Welcome to FFXIV: Don’t rush the MSQ

It’s official: everyone I know is trying out FFXIV right now, stubborn WoW evangelists included. And i’m not surprised, FFXIV deserves all the credit it’s gotten since Shadowbringers and it doesn’t look great over at Blizzard Activision right now. Many bloggers have commented on the current shit storm so I’m not going to say too much about it. Other than maybe this: while I’ve held both Blizzard and their upper management in low regard for years now, I never suspected just how foul the corporate C-level of Activision is. As if the contents of the lawsuit weren’t harrowing enough, all the other info pouring out on this has left me somewhat speechless. If it’s one thing I do not need in my life it’s my MMO gaming being directly or indirectly connected to some of the worst US government types. What the hell has happened to this industry if it hires such people? I am still processing.

With that out of my system, let’s get back to why you don’t want to rush your FFXIV beginner experience.

The journey is the reward

Coming from WoW which is different to FFXIV in how it runs its themepark content, I’ve had many friends reach out to me these past weeks asking how long exactly it would take them to catch up to current content. While I don’t like the reasoning behind the question in this particular case, I totally get it. My answer is therefore always the same:

I’ve been playing FFXIV regularly for 7 years now and I still don’t know half of the content going on in that game. Some stuff I’ve heard about and some I am still literally discovering myself. This is partly due to how the game has been developed with many of its core features added incrementally over time (and not always advertised in the best way either). It’s also due to the fact that, as also mentioned in my last post, FFXIV is just incredibly broad with lots of different activities to sink your teeth into, catering to a wide range of players.

What ties all these different activities together is the main story line in FFXIV, aka the MSQ. While WoW was originally designed with endgame in mind and lore fluff was added later, all aspects in FFXIV revolve around or get enhanced by its central narrative. The MSQ is a large part of why some people play and it serves as a fine guide through the leveling process as well. The primary NPCs have been the same since ARR and by now, they mean a lot to the developers as well as the community.

FFXIV united

That is not to say that there is not a max level with classic PVE endgame content waiting for FFXIV players. But that’s just it – it is happily ‘waiting’ for them. The MSQ is a central part of the game, so it’s really not something you want to rush through or skip if you’re trying to establish a long term connection with this MMO world. It is also just very fine content and storytelling that gets better and better after ARR (yes it really does and it’s worth hanging in there!). As for endgame and things like dungeons, trials and raids, they are literally not going anywhere. There will be time aplenty to do them with either your friends or in pugs and they won’t be decaying for years to come. I’ve explained how some of this works here but one probably just has to experience FFXIV to understand how smoothly it all works out.

Enjoy the world of Eorzea

As someone who is in FFXIV for its wider allures and relaxed atmosphere, I’ve personally come to love the MSQ. Between following the story as well as enjoying dungeons and raids, exploration, housing and glamour endgame (the real endgame *cough*), I feel the game achieves a great balance between different activities. I think some WoW players are worried that this means the game lacks cooperative content or difficult encounters, but once you tread into savage territory and above none of that applies. These features just don’t get advertised or emphasized nearly as much by the FFXIV community because they’re just that, features among many others (if you think FFXIV has no complex raids, I suggest checking out this channel and watch some savage guides). Eorzea is not a vessel for endgame raid content.

For further analysis and in case you’re currently still on the fence, I recommend this great rundown by Jesse Cox on Youtube. It’s one of the best, most detailed and fairest comparisons of WoW to FFXIV I’ve encountered. See you on the other side – we have Moogle hats!

(P.S. I am on Cerberus EU – feel free to say hi to Sylvara Fallstar any time! The server is currently quite busy but new characters can still be made if you try early mornings or after server maintenance (Tues 4am EST).

Pugging in FFXIV

I’ve been in contact with several of my old WoW buddies recently who are teasing me back to Azeroth. It’s a completely different game than it was when I left in 2010 and from what I gather, the current expansion isn’t well received. At the same time, the pull of old friends is mighty and they seem to be enjoying the mythic content in the game. I am however still playing FFXIV and have only finished all the post-Shadowbringers patches last night. What a fantastic expansion this has been – I sincerely hope Endwalker can live up to its reputation!

