While they’ve always been a niche product, fishing games have existed as long as the video game medium. Turning an activity that could leave you sitting in a boat for hours on end with no action can be tough to translate into an engaging gaming experience, but the folks at Fishing Planet LLC have taken a stab at it and ended up with some interesting results. The Fisherman - Fishing Planet truly nails some of the best parts of fishing but is ultimately crippled by a few quirks and an inability to shed its roots as a freemium game.
Assembling you tackle box
The setup is simple — travel the world and try your hand at angling across nearly twenty different waterways that hold more than a hundred different species of fish and get the job done with a seemingly endless supply of licensed tackle and equipment. Online play, leaderboards, and tournaments are all part of the package, neatly rounding out the impressive feature set for The Fisherman.
This title began life as a freemium PC game by the name of Fishing Planet and now The Fisherman gathers up all the content and development progress made on the original project and offers it up for an all-inclusive price. On the surface, it sounds like a pretty sweet deal, and it largely delivers on that promise, but much of the content is gated behind a premium currency known as Baitcoin that was carried over from the freemium version of the game.
When you first start, a tutorial guides you through the basics of angling and how to assemble equipment and catch fish in the initial location, a private pond in Texas. Catching fish and completing objectives award a combination of XP, regular currency, and potentially Baitcoins. Each time you level up, you unlock the ability to buy new equipment from the impressive in-game shop and new waterways will become available for use.
Everything has a price
In The FIsherman, literally everything you do comes at a price. Most things are purchased with the regular in-game currency, while certain types of tackle and equipment are only available by redeeming Baitcoins. The game’s economy is largely similar to the freemium version of the game, but the exhausting grind has been reduced thanks to increased XP and currency bonuses awarded for every type of fish you successfully pull in. I don’t have the exact numbers, but it feels like you acquire XP and money at a rate that is roughly four times as fast as the original Fishing Planet.
The speed at which you gain money is good because you will be required to spend it regularly. Every waterway requires a license to fish in it, and two types of licenses are available: Basic and Advanced. The Basic license gets you in the door and allows you to keep some of the fish you will reel in, but has restrictions against keeping Trophy-class fish and other special species. Night fishing and the use of boats are also prohibited with a Basic license. Advanced licenses open up everything and allow you to fish without restriction (with a few rare exceptions). Any money spent on a basic license is wasted, as you will need the advanced variant to make progress in most cases. Thankfully, once you buy a license, you have it forever, a welcome change from the freemium version which placed real-life timers on their ownership, meaning your money was wasted if you couldn’t play the game after buying the license.
You need to know what you don’t know
On top of license expenditures, you must pay every single time you travel to a waterway (the Level 1 Texas pond the lone exclusion). The price is on a sliding scale that rises with the level of the location, with late-game areas costing thousands per day. You can opt to stay additional days in a location for a reduced fee, so it helps to plan out your trips if money is tight. If you level up and buy new tackle for a new lake or river, you better make sure that you leave enough money available for a license and travel, or you will be forced to go back to the lower-level locations and grind out fish until you can afford the trip.
If you make a mistake or take a trip to a new waterway without the equipment needed to earn good money, it can cost you lots of time and frustration. This can be especially punishing to inexperienced players who may simply want to take a casual glance at a newly unlocked waterway. Even if players unlock these new waterways, there is no guarantee that appropriate equipment will be unlocked that is capable of safely reeling in larger species. I often found that some locations were better left alone until I was ten levels beyond the unlock point so that I had access to heavier duty equipment. This setup is positive for experienced players, though, as it helps to keep lower-level locations exciting and viable to fish at.
While every location has a local species guide that tells you what fish are available and a general overview of what types of bait and lures they will hit, lots of trial and error will be needed to efficiently gain XP and money when you arrive at a new location. The only way to know for sure what you are getting into or where certain species may reside is by consulting the internet or asking other players in-game. It is also possible to lose tackle in fish fights and be left without a way to continue, requiring a return home. Each waterway has its own mini-version of the in-game shop with equipment tailored to the local species, but the prices are much higher than they are in the normal shop.
