Stardew Valley constantly asks: What do you need to get done today?
Within a couple of in-game days, you’ve built up a routine: Wake up, check the weather, plan your day, water your crops, tend to your animals, say hello to your neighbors, go fishing, hit some rocks, go to bed. Sometimes you can’t go to the store or sometimes you have to visit someone for their birthday and give them a gift, but every day is a to-do list.
I often found myself filling out manual lists in my notebook. I needed to remember to go find some clay to build a hay silo the next day, or that it was someone’s birthday. When I completed tasks, I was pleased with my sense of purpose as I crossed them off. Stardew Valley is engrossing in a way that many games of its ilk aren’t; the most mundane tasks and errands filled me with a sense of accomplishment.
But Stardew Valley is more in touch with its message and more grounded in a relatable reality than its inspiration; it subverts cliches that tend to drag down similar games. Is slaving away in a cubicle worth it when you can build something that becomes part of the very ecosystem that drives your world? As someone who has worked desk jobs since I was 14, there’s something here that feels uncomfortably accurate, and it pushes you to build something.
The game begins with a final conversation with your dying grandfather, who leaves you a farm far away from your corporate office job — a place so lifeless that Stardew Valley‘s music literally stops when you’re near it. The farm is a weedy patch of land in a tiny-but-lively rural town beset by the very company that you left behind. The community center is in shambles, bridges are broken, and people are struggling to survive.
More than 30 intriguing characters populate the town, including those you meet after unlocking new areas. Each has their own daily routines and relationships that you can discover. I noticed two people spending a lot of time together in the tavern and realized later that they spend time in each other’s homes as well. One quest tasked me with finding a character’s pants, which you discover in another woman’s abode. These little details flesh out otherwise simple NPCs.