If you've been following the world of gaming lately, then you've definitely heard of Valheim. Developer Iron Gate Studios' debut game has taken the survival genre by storm, and has already sold more than 5 million units since its release on February 2, 2021. That's incredibly impressive, especially if you consider that the game was made by a five person studio and it's still in Early Access! It's uncommon for a game in EA (Early Access) to have overwhelmingly positive reviews on Steam, especially when it has the survival, open-world, and crafting tags (completing the four horsemen of the apocalypse meme from back in the day).
One could argue that Minecraft does a pretty good job of setting the bar when it comes to survival sandbox games. For most, if you can get past the blocky graphics (which in itself is actually not that bad), it has great progression, a sense of achievement when you accomplish goals, and it does all of this while not exactly holding your hand, but nudging you in the right direction. At the same time, it’s not hard to get into; there’s plenty of content for the adventuristic players out there, while those who are happy to simply settle down in a nice area and build a pretty base are free to do so. Since Minecraft, we’ve had a plethora of survival sandbox games, from Rust, to DayZ, Conan Exiles, Ark: Survival Evolved and more, all trying to do something new in the survival sandbox genre, be it a different time setting, introducing dinosaurs, or adding more convoluted game systems. All of these games enjoyed a surge in player count at the time of their launch, and most of them, even today, have a sizable player base that still plays dedicatedly. Thanks to the pandemic, most of them saw a resurgence in players, with many of them hitting their new peak player count during the lockdown. However, none of them reached the peaks that Valheim has, and in such a short time even. So, what is it that makes Valheim the phenomenon that it is? Let’s find out.
In case you haven’t heard of Valheim, it’s a third-person open-world survival crafting game from Iron Gate Studios. If you were to take Minecraft, drop the blocky graphics and replace it with gorgeous looking voxel graphics, and then slap a Viking theme on top of it, what you would get would be pretty close to Valheim. It’s also got a bit of a backstory. Valheim is the tenth realm in Norse mythology, one of the planes that are connected to the world tree, Yggdrasil. You’re dropped into this realm by a valkyrie, with no memories and no possessions except a rag tunic. The first thing you’ll notice is that you’ve been dropped in the middle of Stonehenge looking structure. Each of the runestones in this structure represent a deity. Your goal is to conquer this realm in Odin’s name. You do this by defeating the deities that inhabit this world, each representing one of those runestones we mentioned above. That’s the jist of it. There’s a lot more going on, and we’ll go through all of it here.
One of the things that Valheim does exceptionally well is progression. In general, most survival games have a pretty standard sense of progression. You start with nothing, you need to scrounge around for resources, build low quality items, then use those items to get better resources in order to build better items. This cycle is pretty consistent across all survival games, you could even say it’s a core part of the entire experience. This cycle is present in Valheim as well, however, it does a few things differently that makes things a lot more interesting. The game’s progression is tied to defeating the deities we mentioned above. In order to progress further and get access to better materials and tools, you need to defeat these bosses. For example, the very first deity you face, Eikthyr (which is a super cool looking lightning-infused Stag), drops the materials you’ll need to craft your very first pickaxe. As you discover and collect new resources, you’ll start “remembering” how to craft things. This includes interesting weapons and armor as you hunt the more challenging enemies the game has to offer. After defeating Eikthyr for example, you will remember how to craft a weapon called the Stagbreaker. This is a massive hammer that sends shockwaves out from its point of impact. It’s not necessarily easy to craft at that point in the game, but it gives you something new and interesting to work towards. Defeating Eikthyr also means that you have to now start preparing for the next boss, the Elder. Defeating the next boss, will in-turn, open up the game even more. But getting to these bosses, summoning them, and defeating them is no easy feat. Which brings us to the second aspect of progression in Valheim – combat and exploration.
Valheim’s progression forces you to go out and explore the world for resources. Plus, your hunt for the deities will take you to all corners of the procedurally generated world the game has to offer. And the world has a LOT to offer. You will come across abandoned buildings, crypts and burial chambers, troll caves, mystical runestones and more. Plus, you can build yourself a longboat and sail the seas to discover new lands, in true viking fashion. There’s plenty of different types of biomes to explore, from peaceful meadows, to haunted black forests, windswept mountains and more. You will need to figure out how to best explore these biomes. Of course, with all this exploration comes a host of new and challenging enemies to face as well, and you need to learn how best to deal with them. Combat, while simple, can be both punishing and satisfying. You need to be aware of tougher enemies and their attack patterns, as one misstep could lead to death. Pulling it off means you’ve got your hands on some useful materials for your crafting needs. There are different types of damage that you can deal, for example, axes and swords do slash damage, arrows and spears do piercing damage, and the Stagbreaker that we mentioned earlier? Blunt damage. There’s also stuff like fire damage and poison damage as well. Different enemies are more susceptible to certain types of damage while being immune or otherwise resistant to other types. Preparation is key, especially in Valheim. Don’t be surprised if you get one-shot out of blue by something you’ve never seen before, it happens. A lot more than you’d think. Personal experience.
