Farming Simulator 17 review: Manage a farm and drive trains on Xbox and PC
Although simulation games have been around for ages, Farming Simulator launched the farming genre. Other farming games exist, but nothing competes with this iconic series. Farming Simulator 17 brings mod support and new features to Xbox One and PC, but is that enough to justify handing over your cash?
Welcome to the farm
The Farming Simulator series began with Farming Simulator 2013. Since then, sequels have appeared every two years for PC and console. Farming Simulator 16 was a port of 15 for mobile and PlayStation Vita.
Everybody knows this is a simulation game in which you drive tractors and other farming machinery, grow crops and livestock, and manage the financial aspects of a farm. So let's look at some of this year's new features and how much they improve the game.
Of the two included maps, Goldcrest Valley is brand new and set in the USA. The other map, Sosnovka, takes place in Eastern Europe. Originally released as downloadable content for Farming Simulator 15, it has been remastered with better image quality. Farming Simulator games always launch with only two maps, which is a bit skimpy.
For the first time in the series, we can choose to play as either a male or female farmer. This could make the game more inviting to new audiences. It's definitely a step in the right direction. However, the game still has room for more diversity.
The two characters you can choose from, one per gender, are both white. You can't change their skin color, but you can select the color of their shirts. Giants Software is located in Switzerland, a mostly white country. But in games like this, targeting a global audience, developers need to consider players of other races as well as their own.
The overall goal in Farming Simulator has always been to buy all the fields on the map and grow your farm as large as possible. That stands in '17, but the developers added a welcome dose of structure with the new mission system.
Each buyable plot of land is owned by a farmer who offers to pay you for completing missions. These missions are a great way to earn money. Once you've completed all of a farmer's missions, he'll sell the field for a much lower price than if you'd chosen to buy it outright.
Drivable trains add a fun new element to the game. Players have access to several trains on each map. You don't have to buy them or pay maintenance fees, and you can jump directly into them from anywhere on the map.
Cruising around in trains and taking in the scenery is enjoyable on its own, but they're also a great way to transport grain and wood for sale. You use a claw-game like crane to load stuff onto the train and then head to the nearest sale point.
Graphics and sound
Unlike Farming Simulator 15, this game is not hampered by the need for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 ports. Porting strictly from PC to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 should theoretically allow the developers to achieve better graphics than in 15. And it does, but not as much as you might expect.
Farming Simulator 15 was not an attractive game. The worst offender was its texture maps. Comparing ground textures between '15 and '17 on Xbox One, I detect only a marginal improvement in quality. The textures in '17 are well below standards for the console, which is a real shame. Still, '17 does seem to have improved mip mapping, so textures retain detail at a higher distance than in '15. Foliage is slightly more detailed, and lighting has gotten better too.
As for sound, Giants has added two in-game radio stations that players can toggle while driving vehicles (and optionally, on foot too). The music is nothing special, but it makes for a more varied experience than listening to the sound of nature for hours on end.
Mod support was touted as a major feature of Farming Simulator 17 prior to its release, especially during the time that mods for the PlayStation 4 version of Fallout 4 were looking rocky. Now that the game is here, the hype looks to have been for naught – at least on consoles.
Mods are listed directly on the title screen menu, so they're easy to find. The store lists seven distinct categories of downloadable items, plus a few extra categories like Latest and Most Downloaded. Problem is, between all those categories, the Xbox One version only has 31 total mods at present.
All but one of those mods are simply farming tools not significantly different from those included with the game anyway, though a few seem to offer enhanced performance. The one non-equipment mod changes gameplay slightly by disabling camera collision with vehicles. Its author is Giants Software. The Maps category doesn't even have one item yet.
Compare that to the PC version, which currently has a whopping ~1050 mods on ModHub. There are three possible explanations for the vast discrepancy between PC and console:
- The curation process for the console versions is limiting mod availability.
- Users aren't submitting mods for the console versions.
- The console versions' support for mods is so limited that barely anything has been ported over.
With so few mods and no real game changers, '17's mod support won't benefit many console players.
Like Farming Simulator 15, '17 supports 6-player online co-op. Players can select who can enter their game – random players, friends, or invite only. When someone chooses to join your game, you'll receive a prompt asking whether to allow them to join or not. Nobody will be messing around with your farm and funds without permission, which is good.
The ability to join games is unnecessarily complicated by the game's handling of downloadable content (DLC). Should the host have any DLC or mods enabled, players will only be able to join the game if they own the same DLC. You end up having to turn DLC off (an option thankfully presented each time you load a saved game) in order to play multiplayer, just so that other people can join.
A much better implementation would add the data for all DLC to all players, even if they don't own it. Then they could access the host's vehicles in multiplayer, but not on their own. Alternately, the game could prompt you to download any missing DLC upon joining the game. As it is, you can't even tell which content you're missing - you just get rejected.
Upon successfully joining a multiplayer game, everyone shares the same vehicles, money, and resources that belong to the host. You can start working together as a group. This is fun in a relaxing, social way. But as with other areas of the game, technical issues and decisions threaten to derail the fun.
For instance, player character models have laughably bad animation. When you jump, it looks to other players like you simply floated up into the air and down again. The model doesn't even have a jumping animation. Walking and running looks awkward as well.
The other big problem with multiplayer is Achievements. Players who join the host's game can't earn Achievements, which is bad, but not entirely unusual. Some games only allow the primary player to get them. But '17 goes a step farther by not even allowing the host player to earn Achievements during multiplayer. You can load up the exact same map from your single player game, but if even one other player joins in, you won't be able to earn Achievements.
Games like this really need Achievements to provide goals and structure to players, so arbitrarily not being able to earn them when playing with friends is totally unproductive. I spoke with the developers about the issue at E3 shortly after Farming Simulator 15 came out, but unfortunately, they chose not to address the issue in this sequel. I wonder if the people in charge of '17 play many other games.
Farming Simulator 17 offers 17 Achievements / Trophies on all platforms, a step down from the 26 Achievements in Farming Simulator 15. I guess they wanted the Achievement count to match the year of the game. Some are very easy, such as cutting down 50 trees or scoring a 3-point shot in the new (but terrible) basketball minigame.
This year, players only need to earn one million currency rather than ten million. You can use our Easy Money Trick to make that a cinch, as well as knock out the 'play for ten hours' Achievement. There is once again an Achievement for finding 100 collectibles, but you only have to find 10 before the rest show up on the map. The rest involve breeding animals, harvesting 10 hectares of land, and completing all tasks for the NPC farmers. Stay tuned for our full Achievement Guide with tips for all of these.
Farming Simulator 17, like '15 before it, is a major hit on PC. We can safely assume a fair console audience as well. It might sound strange to action-addicted gamers, but a game with absolutely no violence can still be fun. It's a peaceful experience somewhat akin to playing Minecraft in Creative mode.
We know this series makes a ton of money. I only wish more of that money could be seen on the screen. There's no reason Farming Simulator 17 has to look as ugly as it does. The physics are absolutely terrible in many areas. And a lot of clunky gameplay elements such as hitching trailers could easily be improved, if only the developers studied other games.
Seriously, I wish they'd spend some good hours on Minecraft and bring some of the concepts that are basically standard in other games over to Farming Simulator. One must put up with a lot of rough edges to enjoy Farming Simulator 17. But if you can do that, it certainly offers a deep farming experience and plenty of realistic licensed machinery.
- Everyone loves driving trains.
- Completing missions for farmers provides a good sense of progress.
- Play as a lady farmer!
- Mod system is a joke
- Graphics and physics are unacceptable for a game of this scale.
- Your character can be any color, as long as it's white.
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Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!