Shadowbringers Finale

Talking back and fourth with my buddies I’ve told them a lot about why FFXIV, in my humble opinion, is the superior game these days. Them being generally curious about it, that has led to some interesting discussions. One major point that seems especially baffling and inexplicable to WoW players, is the friendliness and casual attitude in FFXIV and especially its pugs. This is one of the biggest differences between the two MMOs and has been for a long time. Nobody really seems to be able to explain why.

Apples and Oranges?

My few ventures back into the WoW 5man pugging scene have been almost absurd. All of the groups were radio silent for starters. When I joined a party and tried to get a grasp of a new dungeon, half the group had already sped on to boss number one. Generally, the tank didn’t seem to give a crap if the healer kept up and boss rooms just lock you out these days if you’re late. To my big chagrin, skipping as much as possible within the dungeons has also become common place which leads to frustrating scenarios for newcomers. Again, nobody cares about that. It’s what’s made me quit GW2 back in the days and it’s equally bad design in WoW.

The difference to FFXIV pugging could not be more pronounced, as my screenshots above illustrate. These are not my ‘top screenshots’ by any means, they are in fact just screenshots of the pugs I did last night. It is common place for people to greet each other, tell if the dungeon is new to them, ask the healer if big pulls are okay, end runs with a GG or cheers. As a healer, I’ve literally been in groups where the tank apologized to me when someone died. This has been my FFXIV experience for over 6 years. To date, I have pugged hundreds of dungeons and had maybe three unfriendly pug experiences that I can remember.

So why is there such a huge difference between WoW’s and FFXIV’s community? On the surface, both games have the same approach to pugging, with dungeon finders, ilvl-requirements and cross-server grouping. So it cannot be explained by these game mechanics. Personally, I believe it’s many design factors, some more subtle than others, that directly and indirectly turn FFXIV into the friendlier environment.

My Theory(-ies) on FFXIV

The daily pugging system in FFXIV is the heartbeat of many players’ every day routine. Running dungeon roulettes for marks always awards the latest token armor currencies (which ranks between normal raid gear and savage raid gear) and serves as a fantastic counter to content decay. There is none in FFXIV; the majority of dungeons, trials and raids get run every single day by thousands of players. This ensures new players can get through the main storyline of the game, while providing everyone else with rewards as well as varied locations. Needless to say, the routine factor makes people pretty laidback about pugging and most players are familiar with all the dungeons in the game. Dungeon design is mostly straightforward and linear, so there’s not much to skip along the way and they generally take no more than 15 minutes.

Among the things that FFXIV excels at, playstyle variety and social engineering are center. There are numerous non-combat activities as well as vast solo play content that attract a very wide spectrum of players. No matter your preference or age, FFXIV offers plenty of options for you to pursue activities and get great rewards. For this reason, the community feels very broad to begin with and endgame feels flat. Newcomers have various ways to get into the game with combat tutorials, mentoring systems and NPC parties to get them started if they so desire. New players are marked with the sapling icon and dungeon runs award player recommendations for friendly or helpful behavior. Wherever the l33t competitive players are in FFXIV, they make a tiny percentage and keep to their dedicated static groups for ultimate content.

Speaking of the l33t kids, Square-Enix does not officially allow DPS meters in FFXIV. I have never once encountered anyone talking about DPS or spamming numbers in any type of public chat, as it risks getting reported. While DPS mods exist and are quietly tolerated, players don’t talk about them publicly and keep them inside their dedicated FC and static groups. Which is exactly where meters belong! The same goes for achievements which are not a relevant thing in FFXIV. Nobody inspects you to decide whether they’ll have a good pug with you or not.

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Interview with Yoshi-P @ Destructoid

Last but far from least, FFXIV is a Japanese title with a Japanese dev team. This cannot be discounted by any means and gets very visible in the great three-part A Realm Reborn documentary on the rebirth and re-design of the game. Yoshi-P and his dev team approached FFXIV with a certain ethos and cultural background that values social conduct and boosts certain behaviors in the game as well as shaping communication. Overall, this dev team still feels very committed and emotionally invested in the game whereas WoW is long past its prime and A- and B-Teams. My heart legit broke into pieces watching parts of this last FF Fan Fest.

