Stardew Valley captured the spirit of the PC for us this year. GOTY gongs are chosen by PC Gamer staff through voting and debate. We'll be posting an award a day leading to Christmas, along with personal picks from the PCG team. Keep up with all the awards so far here.
Phil: A twee, saccharine farming sim RPG about community, magic, and getting a good return on investment for your organic parsnips. Stardew Valley is a compelling thing, following your new life in a remote community as you grow your farm, meet locals and take part in local events. If you've played a Harvest Moon game, this will all sound familiar. But Harvest Moon never came to the PC. Its absence created a demand in the market filled by Stardew Valley's sole developer, Eric Barone, who single-handedly did the design, coding, art and music. It's easy to praise Stardew Valley as a technical achievement, and as a heartwarming PC success story. It's also worth celebrating because it's an incredibly good game. Whether you're planting crops, tending to animals, or exploring the mines, it's easy to get lost in the compulsive loop of integrated systems and crafting. Before long, you're invested—in the farm, the town, or the individual people—and expanding your local business in an effort to complete the next major goal.
Tom M: There was a solid month of my 2016 consumed by thoughts of planting crops and wooing a redheaded bookworm named Penny. Neither are easy tasks, as Stardew Valley likes to take its time, giving me long days that somehow still feel far too short to get all my chores done. It doesn’t rush relationship building, completing tasks like the community center bundles can take a full calendar year, and raising enough money to make a respectable looking farm takes even longer. In a similar style to Skyrim or The Witcher, it puts you in the driver's seat of an immaculately detailed world with no wrong choices. The game isn’t without problems—tricky controls and a relatively light late game, for example—but what makes it so compelling is just how good it is at drawing me into that world. And in true PC fashion, it’s being updated for free with new content and fixes, mods are being made and shared, and a community is growing in a similar way to that of Terraria or the early days of Minecraft. Stardew Valley is an underdog success story, and a game I imagine I’ll be playing for years to come.