Farming Simulator 19 review: At the top of its field?
Old bugs still lurk in the field of Farming Simulator 19 and decrease the fun yield.
Remember when numbered releases of a game used to come with an overwhelming array of new content and features to the point where they felt like fresh sequels? Pepperidge Farm remembers. Sadly, what we have here in Farming Simulator 19 is yet another marginal update (a la the tiny shuffle forward that was 17 to 18). That said, even if you are fresh to this franchise, what's on offer won't strike you as the most polished tool in the shed. Newcomers expecting a certain baseline of quality for an 80-buck outlay will have grounds for grievances – several acres worth in fact.
Let's get the bad stuff out of the way early. The visuals have been massaged slightly but are still as utilitarian as ever. Yes, the cab interiors and the environments have seen increases in detail, but FS 19 is a country mile away from ever being called a looker. Likewise, the basic vehicle handling physics from the previous titles feel a touch weightier but are still prone to weird glitches (plus iffy AI from NPC drivers). Admittedly, most of the oddities come from deliberately misusing your stuff in the world, though I did run afoul of one or two frustrating moments where loaded objects wigged out and got stuck in vehicles and buildings.
Also, transitioning from the believable horse physics of Red Dead Redemption 2 to the equine activities newly added into this game is...wow, like dismounting from a real horse to go sit on a plastic carousel one. That said, it's great that we can now kit out and use your quadrupeds to help cultivate the land for crops (preferably your own field of oats to feed them with because hay bales are stupidly expensive).
Speaking of equipment, FS 19 gives you access to an impressive barn of over 300 vehicles and tools to acquire from all the leading brands. Aficionados of all things agrarian can drool over a collection from John Deere, Case IH, New Holland, Challenger, Fendt, Massey Ferguson, Valtra, Krone, Deutz-Fahr and many more. Sadly, there's no in-game option to cheaply repair your tractors with Ukrainian firmware for a 90% discount. You know, because you've found a way to bypass said brand's over-priced repair monopoly. (Worth a Google.)
Politics aside, the vehicles on offer are divided into tractors of various sizes, trucks, crop protection, utes, harvesters, forestry machines, mowers, telehandlers, animal transporters and front/skid steer loaders. There are, of course, also harvesting machines that are specifically tailored to pillaging crops like potato, cotton, beet and sugarcane.
As always, the main gameplay loop – terraforming and expanding your own little tract of heaven – will be strangely addictive if you're a patient breed of gamer. To some, it'll be like watching paint dry; for others, the basic "purchase-plant-collect-sell-purchase" MO is as satisfying as any grind in any RPG you care to mention. This time around, the fun you'll reap from this game is now affected by how you sow yourself into this world. FS 19 now asks you to select one of three unique starting situations. Least-resistance-type gamers can now go in cashed up and then choose which animals and crops they'd like to specialise in, not to mention which missions to spearhead.
Alternatively, should you want the Dark Souls equivalent of farming (a mode I like to call Real-life Australian Farmer in Drought difficulty), you can begin the game with very limited resources. In no time, you'll have a dirt farm, debts and a depressing understanding of how brutal farming must actually be in this modern climate of ours.
I certainly wouldn't recommend the latter for anybody fresh to the series, nor the easier mode either. Even on the most pedestrian setting, FS 19 isn't helpful in telling you what's what – you're just thrown into the deep end with a UI that may as well be a nuclear power plant command console. You'll really need to enrol yourself in the gruelling 60-odd minutes of tutorials beforehand, all of which are basic as hell and a bit spotty on info in places.
Technically, you can simply hire people to do the things you don't know how to achieve yourself. Unfortunately, there were a number of times when this "solution" resulted in my AI farmhand wigging out and simply stopping mid-task with an "unknown reasons" notification. Cue a lot of unnecessary micromanaging by me as my precious daylight hours were wasted.
In the end, Farming Simulator 19 is at the top of its field. Huge proviso to that fact: be aware that it's more or less the only game in town and corners have been shoddily cut (much like the idiotic AI that can't be trusted to cleanly harvest parcels of not-oddly-shaped land). Technical issues that crop up aside, it also has to be said that not enough evolution has occurred to justify a full-price purchase. If you do have a burning desire to sow your wild oats, best harvest this during the budget-price season.
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