REVIEW / Stardew Valley

Beauty and mystery lurks in the depths

If at the beginning of 2016 you’d have told me one of the stand out indie games of the year would be a relationship building farm simulator I would have probably laughed in you face. However, Stardew Valley is completely that, not only one of the stand out indie games of 2016 but one of the stand out games overall.

There is no single reason as to why Stardew Valley is so great, but one of the huge contributing factors is the clear amount of love and care that one-man developing team Eric Barone put in to the game, yes, that is correct, I said one-man development team! The exceptional attention to detail continues to oozes out of the game the more you progress; whether it’s the unique personalities the different residents of Pelican Town have or the extensive list of activities you can pass your time with, one thing is for sure, Stardew valley just keeps giving.

You play as a self-named character who has had enough of everyday corporate life. After being left the deeds to your Grandpa old farm you decide to leave the big city behind you and start anew in the country. Once you’ve moved in to your new abode and met the local town mayor your pretty much left on your own to discover the beauty of the game and restore the farm to if full glory.

At first Stardew Valley can almost be a little overwhelming, theres not much of a hint system so to learn about different tasks and activities the game requires you to explore. It took me 7 hours gameplay to realise that Stardew Valley is very much your story, you decide how you spend your day; if you want to make money farming then plant seeds and farm; fancy a bit of fishing, no worries head out and fish; want to spend sometime building new relationships then head into town to meet some new people or if your feeling brave then head to the mines to slay some monsters.

With all these options available to the player you’d think an indie game like Stardew Valley would be a jack of all trades, master of none, however this is not the case. Theres no doubt that some of the activities don’t carry as much weight as the others, for example the relationship building can be a little linear, to become more friendly with another member of the community you can either complete a task they have posted on the notice board or give them a random gift and that’s pretty much it.

The relationship building aspects of the game are unfortunately some of the weaker elements, what made them feel even shallower was the fact that so many other aspects of the game carried a lot of depth. One of these area’s has to be the farming, this was no doubt my favourite part of Stardew Valley. The game is broken up into seasons; Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter, each season allows you to plant and grow different crops – if you want to fully capitalise on your farming income your going to need to plan when to plant for the new season.

It’s not just crops you can farm. As you progress and begin to grow the size of your farm you’ll start rearing livestock, adding more to do on your daily jobs-to-do list. As this list grows you’ll need to really start planning how your going to spend your days as you can be restricted by your energy meter. This brings a welcomed, almost RPG element to the game as most activities you participate in will use up energy; I regularly found myself planning 3-4 days ahead to maximise my time with the game.

As previous mentioned you do have the option to go monster hunting, well, kind of at least. We’re not talking to the extent of Final Fantasy XV or Monster Hunter by any means, but the ability to explore the deep mines for both jewels and monsters bring a whole new dynamic to Stardew Valley. The combat is pretty simple, think classic Zelda titles, but juggling your energy levels and health can prove to be tricky at times.

Stardew Valley is a brilliant triumph in the indie gaming world. The extensive list of daily tasks or activities always provide you with something to do. Combine this with the beautiful pixel presentation of the game and gorgeously charming soundtrack and there is no doubt you have one of the best games of 2016. I’m just over 30 hours into my Stardew Valley story and cannot wait to see what happens in the next 30 hours.