If a video game has crafting, it’s basically guaranteed that you’re going to be chopping down trees at some point. It’s a decades old gaming ritual that’s so common you hardly even think about it. But what if we did think about it? What if we ignored graphics, story, music, and 99 percent of gameplay and only judged a game based on how good it feels to chop down a tree? Well, you can wonder no longer. I have done exactly that.
Reviewing Tree Chopping in Video Games
There are a few main elements I’ll be focusing on. Firstly, how does the ax feel? Does it have big, heavy swings, or do you just waggle it in front of the tree until it falls down? This is a major component in my personal tree chopping enjoyment.
Next, how realistic does the experience feel? Does the tree fall to the ground or just poof out of existence? Are there any signs that the trunk is damaged before it reaches the tipping point?
Finally, is it satisfying? Am I cutting down trees because I need to or because I want to? A good tree chopping experience should never feel like a chore.
Raft, a game I’ve been writing guides for lately, was my inspiration for this article. You can never have enough wood, so it’s always exciting to find trees, but the tree chopping process leaves a lot to be desired. For starters, you swing the ax vertically. This is by far my biggest gripe with felling trees in video games, and this is far from the last example of it. Why would a vertical swing cut a tree horizontally?
The thing I like about trees in Raft is that they’re more than just wood — chopping them down also provides the player with leaves, seeds, and fruit. Even though the trees themselves just pop out of existence once you’ve hit them enough times, a variety of spoils gives points to the realism factor.
Stardew Valley – 8/10
While I’ve been playing Raft, my partner has been playing Stardew Valley, a game with far superior tree cutting mechanics. Trees fall over when you hit them enough times, and they drop more than just wood. On top of that, they leave behind stumps, which just makes sense. Why would a few hits from an ax vaporize the entire plant, roots and all?
The only real detractor here is that pesky vertical swing. From a design perspective, I understand using the same animation for fallen wood and standing wood, but I can’t pretend it doesn’t take away from the realism factor. Normally I wouldn’t care, but when I’m in Tree Chopping Critic Mode™? It’s inexcusable.
Fortnite – 4/10 (but sometimes 7/10)
The Fortnite tree-chopping experience varies wildly depending on the tree you’re attacking and the weapon you’re doing it with. Attacking a normal tree with the base pickaxe is easily a 4/10. The swings aren’t quite vertical, but they’re certainly not horizontal. The only drop is wood, and the trees have no physics at all. I won’t say I get zero enjoyment out of it, but it could be a lot better.
That said, it is possible to have a good tree chopping experience in Fortnite. It just requires some specific conditions. There are some weapons that allow you to swing horizontally, and there are some trees that actually fall with semi-realistic physics. With both of these massive improvements, it’s boosted up to a 7/10, but it would be unrealistic to treat this as the norm.
God of War (2018) – 9/10
Okay, I know you don’t chop a lot of trees in this game, but the one tree that gets cut down at the start is just so satisfying. The swings are heavy, the ax gets stuck in the wood, and when the tree finally comes down, it’s a creaky, leafy crash. I know it’s a cinematic, but it’s just too good.
Terraria – 5/10
Not much to say about this one. Vertical swings and no tree physics, but satisfying nonetheless. Not anywhere near my ideal tree chopping mechanics, but it could definitely be worse.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – 9/10
It’s not the first video game you think of when you think of chopping down trees, but the more I think about it, the more I realize it checks every box. Trees in Breath of the Wild fall with realistic physics, they can drop fruits and leaves, and you can see the slashes on them when you hit them with bladed weapons. If you want to conserve your ax’s durability, you can also knock them down with bombs, which is always fun.
Minecraft – 2/10
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy Minecraft. I’ve been playing it for ten years, and it never gets old. But if I’m being honest with myself, and I mean really honest… chopping down trees in this game kinda sucks.
The first few blocks are fine, but most of the time there are blocks out of your range, so you have to place another block (sometimes multiple) on the ground to reach the stragglers. If you want any drop other than wood, you have to mine it from the leaf blocks, which are even more inconvenient. You can either leave them floating in the air to despawn and litter the floor with apples and branches, or you can go out of your way to mine them. As if that wasn’t bad enough, your ax swings vertically! Vertically!!!
Cutting down trees is supposed to be an act of power, asserting oneself over nature, but the trees in Minecraft don’t let me live out that fantasy. Instead, the trees are like a big mean lady taunting me for being too small. If I wanted that experience, I’d just play Resident Evil: Village.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons – 10/10
This is the definitive video game tree chopping experience. Axes swing horizontally, visibly chisel the trunk, and leave a stump behind. Trees give fruit and multiple types of wood, and man, it feels good. In every other game on this list, trees are plentiful, so it doesn’t really matter when you choose to destroy one. In Animal Crossing: New Horizons, you’re massively impacting the appearance of your town. If you want to replace a tree, it will take multiple, real-life days, so felling one feels definitive and meaningful.