Your mileage may vary

It’s a mixture of things that make MMOs enjoyable to us. When it comes to providing ample opportunities for casual and fun content as well as accessible dungeons, FFXIV hits the sweet spot for me. When I log into the game and sign up for a couple of roulettes, I am guaranteed to wind down and enjoy myself after a long day of work 99% of the time, rather than being wound up and frustrated by a stressful group or toxic player. The game won’t force me to join elite content for great rewards and there’s no ramp-up of systems with unlocks and pre-requisites that push me into one linear grind. If you don’t feel like running dungeons, there’s plenty of other things to do and the game is good at catching you up between content and armor tiers. While it’s far from perfect in all respects and I’ve had my gripes with it in the past, I guess it’s safe to say I won’t be converted away from FFXIV any time soon.

Monday Update

It’s been a rough past four weeks. The end of April our landlord sent us a brief notice that we are to be thrown out of our house by the end of August. This after only having rented it for 1.5 years and having been told upfront that it was to be a longterm contract with the possibility of purchase later on. It was our absolute dream location and we put so much love and effort (and cash) into the house and garden since. It’s been an emotional roller coaster to say the least and so I didn’t feel much like blogging. We’re now buried in admin work and legal counsel to get an extension on our notice while we attempt to find a new home. The Swiss housing market is very tough but we’ve finally decided that our renting days are over. No more of this crap.

The day we got the letter from the landlord was also my day of the first Covid shot. That one went through without issue and only minor symptoms. My second date is this Thursday and I’m hoping for the same scenario. We’ve debated a long time over the vaccination but if there is to be any normalcy again in our lives any time soon, it can’t be avoided. The government is on its way to create a Covid-ID which will become necessary for travel and certain activities. I am personally not worried about the shot per se and I don’t believe in all the conspiracy theories around it, however it would be nice to know how well it really protects the people around you and for how long it will last before we have to get it again.

New BRD set

Gaming updates

I’ve had little time for gaming other than keeping up with FFXIV. The latest Nier raid is more of the same and another example of what I have come to dislike about FFXIV’s advanced endgame content. Learning 20487367263 mechanics and watching videos for every other boss fight is not my thing. The fights are gimmicky and it appears that the devs take keen pleasure in introducing more and more cerebral challenges on top of the usual telegraph disco. No, I do not want to learn this color pattern by heart so I can remember it three turns later, depending on whether the boss winks once or twice! Sometimes less is more. I think am taking a break from the game until Endwalker hits.

Other than this, my old WoW buddies have taken another stab at poaching me for Shadowlands. I’ve no intention on returning to WoW and it’s also bad timing…..but the chats we’re having are a lot of fun and the pull of nostalgia is always there when talking to old guild mates. I guess we’ll see.

Musings on Gaming History and MMOnogamy

A meme making the rounds on twitter has landed on my timeline this weekend that got me thinking about how I play games these days. I don’t know the ‘original meme’ but clearly another FFXIV player put his spin on it which elicited some grins and snorts in consecutive FFXIV sub-tweets:

I remember my early gaming days in the 80ies and later 90ies were all about waiting patiently on new releases, saving up money for the next great title the gaming mags had previously told us about. After my initiation to gaming on the Intellivision and Atari ST, I saved up birthday and Christmas money to buy myself (and my instigating sibling) the NES. We only owned a handful of games on it, obligatory Mario and Zelda among them. At school there was another kid lending me Probotector (Contra) which was a high point as far as shooters went.

Then the SNES landed on the European market in 1992 and with it the golden age of JRPGs and bright colors was upon us. Modules were eye-wateringly expensive with 120-140 bucks per game. Still over time, we managed to play almost everything of name and rank of the era which continued to top itself year after year. The PSone was released not long after and there have never been better times for classic RPG fans since. Not on consoles, anyway!

