Introduce me to…
Stardew Valley is an indie farming simulator that mixes a chunk of rpg goodness, dungeon crawling, crafting, and city building to create something that will suck your life away. In a good way of course!
Designed and developed over 4 years by Eric Barone, Stardew harks back to a golden age in 2d pixelated graphics that made consoles such as the Super Nintendo such an enduring fan favourite.
Heavily inspired by the classic Harvest Moon series, Eric’s farming opus offers a welcome change in pace from modern twitch gaming offering hundreds of hours of relaxed, play at your own pace, farming fun.
So get your boots on.
Grab your shovel.
It’s time to start sowing and reaping.
Rat Race Relief
On first starting a new game, I was treated to a beautifully animated intro that explains a little back story behind the main characters reasons for starting their own farm.
It shows you a dire existence where I was locked in a corporate world surround by eye site destroying computer screens, endless desks, and 24/7 fluorescent lighting.
That rat race had gripped me, sunk its claws in deep, bleeding me of any will to escape.
But an opportunity to shake free of modern life’s crushing grasp presented itself to me. My in game grandfather had left me a small farm situated on the outskirts of sleepy village.
Dilapidated and run down, the town sits waiting for a saviour. For something, someone to ignite a spark on their fire and rekindle the ‘good-old-days.’
But in spite of the obvious hardship, it a little home to call my own. A welcome retreat from the concrete mega-jungle. A move away from the chase-your-own tail madness of modern living. I traded in pen and keyboard. Instead of working the office, my calling is to work the land. I can smell the silage already.
And so, this is where my journey begins. This is where my life away from the tangle of roads starts.
My first main issue to decide was whether to play as man or a woman. Of course, being man, I felt my in-game avatar should mirror this.
After choosing to play as a generic young fellow I was given the choice of 5 different maps to start my farm on.
Each one comes with pros and cons but each offered a chance to enhance the way I wished to play.
You see Stardew isn’t just a farming game, it offers the chance to partake in many different professions. Mixing and matching jobs at leisure to create a personal gameplay experience.
One map would give me the opportunity to fish more. Another would afford more opportunities to explore a mine. I will touch on these jobs in more detail in a later section.
Early on, Stardew made it abundantly clear that it wanted me to play my way. It positions itself as the ultimate sandbox farming game. To the point where I could ignore the farming entirely and saunter off into the world enjoying the other activities.
My little farm was never treated as ball and chain. Farming is a choice, not a necessity. And it isn’t just for growing plants and rearing animals, of which there is lots to do and see.
My farm, my home is a jumping off point to be part of this wonderful world. To join the village community. To create a job in niche that I can call My own.
Farming is just one tiny part of the total Stardew Valley package.
Clearing The Way
Having chosen the map I will play on, I was dropped unceremoniously into my grandfathers old farm house. The farm had been left to degenerate into dilapidated run down state so the first thing I was tasked with was cleaning up natures mess.
Having been left to nature for so long, the ground had become a heaving chaos of weeds, rocks and tree stumps.
Much sweat, toil, and calloused fingers later, and the dirt of the land was bear and flat. A brown lake on a breeze-less day.
I looked down at my controller, fingers aching from the heard work, half expecting to see dirt under my finger nails, abrasions and small cuts covering my new-to-labour hands.
I looked over my newly cleared allotment, and it started to rain. Pixelated clumps of blue fell from the sky and dusty dirt became speckled with damp spots. And for a moment I could swear, the smell of dry mud and fresh rain filled my room, a signal that a hard days work was done.
Seeding The Way
After I had cleared the farm, the first thing that needed doing was buying and planting seeds. I didn’t have a lot of money at the beginning to do much else so cultivating my first crop felt a little like a tutorial, but with less hand holding than most games.
I popped into town and there in the centre was a shop that sells every type of seed for every type of plant imaginable. Seeds that offer high value produce. Seeds for crops that you could harvest multiple times. Basically, there were seeds for everything.
I could specialise or generalise my farm however I liked. There are even crops that grow better depending on the time of year they are sown. The season was something I would learn to beware at all times. It greatly effected what could and couldn’t be grown.
The year in Stardew is simplified into 4, 28 day long months. Each of which represents one of the 4 seasons.
This simplified years makes it far easier to judge when it best time to sow different seeds or reap different crops.
Back at the farm, the seeds are easy to plant. Selecting them from the inventory, I placed them where ever I liked in my allotment. After a short think, I picked a pleasing square shape near the house. Less walking that way.
Having planted a fertilises my seeds the only ingredients needed now were time and a little water. Another hard days work completed. I looked over my creation and the smell of manure flowed out of the TV. As if the display were a car window wound down while driving past busy farm. Ahhh, I love the smell of cow shit in the morning!
Harvest To Sell
Given time, and a bit of love, all my crops would sprout ready to be plucked from the stem. Harvesting my own crops turned out to be a far more fulfilling experience that I had anticipated. I had nurtured these plants to maturity with my own bare hands (Ok, thumbs on sticks but still) and coaxed a bounty of fruit and veg from them in return.
