What makes Valheim so Great?

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By Tan Montana on February 11th, 2021

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There’s a sea of survival games on Steam, and like waves from that sea, new ones show up crashing into early access on what feels like a weekly basis. These games exist for a practical reason. They have a base of players, and if the game is just above a tolerable level of bugs and has something unique to attach to it, chances are it will do ok. Valheim checks both of these boxes and a few others I didn’t expect it to.

One million Valheim Players

Valheim already had a pretty decent following before its recent explosion of players. With selling over one million copies and a full roadmap of game features and goals, this number is only going to increase. People have latched onto something about the game. I myself am an enormous fan of the early access model and what it’s able to afford developers that otherwise might not have a chance to showcase a product.

While unmistakably there are games and developers fallen to some of the pitfalls of Early Access, Valheim is an excellent example of the games that can be made with that incentivization. Developers provide frequent updates and openly discuss their roadmap and how they hope to continue building the game as it goes on.

A VIKING SURVIVAL WORLD, Uniquely GENERATED

Valheim is a procedurally generated low-fantasy world inspired by Norse mythology. Players are dropped into a gentle forest or meadow in a world that’s actually quite large. The more significant threats and rewards all increasing exponentially the more you journey outward.

On paper, Valheim strikes all the expectations of games in its class. There’s building, mining, and mean stuff that goes bump in the night if you’re not tucked in bed with a mug of mead by 7 pm. The monsters are threatening, and the trees harder to chop depending on your tier of crafted axe.

So what exactly sets Valheim apart from other games in the genre?

VIKINGS IN THE STONE AGE

There’s a return to basics in Valheim that allows the game to shine in other aspects. While I appreciate and find a constant beauty in the graphics, I could certainly see why others would register them as unpolished. The game purposefully renders simplistic visuals, most everything looking like something you might find in a PlayStation 2 game, or if someone decided to take the classic Rune and make it look terrific. The simple-looking landscape is complemented by the shading, dynamic water details, and gorgeous lighting. As it turns out, simple can often be enough when your game handles well and looks good. The fact that a Valheim server’s entirety is procedurally generated and looks as pleasant as it does is impressive considering its small file size. The game is actually quite large, and its easy to get lost in that vastness.

Your Viking adventure starts with you entering some dream state world you don’t fully understand yet. You’re dropped in without a lot of fanfare and given a small tutorial, and told to go hit stuff with rocks to make better rocks. Despite some initial lore, things don’t initially scream Norse mythos. I’m not riding a bear shirtless covered in blue tattoos, which I can only assume is the entirety of the Viking legacy based on my experiences with other triple-A games. That and the killing. Then again, I’m still early on in my adventures, so the bear might come eventually.

What’s the fuss about?

Valheim is more than it lets on. There’s more to explore and do than you’d expect. The challenge is scaling, as are the adventures I get to go on with my friends when they can convince me to leave the base. Apparently, farming carrots won’t get me into Valhalla, so I have to go mine copper in six-foot-tall rolling mist until a giant troll shows up and slaps me to death with a tree. Fantastic.

There’s just a lot about this game I like, and that is likable. Smoke has physics, so I designed a chimney. I got to run from a tidal wave on the beach, reminding me of my place, landlocked lest I test Aegir’s fury. I plundered a skeleton crypt, made a soup, and then enjoyed how my big bearded man was rendered as a baby oil drenched fiend when he touched water. God forbid you walk too close to your campfire or jump from more than two feet up, lest ye lose most of your health.

Valheim is a silly game, but it’s also some of the most fun adventures I’ve had in a while. It earns its place sticking out amongst a sea of crafting survival games. If you have some friends and 20 dollars to spend, I suggest grabbing a copy on Steam and escaping to a purgatorial fantasy world where you can brew booze with your pals to make up for the time you fell a tree that instantly crushed them.

Tan is a Tabletop RPG writer with a deep love for give-'em-a-chance indie games and music made on a ten-year-old laptop in Audacity. They drink their seltzer warm.

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