In ‘Stardew Valley,’ you reap what you sow
The game everyone’s talking about in the indie PC world right now doesn’t involve blasting aliens or commanding armies or anything that sounds nearly so exciting: Rather, it’s about agriculture. “Stardew Valley” burst onto the scene when it was officially released last month (though it had been on many gamers’ radar for a while), and it has quickly developed a big, enthusiastic following.
The game was created by a first-time developer named Eric Barone (a.k.a. ConcernedApe), and it has Super Nintendo-esque graphics and music. It draws its most obvious cues from the beloved “Harvest Moon” series of farming simulators, but it goes a lot deeper. The premise is simple: You’re a young man or woman who has taken over your grandfather’s abandoned farm in peaceful Stardew Valley, and you need to make it flourish again.
You buy or find seeds, plant them, water them, and watch as they slowly grow, at which point you can often sell your crops for a tidy profit, combine them into other items, or give them away to the town’s many characters (one of whom you can woo and eventually marry, if you play your cards right). But in addition to farming, there are fishing, mining, and all sorts of secrets to discover.
“Stardew Valley” is one of those games in which “quick” sessions stretch into hours. And yet when that happened to me, I didn’t come away with the gross, tweaked-out feeling I usually have when I fall face-first into the maw of an addictive title. Why?
One reason is the sheer variety of stuff to do. In “Stardew Valley,” there’s some level of repetition — no game can escape this. But because every day is packed with so many different activities — or can be, if you play the game the right way — you don’t ever fall into the click-click-repeat trap. In an average day, my character would wake up, water his crops, go to town to pick up some stuff, and see if there were new quests to take on — they’re posted on a bulletin board outside a general store. Then he would head up to the mines to try to extract some ore. (Because your character needs sleep, there’s only so much you can squeeze into one day.)
At any given moment, there are a million things to do — experiments to try, tools to upgrade, animals to buy. The game’s possibilities stretch out in front of you like the horizon. It almost feels overwhelming, but then you remember that you can play however long you want; days can stretch into seasons can stretch into years.
Though “Stardew Valley” was officially released less than a month ago, some players report logging hundreds of hours on it already, and I can see why. This is an utterly compelling, lovingly crafted game.