After a hard days reaping, I placed the newly harvested crop in my inventory.
I was aching, I was tired I was utterly spent. Perspiration running down my back, cloths sticking to me like duck tape, I retired to the house. I’d be selling the next morning.
Upon waking, I walked into town and sold my crop for a handsome some of money. I then reinvested in seeds and did the whole thing – seeding, growing, harvesting, selling – again and again to make plenty more cash. But why? What can an enterprising entrepreneur buy in Stardew?
It turns out quite a lot actually. Stardew offered a huge amount of options for my spending pleasure. The people of Stardew always seemed to offer a financial moral choice. Do I spend cash on improving the town? Or do I spend money on buying a new pen for the pigs? These decision had long lasting effects, some which were even permanent and game changing.
In the town I could buy new buildings, upgrade existing buildings, improve peoples houses, Build completely new houses.
I also had the option to upgrade all my tools multiple times. I could buy new weapons and armour to explore the deeper recess of the mines. That sounds fun.
Or I could just spend all my money on creating the perfect farm. It was entirely up to me. (new swimming pool in the back yard it is then.) But whatever I decided to do there was always something else to buy. Some other object or upgrade to always aim for.
As touched on earlier Stardew offered me a plethora of job opportunities for me to play around with. Instead of being pushed down one gameplay path, I was offered a wide range of career that I could mix around to suit my own play style.
The career include but aren’t limited to:
- Exploring mines
- Treasure hunting
- Raising livestock
- And Cooking
And that’s to name but a few. Each job type can be tinkered with, played with at my leisure, at any point.
If I didn’t like a particular job, I could,, without penalty, drop it and do something else. There are no RPG skills that held me back. I choose what direction I wanted to head in and forged onward.
I could even leave the farm completely behind and just use it as a base for sleeping.
Each profession offered deep and varied gameplay and could easily standalone as a separate game.
Each offers such depth and breadth of gameplay that you would never have to touch the farming if you didn’t want to. I hardly did any farming on my play through deciding to explore the mines instead and see what’s there.
Take my mining experience for example. I delved into the dark depths of the mine in search of many an ore and trinket. But the cave is a labyrinth. Ever ready to hide its truths from me.
Procedurally generated, each level is vast in size and, as you descend, get ever more dangerous. But the pay off is amazing loot. I found lots of gems and even more ore to sell. Thankfully the town’s foke seem to have an endless supply of cash to pay me for everything.
Even after tens of hours playing I’m no nearer the bottom of that pit. I haven’t a clue what monsters, what rarities lay awaiting discovery.
Rise out of the mine and I found the town to be a little universe of possibility every time I visited. Each pixelated characters that runs around has their own lives. Their own needs and wants. Their own dreams and hopes.
Some are families with children pushed out the door to school and parents busily getting to work. Others are newly weds trying to find there feet in an unforgiving world.
Just as in any community there are the average people, forgettable people, and incredible memorable people. But each is so important in creating a weave of township credibility. I walked the streets of Stardew and slowly teased out details what people will do or where they will be. Or when there birthdays are.
One chap I met was a slightly depressed war veteran who’s son was desperately shy. But with no wife in site. What happened to her? She was never talked about and to this day I wonder what happened.
There is a homeless man I often talked to. I could choose whether to help or shun him with consequences for both.
There is even a secret affair going on between two town’s folk. Though I was never told this directly. Only fleeting glimpses of them together behind closed door. Leaving bar at the same time. A brief appearance behind a building before walking off.
There are so many interesting characters that each have their own issues, there own problems that we can all empathise with in our own day to day lives. They all have a little story, good or bad, to tell.
The town is not a collection of pixels, it’s a collection of people. Realised as well as any game I have played before.
It’s a community that feels alive. Each person struggling with things we all have. Paying bills. Feeding children. Loosing loved ones. It’s this that drove me through the game. This connection though digital felt real enough to pour my heart and soul into bringing the little town of Stardew back from the dead.
The restoration of this beautiful town is what drives me forward to accumulate wealth. Not to buy stuff for my own selfish needs. It creates a bubble of selflessness that only the most cynical of gamer would willingly burst.
This is what Stardew is all about. It’s not really a farming sim. It’s a community building sim. One I couldn’t help but embrace.
Eric has created a game offers deep mechanics and is just fun to play. But the man has created something special here. He’s created a masterpiece that compels you to really care about the inhabitants of Stardew Valley.
My soul purpose in playing Stardew changed from building a farm and getting away from the rat race, to preserving an entire villages way of life. From self-gain to philanthropic selflessness in one game. Now that’s what I call self-growth.
It also touches on a number of important real world messages. These include stopping corporations destroying the small mans way of life. The environment and many other subtle messages that Eric has tried to communicate through the art of gameplay and storey telling.
And, because of this, the game works on so many levels. It pulled my senses and emotions this way and that. It’s a game that had me walking away questioning my own choices, my own contribution to society.
For that, it transcends the simple idea that this is a must play. Instead Stardew valley is a must experience.
I came away enthused by all it offered and a better person for participating in its world.
And for that reason, it’s a game that every one of us should own.