Stardew Valley — Manual Labor has Never Been More Fun
Before I played Stardew Valley, I had no idea a game with so little action or excitement could be so addictive. Stardew Valley is one of those indie games that has managed to penetrate its way into the mainstream gaming space. The fact that a single person developed this game is very admirable, but I attend to assess the quality of this game using the same level of scrutiny I employ for major titles like Red Dead Redemption or The Witcher. While a single man can hardly be expected to compete with a team of hundreds, Stardew Valley manages to carve out its own niche and fill a gaming need I had no idea I even had.
Stardew Valley looks like a simple farming simulator upon first glance. While the farming can be considered a major part of the gameplay, Stardew Valley offers so much more. Farming is supplemented by a variety of different activities and mechanics. There is light exploration and combat when you head down the mines to collect ore. Every townsperson has their own likes and dislikes, and it’s up to you to figure them out so you know what gifts to get them to increase your friendship level. The game is also a collectathon, with the number of crops, ores, crystals, artifacts, fish, and recipes for you to collect totaling in the hundreds. Townspeople will also approach you with requests and there are several special events that occur only once a year (in game) you can take part in. While none of these mechanics are particularly complicated or noteworthy, they do a great job of breaking up the monotony of farm life, making Stardew Valley much more than an average farming simulator.
The gameplay loop of Stardew Valley is extremely addicting, at least for the first 40–80 hours or so. You have a maximum of fifteen real time minutes to go about your day. You’ll spend the day taking care of crops, selling your products, cleaning up your land, mining some ore, etc. and at the end of the day you go to sleep. This is when the game saves your progress, and the money you made from selling your goods are made available for you to spend. So now it’s the next day and you just saw all that money you made from the previous day being added to your balance. It takes a strong man to see that cash influx and put the game down. Most of us will want to put that hard earned cash to use immediately. So you head into town and spend the money, perhaps on a new cow. But you can’t save unless you go to bed, so now you think “rather than wasting the entire day and going to bed now, I might as well just play out the rest of the day”. This cycle can continue for hours and hours. It is a brilliant piece of game design.
Unfortunately no game has an infinite lifespan. By about 60 hours in money was no longer a real issue for me, as I had more than enough to buy whatever item or upgrades were being offered. I’m not a very aesthetically oriented guy, so once that happened, I felt I had no real reason to continue looking for ways to improve the yield and efficiency of my farm, afterall what was the point? The sad thing is I don’t think I found even half of what there is to collect in this game, and I would be perfectly willing to go look for them, but the game isn’t giving me any compelling reason to keep playing it.
I can hardly knock a game for providing me with 60 solid hours of great gameplay. That’s several times longer than what many Triple A titles can provide. Although I’m a bit burned out on Stardew Valley right now, I can tell it’s one of those games I’ll definitely be hopping back into on and off. There might not be any tangible reasons to improve my farm, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of areas that can still be improved. I play this game on my Nintendo Switch, mostly in handheld, which definitely had a positive effect on my impression of the game. It’s a perfect game to bust out on a long plane ride or while you’re listening to a podcast. If you’re a fan of games like Animal Crossing or The Sims, I can almost guarantee you will have a good time in Stardew Valley.
FINAL SCORE: 7.5/10