The process of catching fish in The Fisherman is pretty great. You are offered multiple approaches to angling, including float fishing, spin casting, baitcasting, feeder fishing, trolling, and more. Each approach offers a different playstyle and equipment and most waterways have a variety of species that will chase lures or gobble up the various baits. The game simulates the physics of fishing line extremely accurately, leading to a rewarding loop of casting and reeling in. Baits and lures are represented by a UI element once they are submerged and it effectively relays information about your positioning, water depth, and lure presentation.
The stress on your line, rods, and reels is represented by three meters on the right side of the screen that rise and change color depending on the level of stress. These indicators allow you to reel in fish effectively, as well as see what types of equipment pair well together. Finding a balanced combination of rod, reel, and a line is crucial to getting the best experience from The FIsherman and the game does a wonderful job at simulating these parts of the process. Once you hook a fish, you can easily see if you need to reel, adjust the drag, or allow the fish some extra line to tire itself out.
Fighting a strong fish with balanced equipment is a joy and feels rewarding on its own merits (the money and XP are also nice). For those who like fishing with lures, the process of working the tackle to entice a bite works well and carefully dragging a plastic worm rig over a submerged log in an attempt to get a monster bass to bite never gets old. The Fisherman simulates snags and underwater obstructions in a satisfying way. Most times, if you aren’t being careless, you can free your stuck tackle from a rock or quagmire of underwater lilies. It is possible to break your line and lose equipment, so you must be careful when dragging tackle across a pond bottom or near undergrowth. It is also possible to reel in trash such as lily pads, shells, and boots.
FIsh fighting has been adjusted from the freemium version to offer more of a challenge. In many situations, I feel like this is a welcome change, but sometimes I think the developers went too far. The intensity of the fights feels directly tied to the fish’s weight and its relation to your equipment rather than the aggressiveness or traits of a certain species. A 5kg fish will fight like Moby Dick if you get it to bite on a 5.5kg rig. Trying to pull in an 8kg fish on the same rig feels nearly impossible when in real life it is not an issue for a careful fisherman. Trophy and Unique fish always put up good fights, which should be the case, but it got annoying having to spend five minutes pulling in a 1.2kg walleye on a 4.5kg rig over and over.
Fish location is an area that could use lots of improvement. Fish only seem to spawn in once you cast, rather than exist in the water. Some fish can only be caught in certain spots, leaving the ecosystem to feel much less dynamic. You find that some locations have dead zones where you aren’t going to catch anything, simply because the fish spawn somewhere else.
Major props to the development team for the variety of equipment available in The Fisherman. I’d guess that more than one thousand different pieces of gear are available, each serving a real purpose when it would have been easy to make them simple window dressing. A variety of hooks, jigs, and baits are available, each offering the slightest variation in weight or application. The exhaustive collection of tackle allows for nearly endless combinations and truly enhances the gameplay. Auxiliary equipment like tackle boxes, stringers, clothing, rod stands, and boats are equally useful.
My biggest gripe with the equipment is that so much of the best gear is only available by spending Baitcoins. In some cases, it is possible to spend Baitcoins on an item that is slightly better than the level it unlocks at, which makes some sense, as it allows a chance at faster progression if the player can get a stronger reel a couple of levels early. The stronger reel will allow heavier fish to be reeled in faster. The problem is that the amount of Baitcoins awarded is incredibly low throughout all the time I played the game.
After 30+ hours of playtime and reaching level 24, I had amassed 53 Baitcoins. I spent 30 of them on a single level 14 1 meter crankbait that I took to the Florida Everglades. On my third cast, a very large fish struck the lure and proceeded to pull my line out until the reel was at the end. I lost the lure (and all my Baitcoins) in a snap. All equipment deteriorates and must be serviced or it becomes useless. Gear bought with Baitcoin must be repaired by spending more Baitcoin. If you spend 150 Baitcoin on a reel and it wears out after 8 in-game days of heavy use, you must pay nearly the cost of a new one to get it repaired. If you have a few pieces of Baitcoin equipment in your rig, the escalating costs will get out of hand quickly.