The turn of the century

Playing many different games on different consoles became my norm until the 2000s. It’s quite a thing that: being born into a time where you get to witness the turn of a millennium and with it the crazy leaps in technological advancement that we’ve seen since the commercialization of the internet. I started university in 2001 and got my first own PC with a 32-kbit modem (and later 56-kbit wahey). The old dialing tone is the stuff of legend now. I created my first blog on blogspot that same year to keep in touch with friends and family while living near campus. Chatting on ICQ was all wild and new and then Square, motherload of all that had been great and mighty in the 90ies, finally announced FFXI coming to PC in 2002. That’s when my gaming career took a sharp turn towards MMORPGs.

FFXI Syl

My final console was the Gamecube. I remember boxing and re-selling it in 2004, after World of Warcraft had taken the world by storm. That’s when an intense period of MMO monogamy began for me that lasted well into 2010 and the beginning of Cataclysm. I did not purchase a single new game for years, that’s how busy WoW kept me. However like so many, I became an MMO vagabond after that, looking for a new home in GW2, AoC, Rift, Lotro and Wildstar to name a few. What had seemed inconceivable for a long time, playing several MMOs at once, became my new reality if not necessarily a satisfactory one.

I also opened a Steam account in 2011, diving into the new and comfortable world of digital cross-platform gaming. You can say about Steam what you like, it re-introduced me to variety gaming and the colorful world of indie titles the way no other platform could have done at the time. My first titles according to the purchase history were Bastion, Red Orchestra 2, Skyrim, Dear Esther and Lotro.

GW2 Syl

Since then, multi-gaming and online co-op has been my world. What established itself too is an ever increasing backlog of titles I’ve yet to finish or play – what a difference 10 years can make! Games have become a cheap, accessible and plentiful commodity, with all the up and downsides that come with that. What was once a highly restrictive setting due to access and cost considerations is now a challenging selective process due to sheer abundance of releases, special offers and sales. I believe there’s a misconception that the quality of games has gone down with the increased quantity; gaming is as fantastic as ever. Sure, many half-baked games make it to market that probably shouldn’t, yet that’s an issue of quality control and selection rather than a statement on what modern games can achieve.

On MMOnogamy

My MMO drifting years came to a slow end with A Realm Reborn in 2015. According to the Mogstation, I have been actively subscribed for a total of 1410 days since, so I’ve taken a few breaks in between. FFXIV was always on my radar but after the initial disaster, there was a long deliberation period before giving the title a second chance. I am glad that I did – FFXIV has improved tenfold in the meantime and is now, together with WoW, the most solid and content-rich themepark MMORPG out there on the international market.

FFXIV Syl

I’ve kept up with its content over the years and it’s safe to say there’s never been a greater expansion than current Shadowbringers which saw the game soar to new heights with over 20 million registered users. I missed the bus blogging about this between 2019 and 2020 but the noise out there was hard to miss. Shadowbringers will be a tough act to follow for Endwalker but I’m not worried. Safely remaining in Yoshi-P’s hands, FFXIV will continue to offer MMO players a stable online home long into the future. It has found its rhythm and way of doing things and the formula works.

It’s nice to have a steady MMORPG to return to and see the world and your character grow with it. Even if I’m always up for trying new promising titles, and they are now far and few between, I am an MMO monogamist at heart. I like to know where to turn to in the evening after a long day at work. I like walking familiar streets, watching familiar sites. There’s a sense of belonging to an MMO world once you become a more seasoned player that is just very nice and comforting to me, like a warm blanket to the soul. Experience has taught us that nothing lasts forever but until that time, I’m along for the ride.

Valheim Boss Report: Moder

After hitting full sets of silver, me and the better half decided it was time to visit the mother of dragons. Or at least I thought I had a full set, only later did I realize my pants were still of the iron persuasion. Nevermind all that, Moder is not a particularly physical fight in Valheim so it doesn’t matter much if you’re in silver or not!

I’ll preface this entry by stating my mild disappointment with the Moder fight which is a bit sad for a dragon fan. It felt anticlimactic, the worst being the preparations preceding it. We took maybe 2.5 hours from start to finish, with the final 10 minutes on the actual boss kill. The journey there was tedious and clearing the area wasn’t fun. At all.

