Valheim (2021)

Multiplayer survival crafting games are not my thing. I enjoy the concept of base building and collecting resources, but these games never seem to draw me in. I want a concrete goal, something to progress towards, not just the nebulous idea of thriving in a hostile environment. Valheim is special because it actually provides a goal and a reason to engage with its survival and crafting mechanics. It discards the frustrating and tedious mechanics that are common across the genre, making it more accessible to casual players. And despite being an early access game, it is relatively complete and bug-free.

In Valheim, you play as a Viking thrown into a mystical world after death. You must prove your worth to the gods so that you can ascend to Valhalla. The trials of Valheim are as simple as surviving and defeating mythical bosses to prove your might as a warrior. But as a newcomer to this hostile world, you are equipped with absolutely nothing. The premise of Valheim is that you must gather resources, materials, train your skills, defeat monsters, build bases, and upgrade your armor and weaponry so that you can challenge the mighty beasts that rule the land.

Valheim is split into numerous biomes, each with their own resources to harvest and boss to conquer. You start in the relatively safe meadows, where you will spend time hunting deer and boar as you begin to build a base made from logs. The way you progress through the biomes is clever, as even though you can travel to any biome any time you want, you cannot gather resources in those biomes without the appropriate tools. To unlock those tools, you must first defeat the boss of the previous area. It’s a simple approach to coax the player into upgrading their equipment and fighting the powerful mythical beasts.

What I appreciate the most about Valheim is how approachable it is. The game explains all of its systems so the player does not have to constantly look things up on the internet. It also has turned punishing systems from other games into more relaxed restrictions. For example, in most survival games you must constantly be keeping track of your food intake to make sure you don’t starve. Valheim is similar in that you should be hunting and growing food, but even if you don’t eat you won’t starve to death. Food serves as a health and stamina buff, rather than a necessity. The idea of it being a buff rather than something needed to survive makes it more enjoyable to engage with.

Furthermore, things like weapon and armor durability are minor inconveniences rather than painful time-wasters. You can easily restore your equipment for free at your base, rather than having to constantly build new sets. Its decisions like these that let the player spend more time exploring and discovering what the world of Valheim has to offer rather than waste time farming resources over and over again.

Exploring the world of Valheim for the first time is a treat. Discovering the different biomes and their abundance of resources is always enjoyable. Plenty of effort has been made to prevent the biomes from feeling like static zones. You will come across forts, abandoned towns, dungeon-like crypts, enemy strongholds, stone tablets inscribed with lore, and many more distinguishing features. You are encouraged to sail across the world, setting up bases in every new biome. Because of this, you are almost always engaging with the best content that the game has to offer: exploring and building.

 While I enjoyed Valheim for the most part, the more I played it the more frustrated I grew. The first issue being how stamina is implemented in the game. Eating food gives you bonus stamina that will regenerate, but stamina regeneration does not appreciably increase even when your total stamina does. The result of this being that you have to spend long portions of time essentially standing still or walking slowly to regenerate stamina. Nearly every action in the game consumes stamina: running, jumping, attacking, swimming, mining, farming, terraforming, blocking, dodging, essentially anything that isn’t just standing still.

Stamina potions exist, but are time-consuming to craft considering they have to brew for an hour before you can use them. Not to mention they have a cooldown after use, so they aren’t a reliable source of regeneration. The most aggravating aspect of the stamina system is that if you are ever running low on stamina and a monster approaches you, there are practically no options. You can’t run, you can’t fight back, you can’t block, you can’t dodge; all you can do is stand there and take a beating while slowly waiting to regenerate your stamina.

My distaste for the stamina system was only worsened by how tired I grew of the main gameplay loop. While I appreciate the concrete goals and loop of gathering materials, upgrading gear, fighting the boss, and then unlocking a new area, it grew a little stale after the first few biomes. It didn’t feel like there was much more to see, my natural sense of discovery waned. Not to mention how much waiting and grinding is needed to progress into the final zones of the game.

I found myself spending more time than I would have liked farming the same metals over and over to upgrade my equipment. At some point, the sense of progression and challenge is gone and all that remains is a tedious grind. Waiting for crops to grow so I can craft new armor isn’t enjoyable, aimlessly patrolling a wasteland for hours on end to find the final boss isn’t enjoyable, and delving into crypts to mine your 300th chunk of iron isn’t enjoyable. I was quite ready to be done with Valheim by the end of my experience.

Overall, I think Valheim is a solid multiplayer crafting game. While this genre isn’t my cup of tea, Valheim has an interesting progression loop and encourages exploration. It’s a game that wants its players to embark on an adventure and build bases along the way. While I grew tired of the formula after many hours, that can be partially attributed to my general distaste of the genre. Since Valheim is still in Early Access, I will not be giving it a rating. However, I do recommend it to those who enjoy exploring and building with friends.