The addition of multiplayer to Stardew Valley, even in its buggy beta form, makes the game feel brand new and, at last, complete.
Multiplayer has been a long time coming for Stardew Valley, and it’s a testament to the game’s excellence and longevity that the open beta to test the feature, which began Monday, was met with so much enthusiasm. Stardew Valley proved that the audience for charming farming sims hadn’t died with Harvest Moon; rather, they were unimpressed with the gradual transformation of the series away from its roots. More than two years after launch, the audience is still there (if Switch sales are any indication), and thank the Junimos because the multiplayer update is worth the wait.
Currently, multiplayer co-op is in an opt-in open beta that delivers patch 1.3 and allows you to join up to three other friends online who also own the game or test the other extra additions on your own. You can join or invite others who you are Steam friends with or by entering a password. One player must host the others, which can be done either from an existing single-player farm (by purchasing and building home cabins from Robin) or by starting a new co-op game with the cabins already built.
It is admittedly jarring to suddenly drop into someone’s pre-established farm world, especially several game-years in. Community Center progress, money, the museum and certain unlockable story events (such as the sewer opening or the Skull Caverns) are shared across all players, but relationships, skill levels, and personal quests are not. This means that a new player jumping into a game on Year 2 will find themselves with a million letters in the mail and a weird, distorted sense of progress where everything is open to them, but they don’t have the skill level to tackle it. I do not recommend visiting the Skull Caverns as a novice, even with an experienced friend to protect you.
That said, a pre-established farm opens up wider possibilities, especially for those who aren’t as interested in starting from scratch. Without a breakneck race to clear land, make money and grow the right crops for the Community Center in Spring 1, there is freedom. Of course, the level of freedom also depends on having a good friend who doesn’t care if you want to carve out a corner of their well-tended farm to raise a Void Chicken. I would not enter into this arrangement with a stranger, but with a friend willing to be a bit of a patron to wild exploration, this is a fast and fun way to play.
Still, I recommend starting a brand new co-op game if you can get a friend or two to commit to playing it with you. By beginning together, you can clear the farm faster, forage more things, fish more fish, and plant more parsnips than you can alone. You can delegate tasks (I recommend a voice chat program such as Discord if at all possible) to ensure everything gets done with your limited early game energy, leaving more time for socializing, decorating, or what-have-you. The mines are also even more of a blast with more friends. You can dig deeper and defend one another from bugs and bats without fear of collapse.
Both modes shortcut the slow, rewarding pace of the single-player game, and that’s okay with me. There are merits in painstakingly chopping every dang piece of wood on a farm, collapsing exhausted before noon, and feeling the satisfaction of that work. The game wouldn’t have succeeded if there weren’t. But last night I enjoyed taking a nap after said chopping to refill my energy (one of the best multiplayer features), then waking up and fishing later while my friends chopped for me. The slightly speedier multiplayer may also prove a boon for players who tried Stardew and found it too tedious. With a friend, work gets done, money gets made, and you get the rewarding scenes, items, and conveniences twice as fast.
Together or solo, there are plenty of new single-player features to make 1.3 worth checking out. A new night market event for three days during the winter adds lots of new furniture items to the game, along with a way to get greenhouse seeds when they aren’t sold in town. There are other curiosities, too, such as a statue that lets you reset your skills for a price (finally) and new, seasonal cutscenes. I picked up new recipes, too. There’s a ring recipe that will let me propose marriage to my co-op friends, and one to grow plants indoors in any building. Time to turn the barn into a blueberry farm!
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The open beta is not without its share of bugs; it is a beta, after all. I didn’t find any game-breaking ones, though a few (such as non-host friends being unable to fish in the Riverlands map and scythed grass delaying drops) were pretty annoying. If you’re playing, get thee to the Chucklefish Forums and help report them. ConcernedApe was notoriously excellent (and overworked) during the initial game launch fixing bugs himself. Now, with a larger team, I have confidence the launch will be as bug-free as possible.
After dumping 80+ hours into Stardew Valley around launch, I thought I was done with the game. Multiplayer has convinced me otherwise. I’m already soliciting various friends to come play with me and start new farms together, eager to explore all the new content as a group. Having already been through the slow grind, I revel in the quick clip brought about by teamwork.
I highly recommend reinstalling either for the beta or when the update fully launches and roping more friends into your farming empire. Now that I can share the relaxing tedium of watering parsnips with my pals, Stardew Valley finally feels complete.