Prepwork Shlepwork

The boss prep in Valheim is always the same: once you have a marker, you max out the current level of gear and ready recommended weapons and potions. For Moder that means stronger arrows than usual, or if we were to believe internet guides, LOTS and LOTS of obsidian and poison arrows!! One person went as far as saying they required 800 arrows on the fight which, if true, is testimony to their failure as an archer. Bonemass was already a lot easier than many reports claimed and well, Moder is another three steps down from there.

Anyway, we figured the boss being airborne, arrows made sense. We also brought a couple of medium healing meads along in case dragon guano hit the fan. Then our never-ending sea voyage began…It must have been over an hour until we finally landed on shore and built our small base at the foot of the mountain. It’s obviously random where the bosses are located, Moder was far off to the east for us with no previously discovered route.

Moder location

Base, beds and portal built, we slept over night and started our climb in the morning. We settled on carrying a dragon egg each, relying on finding a third one on our way up. This at least went smoothly with a dragon nest sitting right beside Moder’s summoning circle, as if to say “in case you forgot one!”. That’s when we started to clear a large perimeter around the boss, as you usually do.

Naturally the area was a golem-infested suck fest. Two of them appeared right away, another one following soon after with blue drakes bombarding us (and them) from above. The flying pests fell quickly to obsidian arrows, the golems however I still deeply detest! Pick-axing them around uneven terrain is annoying as hell, so we took quite some time killing everything off to be on the safe side. That’s when a fourth golem spawned, at which point the weather had turned so abominably there was no way we would summon Moder into that dark blizzard.

Valheim blizzard

Waiting out the weather, night settled in. I started getting a bit cranky as I was already running out of food and our 24-minute rested buff (which we had gotten through the portal just before journeying up) was gone too. Might as well build another make-shift hut with a fireplace now that we were already stuck. Another 10 minutes or so later, which felt more like 30 minutes, we finally got to summon the boss.

Defeating Moder

The dragon appeared with a bang, looking much cuddlier than I expected. In fact I was reminded of the Dragonheart movie where Draco is too goofy to be taken seriously. Moder doesn’t look very ferocious but she has a large health pool and bad breath. We dodged her aerial attacks easily, shooting arrows and awaiting the landing phase. The fight has no particular rush to it – Moder flies, Moder lands, and if you just stay at max range nothing will hit you at all.

Valheim Moder fight

Naturally we did get too close a couple of times, kiting the dragon for a bit while also trying to get a couple of sword strikes in. Same as in the previous bossfight, Moder takes a lot more damage from the right melee weapons but it’s also the riskier tactic. It took us maybe 10 minutes and 200 arrows altogether to kill her.

She drops a very nice trophy, the nicest thus far, so I’m thinking of going back sometime for another one. The dragon tear unlocks the next tier of crafting stations, tuned towards the Plains biome. Best of all, Moder’s buff is the seafarer’s boon, so my thalassophile partner was very happy to unlock that one.

Valheim Moder trophy

I have mixed feelings about Valheim’s fourth boss. I think the unexpectedly long and tedious prologue soured me to the experience. That is the other side of the coin of randomness: sometimes everything clicks and feels smooth and epic, sometimes not so much. I’m okay with that as it’s the price you pay for more unique gaming experiences.

I don’t want to put Moder down too much, either – it’s not a bad fight. It probably echoes my overall mountain impressions which leave room for improvement. I do want to give the dev team props for making each boss fight feel truly unique in Valheim at least. There’s been no repetitions or stupid lazy fights the way you have them in other MMOs where it barely registers that you just killed a special opponent. And again, that dragon trophy is damn fine!

Now I look forward to reading how fellow Valheim adventurers Wilhelm and Bhagpuss were faring on this one, it must be any minute now!

Valheim Mountain Report

Valheim’s mountains are probably the best realization of the theme I have ever seen in a game, period. I live next to some of the most famous mountains on earth, so I think I should know. The entire biome IS basically one big climb between different levels of high altitude with peaks in between. The terrain is often treacherous and descent can be tricky. Some parts are so steep you literally feel like a mountain climber, hopping from ledge to ledge with stamina breaks in between. Then there’s the weather, the fantastic snow storms and high fog that blind you. And the beautiful light around the campfire at night.

