This article was originally published is issue 342 of PC Gamer magazine. For more quality articles about all things PC gaming, you can subscribe now in the UK and the US.
When I installed the Stardew Valley Expanded mod, I hadn’t played Stardew in several months. I’d yet to try the enormous ‘everything’ update that added a plethora of new items, crops, clothes and bug fixes. If I were to succinctly explain SVE’s level of quality: I didn’t know the difference between what had been added in the official update, and what was part of the mod.
Stardew Valley Expanded, true to its name, does what a proper expansion can for any other game. It adds new characters, new locations, events, and feels like it could have been a part of Stardew Valley from the start.
I start a new farm and, having apparently evaporated every ounce of creativity in my body, name it the Expanded farm. I’ll remember which is my modded save file, at least. After all the usual introductions, I plant my allotted starting parsnip plants and immediately set out hunting down SVE’s new townsfolk.
One of the first quests in Stardew Valley is introducing yourself to all the locals. My first day of SVE, though, I quickly find myself lost. The mod doesn’t just add new areas, it reimagines existing ones.
Foraging for friends
I walk through town, looking for fresh new faces, and am almost immediately turned around. Like a stair step that’s just a quarter inch too short, I feel myself suddenly off balance. I walk into the house that Alex the athlete shares with his grandparents, dumbfounded because I thought I was at Mayor Lewis’ place. It takes a few circuits of the town for me to find my bearings and get used to the new layout.
I introduce myself to the pink-haired young woman named Sophia who seems to run a winery west of the beach. I find Andy, a local forage farmer who is apparently a fan of the local JojaMart and sporting a blue Joja cap to prove it. Beside Pierre’s grocery store is a huge new house with a gate where a young man named Victor and his mother Olivia live. Victor has just returned from university and hasn’t landed a job yet while his mother is a retired Joja Co bigwig. Susan, another local farmer, lives up north by the train tracks.
At first glance, all of Stardew Valley Expanded’s new characters have their archetypes cranked up to 11. Compared with Stardew’s main cast, who represent slightly more timeless expressions of tropes, SVE’s new characters are all a bit extra.
Cute but shy Sophia is a pink-haired, choker-wearing cosplay maker and tabletop game player which, on paper, sounds a bit like a self-insert fanfiction character. Andy is a middle-aged religious farmer with a gruff attitude and obligatory overalls. They’re archetypes that feel a lot more now than Stardew’s original characters, who could be from any decade in the last 50 years.
They may be extra colourful (literally, in Sophia’s case) but SVE’s creator has taken great pains to make them belong in the valley. You’d probably struggle to pick them out as modded if you were playing Stardew for the first time.
As another of the vaguely university-aged residents, Victor is friends with Sam, Sebastian and Abigail. I find him hanging out around the billiards table in the Stardrop Saloon on Friday evenings with the rest of the gang. Andy attends Sunday worship at the Yoba shrine inside Pierre’s store along with George. All of Stardew Valley Expanded’s new characters attend festivals just like the other locals.
Whereas bigger RPGs make it hard to hide a modded character—lack of voice acting is an easy tell—in Stardew it’s easy for SVE’s characters to blend in. Each new villager’s sprites and dialogue portraits fit in with the base game, and the writing is true to the original style. It reads like skilful fanfiction, which it is in a way, with dedicated attention paid to the original lore.
As just one example, I make my usual rounds talking with all the new NPCs to see their dialogue during the spring. The Egg Festival is approaching, at which my farmer and a few other NPCs will compete in an egg hunting minigame around town. Not once but twice I’m called out for participating because it would be unfair to the two actual children.
Sure, I’m a grown-ass adult. It had occurred to me before that it’s a bit odd for Abigail and I to compete with small kids in an egg hunt. The day before the festival Andy scowls and tells me to do the right thing and let the kids win. At the festival itself, Victor suggests that we shouldn’t participate at all. Dang, how are you going to just ruin me like that? I don’t want to give away too many other neat little surprises, but it’s just one of many ways that SVE shakes up Stardew’s original story.
Stardew Valley Expanded also fleshes out existing characters. Marlon the Adventure Guild’s leader has moved the guild’s location to the south end of town and has a new schedule of his own instead of being confined to the building. Morris, the corporate croney running the local JojaMart, even gets an expanded role. He’s still a bit smarmy, but the events I’ve seen so far point towards SVE’s creator angling for some redemption for the store manager. He may be shady enough to wave Jojamart coupons right outside Pierre’s store, but it’s possible Morris is just a guy holding down the best career he can manage, suffering under the thumb of corporate expectations.
It’s not just SVE’s new characters that deserve exploring. The mod has also built on all of Stardew Valley’s maps and introduced plenty of new ones as well. In SVE, I’m not the only farmer in town. There are other professionals like Andy, Sophia, and Sandy, but almost all of the locals have a garden plot with a few veggies too. At one point in the spring, I wander into town and get pulled into a dialogue event where Leah shows off the community garden plot that several folks use.
As with the characters, the way SVE slightly alters existing maps shows a great understanding of conveniences that players want, but with an execution that keeps the mod feeling like it belongs. More than once, I stumble upon a new shortcut between areas that before would have forced me to walk around.
The beach south of Pelican town used to end on the western bank. Now, Sophia’s winery connects the western edge of the beach with the forest south of my farm. Up north, SVE removes a few fence posts making it possible to walk from the bus stop to the path connecting my farm to Robin’s workshop.
Both are small inconveniences that vanilla Stardew Valley solves with warp totem items that I can craft and use to travel directly to those locations. I prefer SVE’s tidier solution though. There’s already not enough time in Stardew’s day to do all the chores I make for myself, so turning the map into a set of connections cuts out the backtracking that previously ate at me.
That’s not the only plan FlashShifter has for Stardew Valley Expanded’s future. It currently has new areas, houses, events, and characters but there’s still more to come. There’s a whole list on SVE’s Nexus Mods page. Down the line FlashShifter is hoping to add more towns, even more characters, festivals, music, dungeons, and more.
With the amount of detail that mod creator FlashShifter has already dedicated to building around Stardew’s existing lore, I can’t wait to see what they choose to do when adding Grampleton, which is referenced in vanilla Stardew but never actually seen. I’m also hoping to see more of that Morris redemption story that I feel must be in the works.
Stardew Valley Expanded is a near perfect example of an expansion mod. Its clear love of the original game shines through in all of the details it picks up to expand upon and it slips in almost seamlessly to create a larger game than before without stealing the spotlight. What I find telling is that at the end of each Stardew day, I still found myself doing all the things I would normally do: planting crops, rushing to complete the Community Centre, running around giving gifts to my favourite NPCs and so on. With SVE installed, I get the treat of new surprises from a game I’ve already put so many hours into.