Its safe to say I have a pretty good background in Farming. My extended family own a farm as the family business, with my Dad, Grandparents, Uncles and Cousins all working in the industry for most if not all of their lives. So my childhood was filled with farming, I used to pick strawberries in the school holidays, I used to sit on my Dad’s knee and steer the tractor up and down the field, and our coffee table always contained farming magazines and tractor brochures! I’m also quite fortunate to now live in a house surrounded by farmland and always see the farmers out tending to their crops. But I have never felt the urge to play a farming simulator game. So when this review came up I thought “Why not?”
And I regretted this decision in the first few hours of play, as I was just so confused. This may well be due to my complete lack of knowledge of the series, as although there are a huge amount of tutorials available in descriptive format within the menus and a separate tutorial section in the main menu, it seemed to lack a good in-game tutorial. The tutorials that are there do a great job in teaching you how to do things, like harvesting and fertilizing but I was confused as to when and why I should be doing these tasks when I started the actual game. There are a few minutes of a decent tutorial when you first go in on the easy level, but it disappeared after a few tasks leaving me confused as to what I had to do next. Certain things such as how to buy fertilizer or seed, where it’s delivered, how to refill the machinery are not covered. I therefore ventured to YouTube and found a good Let’s Play video, which definitely helped me understood the steps I needed to take to get my farm started. It does feel like there is just something missing for the complete newcomer.
The game has been updated and improved from the last release, with a new graphical engine to make the huge variety of machinery look shiny and sparkly. I have to admit that I did find that this looked very jagged and pixelated, especially on a 1080p monitor with an Xbox One S. However, it wasn’t so bad on a 4K TV with an X. I did experience a weird graphical glitch which felt like a was seeing in double vision on certain patches on the screen, but then realised that this was the exhaust heat fumes causing a hazy effect. You could argue this is incredible attention to detail, but it was probably an effect that the developers could have omitted. New additions for 2019 are American and European maps, new machinery (John Deere makes it’s debut) and new crops including cotton and oat. Livestock is also introduced with pigs, cows, sheep, and chickens, and not forgetting ride-able horses! A recently announced update also adds a landscaping feature. Its safe to say that the level of detail put into this game is incredible. I obviously knew that farming had a lot of complexity but the level of detail that is on offer here is quite overwhelming. As an example, you can just grow crops on one of your fields, harvest and sell – after checking where has the best price – and then repeat, but failing to fertilize or plough means that the yield will be 15% lower, meaning every cycle will bring a lower income. Again, this level of information is hidden in menus and not easily found for newcomers.
For a newcomer the feeling of being overwhelmed and confused is one of the biggest challenges to overcome. When you first start the game you’ll eventually get into the flow of managing one or two fields, after having purchased the essential equipment, but the endless different types of tractors, cultivators and weeders on offer is confusing, and if it wasn’t for the tutorial videos I watched outside of the game I would not have known where to start. The other initial issue I had was that the gameplay was pretty dull. Yes, you can employ a helper to cultivate that field for you, leaving you to complete another task, but sometimes I was left wondering what I could do whilst I waited for them to finish. There is no real end-point to Farming Simulator, a single game could go on for thousands of hours, and you will need to put this amount of time into it in order to earn enough cash to buy bigger fields, then better machinery to harvest different crops, etc, etc.
However, whilst you wait for your crops to grow, or your helper to finish their tasks, you can work for other farmers, carrying out their tasks in return for cash. This is where you really get to learn all the mechanics of the game, as it allows you to borrow the machinery if you don’t already own it, and complete higher end tasks on large fields. With all of the tasks there is somewhat of a risk/reward scheme going on, as the cost of harvesting a crop like Sugar Beet on a small field may well extinguish all of your profits. As well as the basic farming there is quite a detailed set of systems behind the scenes. The menu systems detail crop pricing across different buyers, machinery status, bank records, animal status and statistics. Setting are also in there to make things either easier or harder for you, allowing you to change things such as to let your helpers refill seed or fertilizer as they go without your intervention, turn off weeds, or turn off traffic, which doesn’t really have an effect as your tractors tend just to bump off cars without causing damage anyway!
There were some irritating things about Farming Simulator 19, including very long loading times, and I came across a bug that constantly gave me a “you don’t have access to this land” error message in the middle of the screen whilst I was carrying out a task for that farmer on that field. It was minor thing but very irritating for the 30 minutes plus I had to endure it. The control system is also confusing at first, with different functions of your tools being activated by holding LB, which brought up another menu, and this caused me huge problems when in my tractor at night. No matter what I did I could not find the way to turn on the headlights. Eventually I had to Google the solution, which told me I had to press down RB and then B. The RB menu only gave me a Horn Honk option, no sign of “B to turn on lights”, which is really infuriating that it was just missing from that menu and once again forced me out of the game to find it out.
I spent ages trying to work out just how I feel about Farming Simulator 19. There is a charm to it, and I can see why it sold a million copies in just ten days. There is something quite relaxing about sticking some music on and carrying out the repetitive tasks in order to make your money to buy that next field, or buy that next tractor. And I kept wanting to go back to it even though I wasn’t sure I was really enjoying it. But after about twenty hours I realised that there was just not enough here to keep me playing. I did enjoy the strategy elements at play here, with the planning/growing/buying/selling mechanics being really enjoyable, but the act of actually doing these tasks is just too dull. There is only so much driving up and down a field I think I can take. Fans of the genre and this series will probably love it though as it does improve on the previous title with all it’s new additions. But unfortunately its not for me.