Like many players out there, I have a growing backlog of video games collecting dust on my shelf and taking up space on my hard drive. There are so many games out there I still haven’t played, and I feel like I’ll never play them all. My perfect game is under 20 hours, but I do still appreciate titles you can sink a lot of time into – when I have the time. I’m especially bad at completing RPGs, because I tend to get sidetracked by the vast open-worlds, and then the main story just seems to get away from me. Stardew Valley circumnavigates this issue wonderfully: the game progresses with or without your input.
Because the days in the game tick by no matter what you’re doing, you’re always progressing, even if you don’t plant a single thing. The game also gives you a tangible goal: wait for your grandfather to return on the first day of the third year. This initially stressed me out a bit, as I found myself annoyed when villagers weren’t available when I needed them, but I soon learned the world didn’t revolve around me and found other ways to keep busy.
Unlike other RPGs, where the main quest requires you to complete missions and level up and all that standard video game stuff, Stardew Valley just requires you to play for an amount of time. Imagine how many more people could have completed the Witcher 3 if playing Gwent got you closer to the final quest? Obviously, I don’t think Stardew Valley’s system should be adopted by every game, but I’m glad to play a game that’s less rigidly objective oriented for once.
The freedom to just play the game at my own pace and do whatever I want, all the while knowing that end date is getting closer and closer is a serene way to play. If I want, I can sit in the forest, no thoughts, head empty, just enjoying the game’s music. If I don’t manage to go to the mines after watering my crops – I chose the beach farm, so no sprinklers for me – that’s fine. I haven’t lost any progress, I’m not behind, I’m still one day closer to that fated meeting with my gramps.
The fact Stardew Valley can actually end this way is great. Some people love to endlessly build or farm and are happy just giving themselves new challenges, but, as I said, I have a backlog of games. I want to feel like I’ve finished a game without having to 100 percent it. Stardew Valley avoids the pitfall of not having a clear end goal that many sandbox games, like Minecraft, fall into. Sure, it has ‘The End’, but that doesn’t feel as final as it should. And it also takes far too long to actually get there. And again, it’s heavily objective based. With Stardew Valley, I know where I need to get to in order to “finish” the game in one sense, and that’s very reassuring. I like endings as they make room for new beginnings. I can’t get that if I’m constantly playing games that take 60+ hours to complete.
Of course, this feature probably wouldn’t be quite so soothing if the game just finished after the second year. The fact that you have the option to play Stardew Valley endlessly is essential, as it means there’s always time to achieve any goals you set yourself, you just don’t have to specifically rush through anything. This suits me perfectly. I started playing Stardew Valley because lockdown and bad weather made me crave the great outdoors. I wanted a game where I could enjoy ambling about outside, so the farmer’s life called to me. Ideally, I’d get an allotment, but the waiting times for those are absurd, whereas Stardew Valley is only a short loading screen away. I did manage to go camping IRL to get my fix of nature, but I wasn’t as prepared as I thought.
Beyond just an endless farming simulator, after the main quest there are still stretch goals I can go for if I have time, or if I’m enjoying the game so much that I do want to 100 percent it. The game allows me to change my mind and my priorities. If I want to renovate the community centre – the end goal for many players – then I can. If I want to build a whole new farm on Ginger Island then I can do that too. The possibilities are still pretty much endless, but the game offers a natural endpoint that I can take if I want to put the game down without feeling guilty I didn’t finish it.
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