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First look at FarmVille 2 on Facebook

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(Credit: Zynga)

The hit farm simulation series is about to make a comeback with a fresh look and a bushel of new features.

By Randy Nelson, Tecca

If you've ever played a game on Facebook, there's a good chance you have some experience with FarmVille. That's partly because since so many social games released after it arrived in 2009 have borrowed — heavily, in many cases — from Zynga's hugely popular farm simulation. But now the company is readying its own true sequel to the title, and we got an early look at it.

Life on the farm
FarmVille 2 builds on the core mechanics that made the original such a hit, namely the focus on building a farm and then planting and harvesting crops, raising animals, and decorating. This time around, the whole thing looks considerably more detailed thanks to Zynga's use of Adobe Flash 11, which makes possible fully 3D graphics that outclass those seen in almost any web-based game. In fact, FarmVille 2 looks more like something you'd expect from a downloadable PC or console release.

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(Credit: Zynga)

Plants and trees sway in the breeze, objects animate as your mouse pointer passes over them, and animals frolic in more varied ways. This attention to detail actually carries over into the gameplay. For instance, rather than simply clicking on land to clear, making it instantly devoid of foliage, you'll now see a herd of goats flock to it and start gnawing away until it's ready, tromping back off-screen when they're done.

The game's designers are working with a similar concept of seeing actions play out naturally when you perform other simple tasks such as harvesting crops. Rather than disappearing crops and subsequent coins raining from the sky, your harvesting efforts now result in actual produce appearing on the ground. You can collect these and use them to feed animals — helping them yield items such as milk from cows and eggs from chickens — but also combine them in your kitchen to make more elaborate foods such as apple pie. Flour, eggs, and milk make batter, apples are added, and so on. Non-food items can be crafted into more elaborate objects and custom decorations.

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(Credit: Zynga)

Speaking of decorating, Zynga has simplified the process by letting you "paint" large areas of the farm with the same decorations and move them with a click of the right mouse button. This same painting movement of the mouse can also be used to harvest crops and feed animals in one swoop, eliminating the need to click on multiple spaces individually. It's a real time- and finger-saver.

It pays to socialize
Social interaction will, of course, be very important in FarmVille 2. One new way we've seen it work is when you invite your friends to your farm to help you grow and harvest crops as "farm helpers." In turn, you can visit their farms and help them by picking which crops you want to harvest or animals you want to feed, and you'll be rewarded with items they'd normally produce, in case you're short of them on your own farm.

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Another interesting new aspect of the game we saw is the market stand. This lets you put produce, food, and other items you've grown or made up for sale in exchange for coins. Building on this is the concept of the village grocer. Named Cornelius, this happy fellow tasks you with producing certain crops and items, and he'll then drive to your farm and cart them off, rewarding you with custom decorations.

Zynga is looking past the launch of FarmVille 2 with plans for a village hub, where you'll be able to meet up with other players and chat. Here, you'll also be able to trade goods that you've produced and participate in carnivals or county fairs.

FarmVille 2 is live now on Facebook, and you can play it by following this link. From what we've seen so far, spending time on the game (it's free-to-play like the original, with premium items you can buy) is a no-brainer if you liked the original. The lush new graphics and deeper gameplay will no doubt bring a whole new generation of players into the fold.

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