Country road take me home. This is not where I belong.
Few game titles are as honest as Farming Simulator 20. It’s the 2020 edition of the Farming Simulator series, which gives you a mundane and realistic simulation of life working on a farm. I’m no stranger to mundane simulators—I actually have a soft spot for Euro Truck Simulator and its American cousin—but I never tried getting into the weeds with the Farming Simulator series in the past. My first foray into agriculture didn’t end up being a successful one, and while this game will no doubt appeal to a core enthusiast crowd, it probably won’t be winning over any rookie farmers looking for a new experience to try out.
The gameplay of Farming Simulator 20 is pretty self-evident; most of the things you’d expect to do on an actual farm are present here. You tend to the fields, raise livestock, and sell the fruits of your labor to be able to afford upgrades and new equipment. There isn’t a lot of depth to the mechanics; the idea is mainly to chill out, relax, and enjoy seeing your farm expand over the course of time. This isn’t a bad thing—I do like to spend time just driving deliveries around in Truck Simulator after all—but I think the gameplay loop of Farming Simulator struggles to keep that relaxing balance with all the things you need to keep track of.
Take planting crops, for example. Growing a basic crop like wheat is a multi-step process: you have to ready the field, plant the seeds, and then harvest the grains to be carted off and sold at the market. To do all this efficiently, you’ll want to have multiple fields with various crops going through the stages of growing at one time, so to get the job done you can automate each piece of equipment to carry out its role in this process by hiring help at the press of a button.
If you choose to automate the process, then the actual work you do as a player is negligible. It’s easy to spend hours just letting the farm run itself, only occasionally jumping in to move vehicles to different fields and drop your yield off at the nearby market. If you don’t automate the process at all, then you’ll only be able to operate one vehicle at a time, meaning you can only have one field actively growing crops at a time.
Naturally you’d want to mitigate this by expanding your farm and increasing your overall output, but the game does a very bad job of explaining how exactly you’re supposed to do that. There is a tutorial that you can play upon starting a new save, but it only walks you through the process of tending to the fields. There is an in-game hint system that’s meant to explain the rest of the game, but it’s woefully under-written, and I often had to resort to just looking up what I was supposed to be doing online to make any headway in progress. From the game’s tutorials alone, I had absolutely no idea what I should be buying to improve my farm’s output, and since I was making a tidy sustainable profit from the very beginning, I didn’t really have a lot of motivation to figure it out.
But I am, of course, a farming neophyte. There is undoubtedly a group of core players who know the ins and outs of Farming Simulator that will have a much easier time picking it up and playing than I did. Unfortunately, I struggle to recommend the game even to them because of the awfully poor graphics of the Switch version. In addition to just not looking great overall, the draw distance of Farming Simulator 20 on Switch is incredibly small, making fully grown crops indistinguishable from recently-planted seeds at a glance. You can’t tell if a crop is ready to be harvested without getting pretty close to it, which only made me more hesitant to expand my farm’s output and be away from a given field for very long.
Farming Simulator 20 is a bit of a disappointment. As a newcomer to the series, I couldn’t manage to find a hook to keep me playing before I was overwhelmed by the poorly explained gameplay loop, and with the draw distance as bad as it is, I can’t imagine long-time fans of the series having a good time on Switch either. Agriculture is the backbone of society, but Farming Simulator 20 will not be the backbone of the Switch’s library any time soon.