I don’t know about you, but I’ve always really loved the idea of taking a step back from “modern life” and getting absorbed in the simple life of farming and living off the land. For that reason, the adorable new game Stardew Valley really appealed to me from the get go — a cute, pixelated indie game that focuses almost entirely on farming? Sign me up!
Now that it’s been out for around three weeks, and I’ve become thoroughly addicted to it, I’d like to share my thoughts in my Stardew Valley review.
What is Stardew Valley?
If you’ve ever played Harvest Moon, you’ve probably already heard of Stardew Valley and have possibly even been anticipating it for a while. Developed singlehandedly by an indie developer known as ConcernedApe, Stardew Valley is a homage to games like Harvest Moon and to some extent Rune Factory, though at the same time it is so much more.
Set in the rustic, old-timey Pelican Town, you take on the part of a miserable office-worker who has decided to abandon their old life and become a budding young farmer thanks to a serendipitous letter from their grandfather. You’re soon whisked off to your new home, which is shockingly overgrown, and are essentially left to your own devices to look after the farm how you see fit.
At first, it can all seem a bit overwhelming, and one of the first things I did was clear my entire farm of that ugly long grass, which I later learned was a mistake. That grass can be turned into hay once you build one of the early farm buildings — a Silo — which is then stored so you can feed your animals. This is particularly important over winter, in which grass doesn’t grow. So, a few short “days” into the game and I was already having to restart. Whoops.
Despite my early mistakes, Stardew Valley is amazingly relaxing. I found myself fully absorbed in planning out my crops for each season, planting and nurturing them, and then going off on an adventure while they grew.
Those familiar with games like Terraria and Starbound will find the gameplay is somewhat reminiscent, but stands on its own very well. You are given several tools to start with for mining, chopping down trees, farming, and eventually for fishing and of course combat. What you choose to do each day is up to you; for me, my routine is usually based on the in-game weather and what quests I’ve picked up.
The game saves each night cycle, so there is a certain addictive quality that players frequently refer to as, “One more day…” I’ve become very familiar with this in my last two weeks of playing Stardew Valley, and the feeling is especially intense when you’re just waiting that one more day for one of the NPCs to finish building something on your farm, or when you know that there’s an in-game event coming up soon.
What Stardew Valley does well
Even though Stardew Valley is heavily based around farming, there’s a surprising amount of progression involved. Each season has different crops that can grow, and mining unlocks new materials for you to upgrade your tools to make them more effective. The mine itself is an adventure, with different environments to explore, creatures to slay, and materials to gather. You’ll also be able to unlock new weapons and gear through the mine. Each of the activities you take part in can be levelled up as well, giving you additional skills and bonuses, not to mention access to more advanced items.
Aside from that, you will also complete “bundles” in the Community Centre, which involves gathering items from around the world and during your farming and unlocking rewards, as well as new features for Pelican Town. One example is a mine cart that allows you to easily travel between your farm, the mines, and the town. There’s also a greenhouse to allow you to grow crops all year round, a bus repair to take you off to a new area, and a quarry to gather materials easily.
It’s also worth mentioning that players can create their own character, with quite a few options for a game of its size. You can also socialise with the townsfolk and even get married and start a family, and while the options are simple it’s pretty effective and gives the game a bit more depth than just your average farming simulator. Each of the townspeople has a unique personality that is slowly revealed through talking with them and befriending them.
On top of that, there’s the “hats gameplay” that people so often joke about. A small hidden house is found south of your farm with a mouse who apparently runs the store. Here you can buy hats that you’ve earned through in-game achievements, giving you something to work towards and additional customisation options. I’m still trying to work towards the cat ears!
What Stardew Valley doesn’t do as well
While I was very happy with Stardew Valley and am thoroughly, unabashedly addicted, I did notice a few things that could be improved.
My biggest bugbear is twofold: I found fishing absolutely impossible with a mouse due to how sensitive the rod is to your clicks, and therefore decided to use a controller. I’ve got very used to the controller for all of my gameplay now, but it can be a bit iffy sometimes. Occasionally my character will insist on using a tool in one direction even though I’m facing another (eg I will be facing a rock and will start mining it, but each time I hit the rock my character will turn to face a different direction and try mining that way instead) which seems to be related to where my mouse cursor is located on the screen. It’s also slightly less precise than using a mouse, but this is just the nature of using a controller, so I don’t blame that on the developer.
Another thing I think would be great if it were improved is the socialising aspect. I can already see it as being quite deep, with each NPC liking specific items as a gift, and each gift having a different effect on the relationship (one particularly nice feature is that townsfolk have birthdays recorded on the in-game calendar and really like it when you give them a gift on their birthday!), however it would be great if it were possible to find out what things an NPC likes through having conversations with them. In some ways it’s easy to guess, but there are some gifts you’d never know about without just throwing items at the person or caving in and Googling it.
Finding townsfolk can be really frustrating, as they wander around an awful lot. This isn’t such a big deal for most, but if you’re trying to buy animals or farming goods at Marnie’s, it can get a bit annoying when she leaves when her store “should” be open. The only solution I found was to camp outside her door for the minutes leading up to 9:00am then barge on in first thing so she doesn’t have a chance to leave! Also, it’d be really great if you could ask townsfolk things like, “Have you seen X?” or find some other indication of where someone is. When you’re trying to pursue a relationship with someone, it’s sometimes awkward to locate them.
One thing that isn’t necessary, but that could be an interesting thing to see, would be a way to either hire farmhands or automate some of your farming. This is partly helped by your spouse, after you get married, taking on one random farm task in the morning for you, which can include watering your crops. But as your farm starts to grow bigger, it can end up taking up a fair chunk of your day just maintaining it. Hiring farmhands could be a really interesting way to keep up with your farm and still get to enjoy other aspects of the game.
Should you play it?
If you’re a fan of Harvest Moon, or to some extent of Terraria or Starbound, you absolutely should check it out. It’s paid a huge amount of respect to those games while still being its own entity, and I can respect that. I also thinks it’s fantastic that this game that has become one of the most successful games on Steam in the last few weeks was developed entirely by one guy. It has so much depth to it and I’m discovering new things about it every day that I play!
While it is a game centred around farming, there’s a lot more to it, with RPG elements that many will enjoy. So I definitely recommend Stardew Valley to anyone with a love for indie games, and it won’t even be too harsh on the wallet!
Are you playing Stardew Valley? Let me know what you think of it in the comments!