If it were up to me, Stardew Valley would win the "labor of love" award every year. It was so successful and beloved at launch that developer Eric Barone has continued releasing huge updates every year. They've all been impressive, from the new farm layouts in 1.1 to the long-awaited multiplayer update in 1.3. This newest 1.5 update is the closest to what would normally be called an expansion, and I'm already thrilled by it.
I'll get into the big new endgame content that's been added down past the spoiler warning. But there are so many other smart additions in update 1.5 that enrich the core game I want to talk about, first.
The most obvious is the new beach farm, which offers some fresh challenges. As with other farm layouts added in past years, inheriting Stardew Valley's beach farm doesn't feel all too different at first. I still wind up planting my 15 parsnips in a small clearing I manage to cut down around my farmhouse. After that, it's penny pinching for the rest of the spring until I can afford a coop.
Things start getting dicey after I manage to craft my first sprinklers. They don't work on sand, which is just great because I've got an entire farm full of almost nothing but the stuff. A dirt farm plot waits for me south of the greenhouse, but it's covered with huge logs that I won't be able to clear out until I've upgraded to a steel axe. So I'll either need to wedge in a few crops and sprinklers between the debris or submit myself to hand-watering my crops every day, begging the sky to bless me with rain. It's a new challenge, though fortunately not an insurmountable one.
Getting my operation off the ground may require a bit more manual labor on the beach, but the new update has also torn down some of the few remaining walls against customizing my farm as I see fit. Back in the earliest days of Stardew Valley, no building could be moved after it was placed. Planning each new farm was a test of my willpower to see through the grand vision I had for my land, instead of impatiently chucking buildings wherever they'd fit. In later years, Robin the carpenter became able to move buildings around, which was an absolute blessing.
In the newest update, she can even move the greenhouse (after it's been repaired) and the shipping container where I sell my goods. Nearly everything on the farm can be moved at will now, meaning that indecisive farmers like me can finally feel free to experiment with their canvas of a homestead. The extra customization extends to my farmer too, whose name and gender can now be changed in the Wizard's basement.
There are tons of other quality of life changes, big and small, that I've come across while playing just as with earlier updates:
- You can now sit in chairs.
- You can move the bed like other furniture.
- Ducks can swim.
- New mahogany trees drop hardwood (remember this below!).
- You can choose between four fishing alert sounds.
- Co-op players can ask Robin to move buildings.
Like past updates, Stardew Valley 1.5 is full of little features that feel like they'd always been there, sending me running to search through the patch notes to see if something is actually new.
The star of the show though, without a doubt, is that "significant new piece of end-game content" that Barone teased over the summer with a screenshot of a mysterious new door in Willy's fish shop.
Spoiler warning: The new endgame content
Barone has left this new late-game content a mystery in the official announcement about update 1.5 so as not to spoil it for anyone. I can't stop myself from talking about it, though, so please go investigate that new door in Willy's shop before you continue. I'll see you back here after you've collected all the materials for his new project.
As a hint, you'll probably want to load up a save file that's a few years along. It is endgame stuff, after all.
Alright, you've collected the batteries, iridium bars, and hardwood, right? You've taken them to Willy's shop and helped him fix up that old ship waiting in the back of his shop and taken a ride with him across the ocean to a brand new explorable area for Stardew Valley? Good, I can finally say it.
Ginger Island is amazing.
The new jungle island feels like stepping out of Stardew Valley and into a Zelda-inspired spinoff game. When you first arrive on the island, little is explained—which I mean in the best possible "allows you to figure it out" manner.
There are parrots all over the island who demand that I bring them golden walnuts in order to unlock new areas and features of the island. I stumbled upon just one early on in looking around the island after I arrived. For the rest, it became increasingly clear that I'd need to venture into the volcano at the center of the island.
Ginger Island's volcano shares only a passing resemblance to the mines and Skull Cavern that have long been available to explore in Stardew Valley. There are enemies to kill and rocks to mine and lots of ground to cover, but that's about where the relationship ends. It's a proper adventure dungeon in Stardew Valley, make no mistake.
I said, out loud, "oh wow" when I entered the first room. It's covered with lava, for starters, impassable lava that I needed to work out how to cross. In an example of textbook level design, the answer was within my line of sight after I stopped staring long enough to consider my surroundings. There's even a secret area in the first room, the route to my next golden walnuts, uncovered by the RPG-playing instinct in my gut that told me where to look.
After that it's new enemies galore. There are little balls of flame that pack a serious punch. There are tiger slimes. There's a flamey version of those squat enemies from the mines that wear helmets whose names I've forgotten and know only by the tink tink sound my sword makes when I hit them. In the very first room there is a dragon thing swimming inside the lava who shot fireballs at me until I managed to whack its head as it lurked closer to the edge of the lava lake.
I cannot stress enough how disinterested I've always been in Stardew Valley's mines. I know the more combat-oriented among us spend plenty of time delving deeper and deeper in the Skull Cavern. For me, it's always been a chore. The new volcano, on the other hand, I'm enthralled by. It's as if I don't own a farm at all, because I wake up at 6am and immediately rush to Willy's shop, pacing back and forth at his door until he opens up at 8am and will ferry me over to my new favorite place.
There's a door in the first room of the volcano, tucked away in a secret nook that I can see but not reach. I know I'll be thrilled when I figure out how to reach it. There's an excavation tent in the jungle outside whose secrets I've yet to fully uncover. Oh, and a broken bridge near the center of the island with a quarry of bones waiting on the other side. Those are just the loose ends I can see so far, and I know there are even more waiting to be found.
Every one of Stardew Valley's major updates has been great, full of requested features, quality of life updates, and fun new secrets that I've started new farms for and enjoyed. Update 1.5 though, I can confidently say is the first that I've felt truly excited by.