Thanks to Xbox for the code!
I'm addicted to Stardew Valley, I have to admit it. This isn't normally my kind of game either, those who know me, know that I have particular dislikes - one of them tends to be timers and timed missions in games. Yet Stardew Valley is essentially a Harvest Moon-esque style life/farm sim that happens to revolve around time management and raising skills to complete tasks like fishing better.
I'm hooked, I shouldn't be, but I am.
Get up, water crops, do stuff
Stardew valley casts you as a new arrival to the valley (after a brief character customisation session, choosing your little guy or gal), inheriting your grandfather's farm in his will. You arrive, you find the farm is a ramshackle thing and the ground is utterly covered in grass, trees, rocks and all sorts of debris that you need to clear. It seems simple enough, but don't be fooled by the simple graphical style and what appears to be a simplistic gameplay loop. There's a lot to see and do in Stardew Valley and the game rewards you the more you dig into it.
It puts you in charge of making money to support yourself, your farm and to keep improving your day to day life (and the lives of those around you).
It gives you a lot of options when you're playing on what you can do. You can spend a lot of time making friends, giving the NPCs of the valley all sorts of gifts and working out what they like and don't like. Each day you can give them a gift, up to 2 gifts a week and you'll advance your relationship with them somehow - even going so far as getting married if you want to tread that path.
You however need to balance all that with your farm life and exploration of the valley. See, you have skills, such as farming and mining. Fishing is highly important and mastering the mini-game will make the task of money making a lot easier in the game in the long run. The more you master fishing, the better fish you'll catch and the more you'll be able to sell.
Time... is on my side...
Let me tell you about my day...
I got up at dawn, went into town, did a spot of fishing as I waited for the shop to open. I bought some seeds (21 of them) so I could get my summer crop sorted. Berry seeds. On the way back from the shop I chanced on some free stuff lying around, a few things I could forage (that raised my forage skill by the way) and sell for a quick profit. I got back to the farm, which I'd been steadily upgrading over the weeks of spring and cleared some more wood. I'd got the next level of tools rather than copper and I had been mining a bit in the local mine, clearing some monsters the day before.
I had some money for upgrades, saving up for a chicken coop.
The crop would ensure that I'd be able to make even more money. I had a basic sprinkler system by this time and a few other helpful devices around the farm from the previous year's work.
I'm managing time like a pro by now, keeping an eye on my energy levels and ensuring that I didn't get exhausted. I dig up the ground, sow the seeds and decide to take a wander to a nearby lake to ensure that I can get some more fishing in. By the time it's dark I've caught a good spread of different fish and I plan to sell those in the box by the house.
I hit the sack at about 10:00pm and the game saves my progress after reporting how much I've made. I'm in luck, I make about 3000 that day and I get my foraging skill to rise. I can now get twice as many berries from bushes.
Stardew Valley is a relaxing game regardless of what you're doing. You plan out that farm, you plan your day and you learn to manage your time effectively as the hours creep by in-game. You can even help renovate the Community Centre by filling packages for the spirits there, you'll unlock new areas and new content by doing this and it sort of forms part of the easy-going story.
Then there are special events/festivals you can take part in that celebrate things like Halloween and Christmas.
All the while you're working on that farm, clearing rogue grass, saving up to get an improvement to your core tools and to the core buildings.
Gameplay trumps graphics
It's a neat looking game, it runs well and since the last patch it's been running perfectly fine on the Xbox One. As you'll see from the shots, it isn't going to blow anyone out of the water graphically - these games never do, but the gameplay loop is what makes it special. You don't need the best graphics in the world when you have engaging and interesting gameplay to keep you hooked.
Can I play with madness (friends)?
Nope, it's a single player only game. There's supposed to be a multiplayer patch coming at some point, but we'll see how that turns out. For now, it's just you and the Valley NPCs.
Fantastic Seeds and where to Find them
Stardew Valley is a fantastic game, so simple and yet complex at the same time. It has a lot going on under the hood, rewards exploration and this is exactly the kind of thing that keeps me coming back for more. It's on my must buy list for that very reason and if you love these kinds of games you should fall in love with this one bigtime.