The only real way to farm Baitcoin is by committing to farming only Unique-class fish. These fish will pay out in Baitcoin rather than regular currency. The amount you get depends on the fish. The first easy-to-catch Unique, the Redear Sunfish, is found on the level 14 Neherrin River and only pays 3 Baitcoin per catch. Uniques are only available on certain in-game days and at specific times with specific tackle. I was able to catch 5 Unique Redear Sunfish after two hours of grinding just for that fish.
Heavier, higher-level fish will pay out more handsomely, but they are gated away in the later locations in the game that will potentially take players more than one hundred hours to unlock. By the time you can reliably pull in a Unique Pike in Michigan that pays 25 Baitcoins per fish, the level 10 rod that cost 115 Baitcoin will be mostly useless. The DLC that is advertised as included with the game must be purchased with Baitcoin. Initially, some of the packs cost 2700 Baitcoins, but the price was lowered this week (presumably due to feedback from beta participants).
All the fun of fishing without the mosquitos
The audiovisual presentation of The FIsherman is mostly adequate. Some locations look better than others and the time of day can drastically alter how some environments work. The trees do move slightly, but it never feels like real plant life in the wind. The water is the star of this show, offering some solid refraction and translucence (when it is not brackish). Surface displacement looks really good, especially when you nearly have a fish reeled in and it sloshes around near you. The look of the game is largely the same as it was years ago with the release of Fishing Planet, for better or for worse. It should run fine on the consoles and most PC hardware. Strangely enough, I found the game didn’t look appreciably better when running at 4K instead of 1080p, likely due to its textures and effects. Still, it gets the job done.
The sound output is more disappointing. The game includes varying ambient noise presentations at each of its locations and things can vary depending on the time of day, but it didn’t take long for me to start hearing repeating patterns in bird and insect noises. Also, the sounds the reels make during lure presentation work to drive me nuts. If you only hear them in continuous playback, it isn’t so bad, but luring the fish requires lots of start/stop reeling motions and you will hear the same audio clip kick in over and over to the point of insanity. The game has some generic outdoors country music in the front-end menu, but the option to have some sort of internet radio-powered boombox equipment, like in Euro Truck Simulator 2 or PC Building Simulator, would have been much appreciated.
Rise and grind
I feel conflicted about The Fisherman - Fishing Planet. I spent hundreds of hours playing the original version of the game years ago, including buying DLC and subscribing to the premium membership (which gave double XP). I ultimately quit the game after alterations to the game made the monetization feel scummy. This new package promises to bundle up all that content for one price seems to be something right up my alley, but so much of the game feels stuck in the freemium monetization design rut that it frustrated me multiple times while I played.
While I appreciate that the developers removed the Baitcoin gate on fast-forwarding time and increased the levels of currency and XP awarded for catching fish, so much of the game still feels like it is geared towards selling Baitcoin (of which there is no way to purchase). Players looking to progress quickly are better served by trying to min/max specific fish rather than simply fishing how they would like. Why spend time fighting a catfish when a smaller pike pays triple? It would be nice if payouts could be adjusted to reward multiple fish in a lake rather than one particular type being wildly more effective for progression than the others.
I do like that the leveling process is much faster in The Fisherman (I got as far in 25 hours of The Fisherman as I did in 100+ with the original Fishing Planet). All of the new waterways and fish species are great inclusions and serve to enhance the enjoyability of the game. The equipment selection and the diversity in gameplay it brings for fishing enthusiasts deserve to be commended. At its best, The Fisherman leaves you amped up from an intense fight with a river monster you’ve been trying to coax out of its hole for hours. At its worst, it feels like an attempt to quickly cash-in on work done for the freemium version that came before it. If Fishing Planet LLC can adjust the in-game economy, they could have a winner on their hands. 6/10 7” plastic shads on a 3/4oz #6/0 jig
This review is based on the PC Steam release. The game key was provided by the publisher. The Fisherman - Fishing Planet releases for Steam, Xbox One, and PS4 on October 17, for $39.99.
The Fisherman: Fishing Planet
- Great line physics
- Outstanding equipment selection
- Loads of places to fish
- Less grinding than freemium verison
- Still too much grind
- Premium Baitcoin currency makes the game worse
- Fish confined to pre-determined spots
- Lackluster presentation