Stardew Valley Review: 5 Reasons to Buy

Stardew Valley Review: 5 Reasons to Buy

Stardew Valley has been around since 2016, and it’s a perennial favorite among fans of simulator games. The PC version shows no signs of leaving Steam’s list of the most played-games anytime soon. Normally, a game that’s been available for the better part of a decade is a hard sell. But there’s something about Pelican Town that keeps bringing people back, and it’s (probably) not just the Qi Seasoning. What are some of our favorite things about the game, and why is it still great to play today?

A Modern Take on Classic Genres

Simulators have been a staple in gaming for decades, and most life simulator games never see the kind of positive press that Stardew has. That goes double for indie games. When a single person is in charge of writing, designing, developing, and composing music for a game, it splits their attention. So success on the scale of Stardew Valley can’t be just another clone. It has to bring something entirely new to the world.

The game’s pixel art and simple interface evoke games from the 1980s. The Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series heavily influenced the gameplay. Stardew Valley stands apart by taking full advantage of being a product of the 21st century. This goes far beyond the extensive character customization and ability for the player character to marry anyone they want.

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The game’s complexity is almost fractal: the closer you look at a single element, the more goes into it. Whether you are interested in the characters, farming resources with friends, or exploring the impact of JojaMart on the citizens of Pelican Town, there’s plenty to explore. Although the aesthetic is retro, ConcernedApe has put amazing depth into a small file.

Another one of the reasons that Stardew Valley has seen such popularity is its availability on multiple platforms. While updates go to PC and Mac players before others, you can play on your iOS or Android phone, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, or PlayStation.

A Wide Selection of Quirky Characters

The Stardew Valley opening screen, with a quaint farmhouse, plants, mountains and animals in a pixel art style.

A lot of town sims focus more on character archetypes than on their actual characters. Not so when it comes to the citizens of Pelican Town. Each interactable character has their own story that goes far deeper than the items they like or dislike. Their interactions with the other NPCs are just as important as their interactions with you, which is one of the things that gives Stardew Valley as much heart as it has.

In particular, the bachelors and bachelorettes all have backstories, jobs, and reasons for doing the things they do. In another game, Shane might have been a one-note character, devoted to beer and chickens and easy to ignore (or marry as a joke). But in Stardew Valley, his story of self-doubt and mental health issues makes him stand out. Likewise, Haley could easily be the pretty, shallow girl whose character doesn’t go deeper than her appearance. Instead, she has deep family relationships and generally a lot more going on than you might expect.

It isn’t just the marriage candidates, either. One of the most popular characters in the game is Krobus, the friendly shadow person from the sewers. Not only does he sell unique items, but he can even become your roommate if you’re so inclined.

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No Pressure, No Time Limits, Unlimited Adventure

Whether you’re an in-depth explorer or a hardcore completionist, you’ve known how difficult it can be to do everything you want in a game that has a specific time limit (That’s why time management games became a thing in the first place). Instead of placing a hard stop where you can no longer make progress in the game, Stardew Valley lets you keep going as long as you want. The further we get into the 2020s, the more people need a release from the pressures of daily life. A lot of gamers got into Stardew Valley during the 2020 lockdowns for this very reason.

Do you want to spend an entire save file just experimenting with the best ways to grow your crops? You can do that. Do you want to deliver as many bundles as you possibly can? Take your time. One of the main reasons a lot of people love Stardew Valley is the relaxing, immersive atmosphere. The lack of time limits means you can take as much time as you want to design the perfect farmhouse without worrying about triggering the end of the game.

If you’re the kind of person who thrives on time pressure, there’s an active community of gamers who perform speedruns. The open nature of the world lets you pick a specific goal and go for that. Some players restore the community center or movie theater as their target. And others aim for marriage, and some try to fill their fish tank.

Regular Developer Attention Means New Endgame Content

While there’s a lot to be said for games from large studios and their regularly scheduled updates, there’s something truly magical about the way independent game developers can work directly with their community. ConcernedApe may not have the ability to publish sweeping expansions and weekly updates like many big developers of MMOs, but the developer does take the time to invest in his game’s community and communicate what comes next.

The 1.5 update (which was released in late 2020) was perhaps the largest one in the history of the game, adding Ginger Island, new fruit trees and crops, and hundreds of new quests and items. The 1.6 update (which is due in late 2023 or early 2024) won’t be quite as extensive, but ConcernedApe is promising new dialogue options. He’s likely to introduce features like four-player co-op and perhaps additional romance options as well, although fixing bugs is one of his top priorities.

The simple act of engaging with the community over the status of this update and the other game he has in development (another simulator called Haunted Chocolatier) makes the wait for both that much more palatable. This attention isn’t only limited to updates for everyone, either. ConcernedApe has been known to help individual players restore their corrupted save files and give hints and tips to first-time players.

And if you can’t wait for new content in the original game, you’re still in luck thanks to the next item on our list.

A Thriving Community of Modders

It’s always a treat when a developer welcomes modifications from the game’s community. And Stardew Valley’s creator had modders in mind from the very beginning. Are you sick of looking at the wiki every time you wonder whether Abigail would like the amethyst that you mined for her? Are you looking for in-game maps to help you remember where your favorite NPCs are on Tuesdays? Do you want to combine all of your farming tools into a tractor that can also kill monsters? There are mods for each of these, and they all come with ConcernedApe’s blessing.

But the mods go even further than that. A lot of players have coded entire expansions to the game, with dozens of new maps to explore and new NPCs to meet. Or if you’re feeling up to a crossover, look for mods that turn your livestock or even the villagers into Pokémon. In the 1.6 update, ConcernedApe plans to focus on modders, adding even more versatility for the community.

In the world of gaming, 2016 was a very long time ago, and nearly all of the games released that long ago have been abandoned or largely forgotten by their communities. Stardew Valley’s staying power sets it well apart from this crowd. Even today, Pelican Island calls to millions of people around the world. If you aren’t one of these people yet, now is as good a time as any to start.

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