Rediscovering the joys of Stardew Valley: After so many updates, returning feels like a breath of fresh air

Stardew Valley
(Image credit: ConcernedApe)

I've walked the pixelated paths of Pelican Town in Stardew Valley many, many times before. From delving into the depths of the cave, walking the sandy shores of the beach, journeying to the desert, and getting to know the locals, I've come to know this virtual world so well over the years. And after spending who knows how many hours on multiple playthroughs of developer ConcernedApe's wonderful sim, eventually I had to take some time away from it. While my love for Stardew Valley, and the appreciation I have for its capacity to act as a calming presence in my life never truly left, I moved on to pastures new for other adventures. Every now and then I would dip back in to check up on my farm, but for the most part, I put that life behind me. Until now, that is. 

As I step back into one of my old save files, and return to a farm I'd spent so much time in over the years, I'm surprised to find that I'm greeted by something new. There have been so many updates added to Stardew Valley since I last played, enough that I feel like I've been able to recapture that sense of intrigue and excitement that I remember experiencing the very first time around. Suddenly, this familiar little town welcomes me back in with a renewed sense of discovery and wonder; I could hardly wait to uncover all of the new additions and see just what has changed in my absence. 

Finding joy in the little things

Stardew Valley

(Image credit: ConcernedApe)

In a lot of ways, my recent return to Stardew Valley almost feels like going back to my hometown – when I'm eager to see what new shops have sprung up, or how the place has developed since I've been away. With the quality of life improvements such as tweaks to the settings so you can adjust what noise the fishing hook makes when a fish is on the line, to making items pulsate when they're needed for the restoration of the community center, there are so many helpful additions. For those starting a new game, there's also a wealth of new options when it comes to character creation and the layout of your farm – I can't wait to create my very own beach farm and see how it changes things up. 

Outside of settings, there's also a wealth of new content, from smaller changes to new events. The most recent 1.5 update is the biggest one yet, bringing in a whole new region to explore with Ginger Island, a new NPC to meet, new dialogue, events, minigames, and more. With so much content to discover, it's so exciting to dive right back in and see how the game has grown since I've been away; it's been such a pleasure to just run around the town and see what's waiting out there for me to find. 

When I discover you can now sit down on chairs, for example, I'm not at all ashamed by just how much joy brings me. Not to mention, that you can sit on swings in the park. Truly amazing. As I go to say hello to my chickens and ducks, I practically gasp when a duck jumps into the water. Yes, that's right. Ducks swim in the water now. Oh, and your horse can wear hats!? Horse. Hats. I can't believe I've been missing out on this from an earlier update. From my delighted reaction to some of the most minor additions, you can imagine how exciting it's been to encounter new character events, find out there's a whole new island to visit, and so much more. All of these changes really are like a breath of fresh air in the place I've become so well acquainted with. 

New seeds to sow

Stardew Valley

(Image credit: ConcernedApe)

One of the reasons I was so eager to return is the fact that banana trees have been added to the game. Keen to find and grow bananas of my own, I set about trying to work out how you get your hands on this fruit. My quest to get some more potassium in Pelican Town is what leads me to discover that Willy now has a boat in the back of his fish shop that I can repair, but it's going to take some work to get it done - it requires quite a lot of resources. But since I initially thought I'd reached a point in the game where it felt like I had nothing else to work towards, returning to find a new challenge really brings back my motivation. 

The true joy of the adventure is just how much there is to discover and work towards, and there's a real sense of scope and depth to the farming RPG. With characters that all have their own backstories and personalities, the residents are also at the heart of what makes the game so memorable, and exploring every inch of the town can often lead to surprising finds. Since I poured myself into the game many times over, I felt like I'd seen everything there was to see, but my return made me realize just how much ConcernedApe has worked to improve and add to the overall experience for long term players and newcomers. It really is impressive to see first-hand just how much has been improved and added since I've been away from my farm, and I think I'll be sticking around for some time yet. 

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Heather Wald
Senior staff writer

I started out writing for the games section of a student-run website as an undergrad, and continued to write about games in my free time during retail and temp jobs for a number of years. Eventually, I earned an MA in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, and soon after got my first official role in the industry as a content editor for Stuff magazine. After writing about all things tech and games-related, I then did a brief stint as a freelancer before I landed my role as a staff writer here at GamesRadar+. Now I get to write features, previews, and reviews, and when I'm not doing that, you can usually find me lost in any one of the Dragon Age or Mass Effect games, tucking into another delightful indie, or drinking far too much tea for my own good.