"Co-op in Stardew Valley is more of a game-changer than even I realized."
I was late to the Stardew Valley hype wagon. I knew it was A Thing™, and while I spent copious time on the first few Harvest Moon games, I didn't go out of my way to check out ConcernedApe's HM homage when it released on PC in 2016. When it came to Switch last year, I finally decided to try it. And by "try it," I mean to say Stardew became a close second in total playtime across 2017 for me, outpacing my 160 hours in Breath of the Wild and only eclipsed by my beloved Final Fantasy XIV.
I started my first farm on the Switch, but I later bought the game again on Steam to create a second farm and see the difference when starting anew with knowledge of the game. It changed a lot: I knew fully what the game encompassed and what I wanted to prioritize in terms of crops, friendships, and other milestones. Some goals that I didn't reach until mid-year two on farm #1 were accomplished during my first spring on farm #2. It's still the same game but feels slightly new with this different approach and perspective.
The next wave of change is coming with co-op. After many months of anticipation, ConcernedApe and Chucklefish released a beta version of Stardew Valley 1.3 on Steam, with installation instructions on the game's blog
. This version actually adds a fair amount of new content to the game in general, with a new Night Market event, several new craftable items, character interactions, and more. Several Redditors have compiled their own list of discoveries
for now, as ConcernedApe is saving the official list of single-player updates for when the beta period is over.
So, is co-op Stardew Valley really "the same game, with co-op," as you may hear in some places? To an extent, yes... but it's so much more. Playing with others brings yet another new perspective to farm life, and each co-op farm can be quite distinct from one another. I have two co-op farms that I'm playing on regularly, so I want to share a bit about each, but I should explain some quick basics of co-op farming first:
Each co-op farm needs a "host" that is basically the main player, while friends are considered "farmhands." The latter each get their own cabin (which can be expanded like the main house), they can undertake the same quests as anyone else, and they manage their own relationships and skill trees. The only major thing a farmhand can't do is play on that farm without the host online.
So while your character has their own identity and can date any townsperson, key game mechanics are shared: Donations to the Community Center and museum are shared amongst all players on a farm, which is amazingly helpful. Income is also shared, making it easy to delegate chores and shopping between players.
Co-op has been integrated to such an extent that while you can start new farms with friends as you please, you can also easily add up to 3 cabins to an existing farm and invite friends to your already-sprawling empire. That's great news for people who really want to play with friends but may not want to start over.
Now, one of my best friends is similar to me in that she isn't afraid of starting yet another new farm and trying new ways to play. For months, we've been planning to start one together, along with her boyfriend and my girlfriend. The four of us have played several nights together, with my friend and I trying to have fun and be efficient without overwhelming our significant others, who are both new to Stardew. It's probably for the best: If left to our own monolithic farming ambitions, things could get out of hand. Balance is important! (That said, she has no qualms at putting me to work as soon as I sign on.)
Having four people means sharing farming chores is relatively easy, especially early in the game when conserving energy is vital. It also means expanding your farm can happen at a faster pace: In single player mode, it's easy to plant more crops than you can reasonably tend to each day. If your watering and planting is shared, however, you're saving 25, 50, or 75% of your energy... or, you can be like us and just plant two or three times more crops than you would on a solo farm and reap the profits. It quickly becomes apparent how much flexibility is offered by playing with others.
And while having four people gets you maximum efficiency, I've spent much more time on "farm #4," which is largely just my girlfriend and I (we still have cabins and sometimes the others join ours, too). When we started out, we would each tend to half the crops, and jointly do things like visiting the mines or foraging. As our farm has grown, we still maintain a balance but have each added our own tasks too. We split watering duties, but I'm often harvesting the finished crops while she maintains our chicken coop each morning (she adores the little chickens and their clucks so much that I felt it was only fair to let her be chicken master... chicken lady? mistress?). I go into the mines more often than she does to fetch ore, since between us we have two sets of tools that need upgrades. We've been alternating buying those upgrades, regardless of who collects the ore.
Usually she'll spend her time fishing while I'm hitting rocks, which has not only helped our bottom line but has snagged us key donation fish for the Community Center. Some are fish that I didn't even get until my second year on farm #1. It's been neat progressing and seeing the different things we specialize in, and our skill levels growing in different ways. I can craft some things she can't, based on my higher combat skill, just as she has access to things I lack from her late-night fishing excursions. It allows us to benefit from multiple professions that we likely wouldn't be able to do in single player this early in the game.
The in-game relationships make for another layer of fun to share. Co-op brings one key change in relationships, by allowing you to marry another player and not just the townsfolk. (Okay, yes, it also changes character interactions and adds a layer of jealousy if you try and maintain boyfriend/girlfriend status with multiple people, but that's another topic.)
We've each been drawn to different people. I've played before and know the people of Pelican Town, so I naturally have a penchant for Abigail. I mean, she has purple hair, an SNES in her bedroom, wants to play video games with you, and likes eating quartz! ...okay, that last one is maybe a little concerning, come to think of it. My girlfriend is still getting to know the people, but I've seen some favorites emerge, and not simply in terms of in-game "relationships." She quickly found a place in her heart for the elderly couple Evelyn and George, given that some of her own real-life work is with seniors and children. It's apparent in her voice that she sometimes dotes on and worries about them, and I still remember her dismay when she gave George a daffodil and he simply hated it
. She felt genuinely bad and made an effort to find things he likes to make up for the ill-chosen gift.
I'll admit, I never spent a ton of time talking with these two in my own game. It probably says something about me as a person that I put my friendship efforts into the gamer, the artist, the wizard, and... whatever Krobus is, and not so much the elderly couple. But playing co-op and seeing the people that my girlfriend has been drawn to has expanded my horizons in Stardew — something that surprised me.
This isn't specifically a review of the co-op update, since I don't think it would be fair to rate something still in beta with multiple patches each week. I've only run across a handful of bugs, and most have been fixed within days (!), so the developers seem on track to deliver a final version in the not-too-distant future. So, while I can't slap a score on any of this just yet, I can say with confidence that co-op in Stardew Valley is more of a game-changer than even I realized. It's changed my perspective on the game, partially by being able to share mine with others in real-time. There's a totally different level of satisfaction and accomplishment that I feel by hopping into my pixel bed at the end of the night and not simply reflecting on what I
built that day, but on what we
are building together.