More than five years since it was first shown off, cooperative multiplayer is now playable in Stardew Valley. The “cooperative” part is key to remember for anyone who may expect that, with three extra farmers in town, Stardew Valley has suddenly become some kind of competitive game. Instead, Steam’s public multiplayer mode beta is much like the single-player game we’re used to — albeit with some friendly faces to say hello to and enlist for help.
I played co-op, as it’s called from the main menu, with video producer Jenna Stoeber. Jenna’s registered more than 80 hours into Stardew Valley, which meant I was farming with a real pro. Not that that matters when playing the beta; you may have to start up a farm completely fresh. That could be off-putting to dedicated players who just want to show off their prize-worthy farms to their friends. But where co-op stands now, starting fresh actually makes a lot of sense. (If you want to enter co-op without restarting, however, you can talk to Robin and build a cabin for cheap in your regular save. Friends can then visit your main town.)
So Jenna and I, now newbie farmers, both dropped into Pelican Town to work together on their shared land, Polygon Farm. One player serves as host (that was Jenna) while up to three others can either join by LAN or through an invite code over Wi-Fi. Those additional players live in smaller cabins on the farm and serve as farmhands to the host’s lead farmer.
That suggests that the host players’ friends have a more limited set of things they can do, but that’s not the case. Both Jenna and I could tidy up our inherited farmland, befriend the townspeople on our own time and collect our own fishing rods. We basically led independent lives, as if we were neighbors occasionally working on a community garden. Sure, we sometimes asked the other to help clean up a patch of grass or chop down a tree; it’s just as easy to ignore those requests and go flirt with the numerous bachelors instead, though.
Working cooperatively, in this case, feels more like a choice in Stardew Valley’s mode than it does an imposition. The only time that multiplayer held us back was when we wanted to go to sleep; all parties must agree that it’s time to settle in. And there are some other tweaks too, like a shared pool of money and the option to scale down profit margins if you want. But for Jenna and I, these factors didn’t encourage us to be all about teamwork. We were two people with our own agendas, passing by each other in one town.
The good thing is that Stardew Valley in its most basic form is one of the most pleasant time sucks of this console generation. (It’s too bad the multiplayer beta isn’t out on console yet.) If you’re expecting multiplayer to radically shake up the experience, perhaps you’ll come away disappointed. But only the most casual Stardew Valley player could ever come away from any version of the game disappointed.
Update: There is one way to play cooperatively without starting a totally new game. We’ve added that information above.