I didn't want to play Stardew Valley - the main reason being that I knew if it was even half as good as people were saying that many days of my life would be sucked into this brightly coloured world. After hearing Tom Marks from PC gamer gush about it for three podcasts on the trot I gave in.
I used to be a massive advocate of gameplay over graphics and Stardew Valley has shown me that I'd lost my way, I had become dazzled by the many beautiful games we now enjoy on our nuclear-powered gaming rigs. Ergo when I first stepped into this game I didn't like how it looked at all. Sprites so bright I needed sunglasses, pixels everywhere and where are my god damn physics?! Ok joking aside, let's see what all the fuss has been about.
Stardew Valley is a farming simulator of sorts that has many other elements to delve into alongside the main theme. The basic story is that your Grandad has left you his old farm and so to escape the rat race of the city you decide to head into the countryside and swap accounting for acorns. You are greeted by the town mayor and given as a basic set of hand me down tools to carry out your day to day work: an axe, hoe, pick, watering can and so on. As you engage in activities such as foraging, mining, farming crops you gain levels and these, in turn, unlock stat improvements and new objects to craft. This isn't anything we have not seen before in other farming esk games but SDV does a fantastic job of adding new objectives as you go and presenting you with opportunities to tempt your interest. For example, when you start harvesting your crops it's just a case of selling them for a profit but as you unlock new equipment you can pickle, preserve, cook and ferment your produce for more money.
Assuming you were in bed on time you start the day with a full energy bar and this is burned up by completing activities. Hoeing the ground, chopping wood/stone and even fishing all deplete your energy which can be supplemented by eating food. Once you have made a bit of poke you can ask the local carpenter to build some new structures, a new well perhaps? Or maybe a chicken coop? There are plenty of animals you can raise and as you might imagine, each has needs and can produce goods for the farm. Before long I was making cheese from my milk and mayonnaise from my eggs (and, of course, chocolate cake).
Outside the borders of the farm, there is a small town where most if the people you can interact with live, there is also a mine, woods, beach/docks, a desert, a river and many more places you will need to visit at some point. Most of these places glean rewards that you need in other areas of the game and thus, they overlap. Resources like copper, iron and gold are pretty much found in the mine alongside a whole list of other items and so if you wish to progress this will be an essential activity. As you enter the mine your are given a sword to kill monsters and the combat is very Zelda esk (slash-kill-repeat). As you progress deeper you are given access to new materials as well as some very basic equipment upgrades. The mines offer a nice distraction on rainy days but just don't expect Diablo 3.
I'll be honest, my first few hours playing Stardew I found to be incredibly frustrating because so many items I found just could not be interacted with. You can't use the swings in the park, sit on chairs in the pub and many more places that were impervious to my will: even the NPCs didn't have much to say. So I decided to focus on the farming and fighting my way through the mine. By the end of summer, I had really started to find my feet and was producing some fine crops, installed some sprinklers and even started smelting copper and iron for some of the better items. My efforts in the mines had also paid off, I had now acquired a decent sword, set of boots and a magic ring that emitted light. Then it dawned on me, I'd been playing SDV for a solid week and was absolutely addicted.
Seasons of change
The game runs over four seasons from Spring to Winter and each has crops that can be grown, fish that can be caught under certain conditions as well as a unique aesthetic. After a while you get into a nice routine: collecting sap from your trees, watering the crops, after a rainy day checking the beach for coral and dropping off that pumpkin I'd promised someone for their Halloween party. Then maybe chop some wood before making a cake for the festival tomorrow. As you learn the crop cycles you can also plan ahead, planting cherry trees that will grow in time for spring for example. Each season has 28 days and so judging which crops to grow is also a skill you will need to master, because when a season ends most crops will vanish.
As I've already mentioned I was initially very underwhelmed by the NPCs in the village. Outside the farm, the interaction with the game world is very much on its own terms. However once you learn the rules you can then decide how to play them rules. For example, everyone had likes and loves and if you find out what these are you can offer gifts to make friends - if you give someone something they love on their birthday this will get you far. I would honestly recommend a quick look at the wiki for the sake of sanity as figuring this out on your own would take weeks.
A special mention
I want to take my hat off to the developer of Stardew Valley because one man made this entire game... every single piece. When I heard that I was impressed, after playing the game for a few weeks I am in awe of this guy and I hope this monumental accomplished to is recognised in the form of sales. Here is an interview with Concerned Ape in PC Gamer discussing the games development and where it will go next.
So considering I started my adventure into Stardew Valley with a negative mindset I think you can now consider me a lifetime fan of this game and it's developer.
I still wish I could mess around more with the environments, move people's things and watch their well-trodden routine fall to pieces. However, this kind of cause and effect gameplay would take a vast amount of time to implement never mind make fun. Concerned Ape has openly discussed the development of SDV and specifically mentioned multiplayer in his December 2015 post. He obviously decided to release the single player version first and then continue to work on the multiplayer version afterwards: looking at it now that was a mighty fine decision. It has pretty much 10/10 scores on Steam and has been released to some stellar praise from the major game critics. There are so many other things I could tell you about Stardew Valley but honestly: discovering things yourself is magic and so I shall leave my review there.
I would say to anyone interested in Stardew Valley not to assume too much, many areas of the game have caught me off guard with how deep they go. Of course, if gathering and resource management games are not your thing this game may not be for you as that underpins most of what you are doing. I have just entered my second year with my character Artemis and I honestly feel like I'm just getting started.
Thank you for reading my review of Stardew Valley, I hope you enjoyed it and will come back soon. You can follow me @riggedforepic and find me on YouTube under the same name. You can also contact me at Riggedforepic@gmail.com.