The third aspect of progression in Valheim are your skills. If you’ve ever played Runescape or Albion, then this might be familiar to you. Simply doing things will make you better at doing them. As you sprint around the world, you’ll notice your running skill going up. Cutting wood a lot will make you better at it. Just about anything you can do has a skill level attached to it. Running, jumping, swimming, mining, woodcutting, unarmed fighting, blocking etc. When you die, you lose some of your “memories”, i.e., you lose some skill exp. But don’t worry about it too much, you will die a lot. When you die, you’ll leave behind a gravestone that holds all of your items. This won’t despawn or disappear, so you can take your time to get back to it and collect your stuff. This also encourages you to have multiple sets of gear stashed and ready incase you go kaput to some troll who sneaks up behind you and whacks you with a tree. Although, admittedly it’s our own fault for not having noticed a massive troll sneaking up on us.
Valheim isn’t exactly an easy game. However, the challenge in Valheim is a lot of fun, as the game avoids a lot of the excessive realism that comes with survival games, which usually end up being a chore. For example, you have a hunger meter, but you won’t die of starvation. Eating food increases your health and stamina pools, so it’s definitely something you want to do, but you won’t suffer (unless you’re out in the wilds of course) for forgetting. You can eat up to three different types of food (i.e., have three food type buffs active), and every type of food has something to offer. For instance, eating cooked meat will give you substantially more health than eating berries and roots. However, some types of roots, like yellow mushrooms that you will encounter a little while into the game, will give you a more significant boost to stamina. As you progress you’ll unlock better recipes which provide much larger boosts. It’s up to you to mix and match. Combat is challenging, and you’ll get a taste of it in your very first boss fight vs Eikthyr, which happens pretty soon after you first start. Exploring isn’t a pain, it’s fun, you never know what you’ll encounter or what resources you might find which will unlock new things for you to craft. Dying, which you’ll be doing a lot of, doesn’t feel as punishing, because you get all your stuff back without worrying about it being destroyed or stolen. You know, as long as you have an agreement with the friends you’re playing with. Repairs cost nothing, which could be changed later on since the game is still in EA, but for now, it’s a blessing. The only thing that possibly could be a pain is travel. This is a massive world, and you will definitely want to explore every inch of it. The game allows you to build portals to quickly travel from one point to another, however they’ve made it so certain objects cannot be teleported, such as ores for example. This was intentional and we totally see why. It forces you to build bases in new places. However we can also see this being a pain point. But it’s literally the only one we can think of right now with Valheim.
Valheim is meant to be a co-op experience. The game is definitely playable solo, but even having one extra person along with you makes the viking shenanigans a lot more fun. Also, having someone watching your back as you take on the tougher content the game has to offer is recommended, for the best experience. You’re also able to craft anti-grief stuff in case you’re in a public server, like wards, which prevent other players from building near or destroying your buildings and stuff.
Valheim is a gorgeous game. Sure it doesn’t have hyper-realistic graphics, but the pixelated textures and simple models are still beautiful, especially when paired with the amazing lighting and environmental effects. The animations are also amazing, from the very beginning of the game, when you chop down your first tree, you’ll stare in awe as it comes crashing down (maybe even on you, accidentally killing you). At night, you can see a gorgeous night sky, with the world tree’s branches literally looming over you. Impact is a thing in Valheim, trees crashing down, your pickaxe breaking rocks, attacking things, everything has a satisfying oomph behind it paired with the appropriate animation. The visuals and the satisfaction of just doing stuff make exploring the world Valheim has to offer a joy.
We would rarely ever recommend a game in Early Access. EA usually means the game is unfinished, unpolished. Valheim is definitely not finished, and the developers have said they have a lot more planned for the game’s future. This only makes us excited, because what we already have with Valheim is a very polished and fun experience. Whatever is there, feels complete. Whatever you can already experience feels refined and polished. There’s a very experienced team behind this game and it shows. Plus, for only INR 529 on Steam right now, it’s easily worth the price, because you’ll be spending a LOT of time in the tenth realm of Valheim.
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