Stardew Valley is an experience in having a heart and exploring heavy themes in a non-heavy handed way. Now nearing its fifth year, not once has it changed its mind about what it is. The newest Stardew Valley update version 1.4 update came out or PC players in November, and loaded the game with tons of cosmetics, farm upgrades and more. There is also now a whole new map made for those playing multiplayer called “Four Corners”, new enemies like the Haunted Skull, and new endgame content.
With the newest Stardew Valley update now available for all consoles, let’s take a minute to talk about what makes this game truly something special. On the surface, Stardew Valley is not much more than a game about farming. Look a little deeper though, and you’ll understand why this game receives the praise that it does.
The man behind it all
Eric Barone aka ConcernedApe is definitely one of the more community-driven developers out there. They don’t call him ConcernedApe for nothing. He often goes out of his way to help smaller portions of the community struggling with issues. In some cases he even talks to players directly to try to help fix issues with their saves. He has always been quick to fix known issues and bugs as they develop, often releasing hotfixes the day after an issue is discovered. This attention and willingness to fix the game is not unheard of when it comes to larger teams, but it is quite impressive for a solo developer.
Barone created everything for the game on his own, from gameplay basics all the way to music. He recently moved to self-publishing on every platform except mobile and Nintendo Switch, which still update through Chucklefish. Over it’s nearly 4-year run, there have only been 4 major content updates. Rather than drip-feeding over the course of multiple small updates, Barone opted to load hours of content into each update.
There’s no shortage of content in Stardew Valley either. Each year in game amounts to about 26 hours of real world time. There’s mining, fishing, fighting, farming, ranching and more. Each content update adds endless amounts of gameplay, so latecomers definitely have some catching up to do. That is especially true for this most recent Stardew Valley update, having added arguably the most content of any previous update. If you don’t believe me, feel free to check out the blog post about everything new added to the game. With the sheer volume of material added in each content update you could make a whole new game. That being said, nobody should ever do that lest we have another Saints Row 4 situation on our hands.
With mods, the gameplay expands further. The possible changes you can add to your game range from realistic clothing changes per season, to full cheat menus for tweaking things to your liking. Barone isn’t opposed to modders, even putting in little efforts here and there to help make their lives easier. He recently even changed the version number of the game to aid modders using a certain platform, and to prevent issues.
Unexpected friends in unexpected places
Playing through Stardew Valley, you slowly learn that there’s more to this cute little game than farming. Meeting the locals, you feel a real sense of spirit behind the sprites. The characters aren’t just relegated to worrying about what gifts to give at Christmas. You can really get to know them in-depth. These are real people and the themes explored in this game are serious, hitting home for lots of us in the community.
There’s Shane – who suffers from depression and is reliant on alcohol to keep him going from day to day; Kent – a returning soldier and struggling with PTSD; and Alex – who moved to Pelican Town and ended up living with his grandparents after the death of his mother, not having a father figure to go back to due to issues with abuse. These – among others in the game – are examples of the kinds of serious topics that are explored through Stardew Valley‘s characters. Over time you build connections with the other villagers and forge relationships. For a lot of people these friendships are meaningful, and they don’t feel like they are just computers.
From Game to Life
For many, Stardew Valley is something that makes them happy, in whatever capacity that may be. The experiences in this game can feel real, and despite its simplistic art style, the game is incredibly immersive. It could be an escape from reality for some, or something that brings peace to others. There is something for everyone to feel welcome when it comes to it. Taking a quick look at the comments on any of Barone’s Twitter posts, it is easy to see the love people have for Stardew Valley, and just how many people the game has touched.