We’ve all seen the memes – how many games do you have in your library that you’ve never played? Maybe occasionally you pass by it and think “I really need to do that sometime!,” but of course it always ends up filed away in your memory, relegated to the never completed “to-play” list. At least that’s how it always has been for me.
Released in 2016, Stardew Valley is by no means a new game. At this point, it’s been out long enough that I don’t even remember when I got it, thinking “You know, everyone else loves it – I should try it sometime!” Two years ago I even started modding for a streamer who practically mained Stardew, and yet it still sat in my library, waiting for a proper tryout.
Unsurprisingly, this year has been a hard one. While I’ve been lucky enough to keep my job, my stress levels have skyrocketed and being home more meant I made use of the time by working more than ever. The burnout – even on gaming, which I do 3-4 times a week as a part-time job – was inevitable. I was exhausted from a nonstop schedule that always required paying attention, pushing hard, and accomplishing something every day.
“You should play Stardew!” was the enthusiastic reply when I started talking about needing something low-key to take a break with. And so, looking for a change of pace and something that I could actually enjoy for a bit, I decided to finally jump in and start my idyllic farm life.
From the start, I was hooked.
I was expecting the standard chill, but slow, farming experience. I’ve played farming games before and always grown tired eventually of planting, waiting, harvesting, and starting over again. Which is why I was pleasantly surprised by the vast array of adventures covered in this one – dating, marriage, fishing, adventuring through a procedurally generated dungeon, exploring the world, cute storylines around the townspeople… Stardew Valley is actually something pretty special, hiding behind the guise of a farming sim.
Of course, if you’re knowledgeable and focused, you can min-max your game to move fast, get rich early, and become a powerhouse of efficiency. But the magic of Stardew is that you really, really don’t have to. Each day is a fresh start to use how you would like – you can go fishing, explore the mines, or even spend the day wandering the woods and beach to forage for berries and shells. Later on you can learn to cook, raise animals and make jams, pickles, and cheese. There’s so much more to your small town life than just planting crops and selling them, and the result is the most relaxing gameplay experience I’ve ever had. As your farm becomes more self-sufficient, you can bring in plenty of money while taking the days to adventure or relax as you please, getting to know your neighbors (and maybe finding love) along the way.
Each townsperson has their own personality, likes, dislikes… As you learn how to treat them and what to give them, they warm up to you and you learn more and more. Holidays give you a special chance to socialize and celebrate – you’ll exchange gifts, dance, and cook together. Or, if you’d like, you can even skip them and keep to yourself. Heck, you can even through all your support into the ever-evil JojaMart’s corporate takeover of the town if you’d really like. The world is your oyster – have at it in whatever way you please.
If you want an extra dose of magic, you’ll find a forest wizard, a rundown community center taken over by adorable creatures, and some spooky things hidden in the sewers.
For a long time, I’ve been used to the idea that I have to always be accomplishing something. Rest days don’t exist – there’s always a to-do list to sift through and tasks to complete. Even in games, they’re few and far between where you can just lose yourself in side-quests, optional content, and taking it easy, while still progressing the game. Stardew doesn’t punish the player for taking their time and exploring what they’re most interested in doing. With each season taking 28 days, and the game spanning several years, there’s plenty of time to get your bearings and learn as you go. There’s also plenty of room to challenge yourself, and push as hard as you’d like. It can be as challenging or as low-key as you would like.
It took me a long time to get here, but for the first time, Stardew is teaching me to enjoy the journey more than the end result. It’s not all about beating the boss, getting the achievements, and checking off tasks – it’s about dropping the go-go-go attitude of normal life and learning how to take it easier. There’s no such thing as a wasted day, no matter how you use it. Stardew Valley lets me stop and breathe without feeling guilty or unaccomplished.
I’ve seen gaming as a secondary source of income and work for so long, that somewhere along the way I forgot to just take joy in it without any payout. These days, I’ve been actively looking forward to going back and spending a day just calmly exploring and fishing. I take joy in setting up my crops, tending to my cows, and then heading off to town to give gifts to the new apple of my eye, Abigail. When I’m in Stardew Valley, plans and worries and struggles can take a backseat for a moment – all I have to worry about is existing and enjoying rural life.
If you’re looking for a good game to relax with, Stardew Valley is an absolute hit and customizable to nearly anyone’s playstyle. Move out of the city, start your farm, and begin planning your soft, comfy forest adventures. As for me, I’ll be over here making my preserves and fishing the day away – turns out life is a lot better when you don’t mind taking it slow.
Order Up! is a weekly column featuring indie-focused reviews, news, or interviews! We like old games just as much as new ones and are always looking for something to check out. Have a game recommendation, a project, or a company you want to talk about? Email me at [email protected] or find me on Twitter @ArcanaChance