|Release Date||February 26, 2016|
This review has been a long time coming. Truth be told I could have quite happily played this game forever and been completely content to never play anything else. Ever again. That’s probably hyperbole, but Stardew Valley had a strange effect on me. It sucked me in and made it difficult to do something as simple as close the game down and go to sleep at 3AM. At least I know what game to play next time we do a 24-hour charity marathon.
Stardew Valley is a farming simulator RPG. You take on the role of the new arrival to the titular village, having inherited your grandfather’s farm. Trouble is the farm plot is in a state, having been overrun by weeds, trees and rocks. With just a few old tools and a small amount of coin you’ll need to get to work to restore the farm, and the whole of Stardew Valley, to its former glory.
Or don’t. Stardew Valley is incredibly open-ended and deceptively stuffed with a seemingly endless amount of content. I started out attempting to clear out a small section of the plot I called home, so I could grow stuff and become self-sufficient. After a few days of that, I started to venture out into town, finding more activities to keep me occupied as the days went by.
Days turned into weeks and I constantly found new stuff to do. Weeks turned into months and I was still finding new areas to explore. Seasons started changing and I was still finding that I hadn’t found everything Stardew Valley had to offer me. There’s farming, mining, fishing, foraging, cooking, crafting and combat. There’s a mine to explore. There are characters you can romance, marry and start a family with. Villagers can give you quests to complete. There are seasonal festivals. You get to redesign your home and build a farm.
That doesn’t even scratch the surface of what’s going on in this quaint, peaceful village. The truth is Stardew Valley works because you set your own goals. There’s a vague narrative thread involving the insidious Joja Corporation and its threat to the chilled out way of life in Stardew Valley, and some stuff surrounding the derelict town hall, but none of it is necessarily relevant unless you want it to be relevant.
Stardew Valley is flexible enough that you simply need to decide which parts you want to interact with and can simply play around the parts you don’t. It’s one of the most stress-free game I’ve ever played. This is how the game keeps you hooked. You motivate yourself to do whatever you want in the game, with absolutely no consequences. You can spend an entire day mooching around socialising if you want. Or you can roll up your sleeves and finally plant those vegetable seeds you’ve had in storage for a week.
That’s what keeps you hooked, but it’s everything else that pulls you in deeper. Upgrading and upkeeping the farm itself was my main motivation in the game. You start by clearing out the various bits that have completely overrun the land. These bits of wood, stone and other resources make up your opening stockpile, which you can use to craft the various tools and equipment you need. Once you’ve cleared yourself some space, you can start to grow crops and become well on your way to creating a self-sustaining farm.
The four seasons that make up Stardew Valley have a massive impact on this (and almost everything else). Different crops and trees can only be planted during specific seasons, and when Winter comes farming is impossible. You can sell these crops to make some profit, keep them to cook food, use them as gifts for the villagers or hoard them because you’re just that kind of person. There are probably other things you can do with them too. As you expand your farm you can add livestock to the equation – keeping chickens for their eggs and whatnot.
A typical day in Stardew Valley, at least for me, generally involves spending the first few hours of the day tending to your farm – watering (unless it’s raining) or harvesting the crops, checking the chicken coops for eggs and whatnot. After that, it’s entirely up to you. Maybe today is the day you delve into the caves and go mining. Or maybe it’s a fishing day, planting yourself by the river to try and catch yourself a rare fish. Or maybe it’s just a day for pottering around the village socialising with your neighbours.
On that last point, the NPC’s in Stardew Valley are really something quite special. There are 27 villagers in the game. They seem quite one-dimensional when you first introduce yourself to them, but as you start to interact with them more and more you’ll find that they’re actually quite in depth. You can build friendships with them as time goes on, by socialising with them, completing tasks for them and giving them gifts that they like. 10 of them are even romanceable, allowing you to court, marry and start a family with your paramour of choice.
Concerned Ape (who is actually a single person, by the way) has created a living, breathing world in Stardew Valley. Every NPC has a specific role or function in the village, whether they’re the mayor, the owner of the local store or a bored teenager. But they also have lives. Each NPC runs on a specific schedule, which changes day by day and season by season. Several of the ladies of Stardew Valley, for example, attend an exercise class run by Caroline every Tuesday afternoon. It’s this amazing attention to detail that makes Stardew Valley feel like you’re part of a living world. This village doesn’t exist for your simply benefit. You just get to live there.
That’s probably the best example I can give of how much there is actually going on in Stardew Valley. Plus the way it feels to exist in its world is probably the best of the games many standout features. No matter what you’re looking for in the game, or what kind of mood you’re in on any given day, there’s something for you here. I could go into much more depth about all the different systems, mechanics, gameplay features and more you’ll encounter here. But part of the charm of the Stardew Valley experience is finding everything for yourself.
There’s nothing about Stardew Valley that I don’t love. I’m pretty sure it would very easily dominate my life if I let it. While it describes itself as an “open-ended farming simulator”, the farming is just the beginning. There’s a staggering amount of content in this game and the fact that it was made by a single man is mind-blowing. What makes the game so addictive is how stress-free it is. It allows you to set your own goals and do your own thing. Every now and again it may gently prod you towards doing something specific, but it’s entirely up to you whether you go for it or not. I have to give a special shoutout to the incredibly organic world that Concerned Ape has created though, which is an absolute pleasure to be allowed to live in. In fact, I think i might just load the game up for a few minutes…
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