Valheim early access review – the secrets of survival success

Valheim screenshot

Valheim – not such a surprising hit after all (pic: Iron Gate)

GameCentral investigates surprise hit Valheim and discovers exactly why the Viking themed survival game has become so successful so quickly.

When you open Steam and every single person on your friends list is playing Valheim you know it’s got to be something special. Launched just a couple of weeks ago, and already having clocked up 2 million downloads, Valheim is an exploration survival game set in a procedurally generated, Viking-inspired world. The positive hype around the game comes from a grassroots community of players and is reflected in the overwhelming positive score on Steam. The 500,000 concurrent players have felt so passionate about it that YouTube is awash with rave reviews and enthusiastic players.

So where is all this positive hype coming from? Other early access survival games, such as Rust, are rarely any good at first but Valheim has been highly compelling from the start and is surprisingly easy to pick up and get started. It’s also nowhere near as difficult as other survival games, such as Don’t Starve, and for your £15.49 you get plenty of value for money, as it’s hard to not keep coming back for more.

The game starts as you are delivered to the 10th world in the claws of a huge crow, seemingly an ambassador of Odin. You are dropped in a meadow and the crow advises you that you must slay five Forsaken to ascend to Valhalla. As this is a survival game the first thing you need to think about is shelter and food, and so the collection of materials to forge tools and construct items, and the gathering of berries for food, begins. The game has a complex hunger system, with different foods and constantly changing combinations of cooked ingredients needed to keep your stamina up.

Sooner or later a Greyling will appear, your initial enemy encounter, with the woodland creatures attacking on sight but still being nowhere near as dangerous as the elite versions of them in other locations. Collecting resources unlocks items to craft and after unlocking the ability to craft a hammer you can build your first campfire.

It’s the ability to craft the workbench where your crafting starts in earnest, as with that you can also make structures and even boats. It will only take you a couple of hours to get to this point and by then you’re already thinking about your first boss fight. For this you must collect trophies from killing deer to summon the mighty stag Eikthyr, while a storm of thunder and lightning swirls above the battle and the game proves just how great its visuals can be for a mere 1GB download.

There are five main environments that are procedurally generated (one of many similarities with Minecraft) and this means that every instance of the game is different. Each environment, such as the swamp or the mountains, have their own diverse ecosystem of plants and creatures, while some higher level areas, such as the frozen wastes, can kill you almost instantly. You also need to be wary of the sea, as there’s some worryingly overpowered sea serpents inhabiting it.

Valheim screenshot

Valheim – home is where the workbench is (pic: Iron Gate)

The lighting and weather systems in each environment add to the eye-pleasing aesthetic, especially the sunbeams filtering through the trees in the Black Forest. If you have to nit-pick though, some of the larger enemies can look slightly strange, with oddly proportioned limbs, while some combat animations are somewhat lacking.

Valheim’s combat relies on a standard mix of light and heavy attacks, plus a block and a parry system that can open enemies up for a counter-attack. The combat isn’t particularly complex or deep but it’s an enjoyable part of the wider experience. The game does incorporate player vs. player combat and you can join a random server that has PvP switched on or you can create your own PVP realm, if you don’t mind constantly getting beaten up and losing all your stuff.

Your skills are levelled up in a similar manner to The Elder Scrolls games, by repeatedly performing certain actions, with a specific skill associated with almost every activity. All these skills are intertwined and feed back into each other with impressive focus and clarity, so that learning how to smelt bronze allows you to then craft bronze nails, which then allows you to build better boats. You’ll need to venture to a burial crypt to find a Surtling core for your furnace, though, which can be tricky.

Defeating each of the bosses gives you buffs and reduces the amount of stamina needed to perform basics task such as running and jumping. From there your goal is to start building boats and create summoning portals, which are crafted from unique items found in the skeleton-filled dungeons. Upgrade your tech trees for weapons, armour, and boats and then you can start looking for a crew.

Valheim screenshot

Valheim – look out for the Greylings (pic: Iron Gate)

The best thing about Valheim is the immersive sense of progression and the idea that every task, from crafting to combat, is meaningful and purposeful. Your main base, built from scratch or patched together from abandoned buildings, will soon become a thing of beauty and proves surprisingly enjoyable to upgrade, in a manner almost reminiscent of Animal Crossing – as you relax tending to the beehives and crafting delicious honey.

As you explore you can build small hides for stashing items while out and about but beware of lighting fires in smaller buildings, as it’s easy to get burnt or suffocate to death just trying to dry out from the rain.

Sometimes procedurally-generated games can feel listless but in Valheim you’re constantly wondering what’s around the next corner and fondly remembering when that giant troll totalled your boat. One of the best and most refreshing aspects of Valheim is you’re never hanging around for a non-player character to give you a quest or tell you what to do, there’s just so much to get on with at all times.

After 30 hours you’ll still feel like you’ve only scratched the surface, with every new encounter feeling fresh and rewarding. It’s also impressive to think that this is your world alone and that anyone else playing will have their own unique experience with happenstance adventures. You can play solo but with more territories and bosses to come you’ll soon want to convince your friends to join you, so you can adventure together. And for such a low price it will be hard for them to say no.

By Lucy Orr


Have Fun ^_^

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