Stardew Valley in the test - there is a farmer in everyone

Author: Elena Schulz
Date: 2016-03-18 15:00:00
Nobody expected Stardew Valley's groundbreaking success. In the test we show why a farm simulation of all things steals the show from the Triple-A giants on Steam.

The game goal of Stardew Valley on paper sounds rather unspectacular at first: We should bring an old farm up to scratch and familiarize ourselves with the village and its inhabitants. Tedious agricultural work? How can such a concept tear off so many players? What makes Stardew Valley so unique?

This is exactly what we test in the test : we dug up fields, explored mines, interviewed the long-established residents and actually came across the magic that makes even the most convinced city dweller suddenly dream of living in the country.

Before we can do this magic, however, we first have to familiarize ourselves with the game. In Stardew Valley we move through the game world in a top view and operate our tools with the mouse or act with hotspots similar to a Terraria. The comparison also lends itself technically: The game uses a very similar, colorful pixel look. This is certainly not for everyone, but the implementation in Stardew Valley has been very charming. Together with the atmospheric soundtrack, the retro look creates an almost picturesque atmosphere.

Work before pleasure

But that does not mean that there is only peace, joy, pancakes in the country idyll. Our story begins on the deathbed of our sick grandfather, who leaves us his life's work with all his might: his own farm. At this point, we didn't care - we are looking for happiness in the city as a young career person. It was only years later that we remembered the legacy - when we struggled to find work in the sparse open-plan offices of greedy corporations. We are thinking about moving for the first time, full of frustration. Thought, done, it goes to the country.

A rough two-year campaign, which occupies us around 60 hours, serves as the main thread in farm life . It leads us with charming animated sequences to the small town of Pelican Town with its residents, but does not really tell a captivating plot. Some hotspots like the haunted parish hall set quite interesting accents in terms of story, but you shouldn't expect a profound and exciting story. Stardew Valley is designed for the sandbox: in the endless game we can continue the peasant life as long as we want.

However, after the intro we are still busy with the first steps: In the inventory we find various tools such as an ax or a pickaxe with which we clear the field from wood, grasses and stones. Then we plow the soft earth and seal our entry into farm life with the first seeds.

Money makes the world go round

Every day we have to make tricky decisions: there is a huge selection of plants, one weighs them up: Rely on cheap varieties or buy the expensive ones and get fat yields regularly. We quickly want more and more money, but wealth does not grow on trees in Stardew Valley.

In the beginning, increasing one's own capital becomes a frustrating test of patience because the game never takes us by the hand. There is no tutorial, we are looking for tips for control in vain. Fortunately, some aspects, such as crafting, work relatively intuitively. We use a menu to improve our farm free of charge by building useful items such as a scarecrow to protect against hungry crows. We can also expand our own figure: If you work diligently, you can use the experience gained to improve skills such as farming.

As farmers, we then receive more money for our harvest, as animal owners more for animal products. However, you only notice the higher skill level in the income. Purely playfully, the farming work remains very uniform throughout the game - which is also due to the fact that individual operations such as planting seeds are not particularly demanding.

A game in the game

Nevertheless, the farm game is never boring, because the individual mechanics work together really well: there is always something to improve, to do a thousand things every day. This motivates even in the endless game far beyond the 60 hours of the campaign. There is also a dungeon away from the peasant life where you can hunt monsters - here Stardew Valley becomes an RPG . With a whopping 120 levels, this labyrinth is actually quite extensive. Unique monsters, precious items and minerals are waiting at every corner, which we in turn use to expand the farm.

When suddenly nothing grows anymore

Stardew Valley also provides variety over the seasons: each season has its own crops that you have to collect and plant. Winter logically does without agriculture. When it snows outside, new sources of money are needed, for example the prey from the dungeon or animal husbandry. We can make ends meet with wool, eggs or milk. So there is a lot to do in every season.

With so much drudgery, we should always keep an eye on our endurance indicator. Without sufficient food and sleep, it quickly drops to zero, causing us to lose part of our money or even level progress in the mines. It's high time to find even more sources of money in the valley. There is also the mini fishing game, which we immediately try out with the gift fishing rod and fail promptly - the big catch is only possible with a lot of patience and practice.

Farmer is looking for a woman

Alternatively, you can leave the fishery on your side and keep yourself afloat with classic quests instead. In addition to money, they also bring us sympathy and open up new opportunities for discussion with the initially very skeptical city dwellers. Despite the reduced look, the figures are believable and interesting. And that has an impact: We are genuinely shocked when we catch outsider Linus stealing food. Or we are annoyed by the grumpy Shane, whom we feel we cannot convince at all.

We can also make ourselves more popular with the villagers through gifts and even win their hearts. There are five female and male marriage candidates, who can move in with us later and help on the farm or give us offspring. If we marry a same-sex partner, we can adopt a baby. At the moment, however, children do not get past the toddler stage. But of course family life is not a must.

So what is it now, the magic feature of Stardew Valley? Is it the many hidden content like the dungeon role-playing game? The farm? Or do we rather enchant the credible villagers, who all follow their personal daily routine? After many hours on the virtual farm, we can say that none of this alone makes Stardew Valley a hit that enchants hundreds of thousands of players. It is only in the interaction of all mechanics that magic arises that we cannot let go of.

It's all in the mix

Stardew Valley, like well-known indie greats like Terraria or Minecraft, gives us the feeling at every point that we are making this exciting world our own. We go to sleep in the evening with the good feeling that we have done something tangible. And more importantly, when we get up the next morning, there are a thousand things we can do. The sheer volume of tasks makes this life simulation an absolutely captivating experience.

In the end we are really proud of our farm, our fish, our cows and our fields. And that's exactly where the charm of Stardew Valley is hidden. We actually build a life for ourselves with the money we have generated in the valley and have our own identity. Do we prefer to buy from the village shop or do we support the large Joja market? Do we fall in love or are we loners? In Stardew Valley, every player can tell their own story. And we quickly learn that country life means above all work, but it also has another wonderful taste: freedom.