to chop, stones to mine, and many of these activities have simple yet fun reflex mini-games to add some interactivity, so you just aren’t clicking on stuff.
And all the while you’ll need to tend your expanding garden. At first you can grow wild flowers, carrots, potatoes, etc., and as you level-up your crops can expand to more advanced items like garlic and strawberries. At first you only get one plot of land that hosts four plants but one of your level stickers is the option to add more 2×2 plots to grow more at once. Farming is relatively simple; you till the soil, pick and plant the seed and water it then wait the designated real-time for it to mature. It does get repetitive as your farm expands and I would have enjoyed the ability to plant an entire 2×2 grid all at once just to speed things up.
A quest log helps you keep track of what needs to be done, and even though your primary quest is to find your missing grandpa there is plenty to do while you search, and the way these objectives string you along is crazy. In one mission I had to find a missing boy who had fallen and injured himself. After finding him I then had to find some plants for a home remedy which didn’t work so we needed to call the doctor but the bridge to town was washed out so I had to get an axe and chop enough lumber to fix the bridge. After saving the day the family rewarded me with a baby chick but my own barn was still destroyed from the storm so that set into motion a whole new string of events just to make a home for a single baby chick, although I expect more animals soon.
A lot of the content and activities is heavily gated by your level and the stickers you have chosen when you level-up. There are lots of social encounters with the neighbors and folks in town and you always seem to have 2-3 responses to any situation ranging from overly cheery and optimistic to bored and indifferent. Somebody might ask you to fix something and you can respond with, “I’d love to help!” or “Gee…seems like everything is broken around here.” I’ve never had the heart to respond in anything less than the most cheerful option, so I’m not sure if your attitude can affect the game.
As mentioned earlier, the map is large with your farm surrounded by the woods full of lumber and mushrooms, a nearby homestead, a neighboring farm, and a rather nice town with roads leading to currently blocked locations like Chestnut Meadow, the train station, and the Rusty Hook. I’m not sure if those area are part of the story progression or to be added in during the early access period. Seems like seasons and crafting are also coming in future content patches, but for now there is a nice time of day sequence that starts with a rooster crowing at dawn and adorable fireflies that come out at night. The game doesn’t require you to sleep, so you can explore 24/7 but some activities like night fishing require a special sticker.
The graphics are gorgeous with a Nintendo Animal Crossing vibe. You can zoom in to appreciate some nice details and animations including your pet pig that follows you around like a puppy digging up turnips. There are rich and vibrant colors, cool lighting effects for various times of day, but still no rain or bad weather. I’m guessing that comes with the Seasons update. The UI is perfect with intuitive screens and menus and fun pop-up icons to interact with the environment. The background music is soothing for long durations and while there is no voice acting the characters do those simple audible emotes like The Sims.
Even at this stage of early access I can’t recommend Big Farm Story highly enough. The game recently got a patch that made it even better and more complete, and for me the game has run flawlessly for nearly 5-6 hours of play. The only way I would even know it was still in early access is when certain functions are locked out. They may have even fixed grandpa’s blank letter by now. I would love to have this game on my iPad because I could lie in bed and play this for a lot longer than I should. Normally when I sit down at my computer to play a game I’m going for something more substantial than this, but there is something about Big Farm Story that inexplicably grabs you and suspends time. The way they dangle that next quest/objective out there like a carrot on a stick is so insidious I find it impossible to stop playing, and if you love soothing casual adventures I think you’re going to love this game regardless of how green your thumb may be.
Keep checking back for updates on Big Farm Story as we will continue to update our coverage leading up to final release.