Valheim mountain side

The mountains are deadly at first until you get that wolf cape sorted and don’t have to rely on frost resistance potions. The golems hit very hard and the fenrings make your blood freeze when first you face them. But everything gets much easier once you’ve tracked down that elusive silver for better gear.

Valheim mountain snow

Silver is very hard and heavy to transport which was annoying until we figured out this neat trick: pack your bags as full as you can and just relog to another seed where your character has logged out in a safe hub standing besides a couple of chests. Unload there and return to raiding the mountain. Rinse and repeat. Once you feel you’ve collected enough resources, get home to your main base where your storage and smelter stand. Do the relog game one more time and transfer the silver from chest to chest. May feel a little cheaty but not really. Traveling between worlds is an intentional Valheim feature.

Valheim mountain campfire

If I have one complaint it’s that the mountains, unlike the previous biomes, don’t really feel like a full zone. Going there feels like a trip with the primary purpose of finding silver. Maybe it’s the whole climbing aspect and the lack of crypt-like content that shortens the experience somewhat. That’s not to say that the design and atmosphere aren’t great but there’s not much else to explore after you find Moder’s marker which is the stage we’re at now. I’ve not read much about Valheim’s fourth boss but I look forward to a fun dragon fight!

Fishing in Valheim

Fishing is Valheim is rather fun. I am not usually a piscator in MMOs but basking in the morning sun at the shore of our home base is one of the most pleasant, relaxing things to do in the game. The large fishing pole looks great and feels like a proper mechanical tool rather than the cosmetic item it often is in other games. Fishing is also easy and cooked fish makes for solid health and stamina food early in the game. I hear you can make fish wraps later on too but our progress is nowhere near farming barley just yet.

Valheim fishing

How to catch a lot of fish

Once I learned that fishing was a) all about stamina and b) about catching physically visible fish in Valheim, my hauls have improved in efficiency. I usually pick a spot at the shore that is busy with different fish and cast my pole in the same spot until it’s more or less empty, varying slightly with throwing angles and line distance. Reeling them in is simple as long as you ensure your stamina pool is reasonably high (I fish with a pool of 100-120hp to be on the safe side). I don’t reel in my fish in one go but long-press the right mouse-button several times in a steady rhythm which feels better to me personally.

After getting the basics down, I started upping my fishing game a little. I discovered there’s no need to fully reel in a fish as you can already target and store it with ‘E’ when it’s still 3-4 meters away. This makes the process faster and requires less stamina which can be helpful when you find yourself running short. I’ve never lost a fish, not sure if it’s even a thing or not as long as your stamina holds.

Then there’s of course the 2-star fish which yield 4x meat when you catch them. The large silver tuna are easily spotted in the water and swim much faster than other fish. They also seem to enjoy company, at least I often seem to catch 3-4 in a row which can lead to a stack per 5 minutes easily.

Another thing that happens quite often is the double catch: this seems weird to me but occurs frequently when I catch fish at the shore. The moment I reel in my catch, a second fish starts pursuing it. It will swim halfway up the slope at my feet before I store the hooked fish, so it’s possible to make a double catch by pressing ‘E’ twice in a row (the second time targeting the fish at my feet). Am not sure if these suicidal fish are meant to behave this way but as long as you’re standing close to the water line, you can benefit from crazy fish sacrifice.

Fishing improvements

Right now fishing is a cheap source of food in Valheim once you acquire the fishing rod at the trader and have cleared plenty of crypts for coin. Coin soon becomes abundant, so 10 gold for a stack of 50x bait is fair. What I’d like to see is more applications for fish as in more recipes. Another cool addition would be ocean fishing, with further type of fish added to the game. Checking the roadmap ahead, especially the ‘Hearth and Homes’ as well as ‘Ships and Sea’ announcements, that seems likely to be in the books.

Valheim Boss Report: Bonemass

So yesterday I mentioned we were slowly moving towards Valheim’s third, notorious boss encounter. Bhagpuss has a funny post up about getting ready for Bonemass, including a meticulous list of fool-proof preparations. He does not like enforced boss encounters very much in MMOs. After sharing it with my better half, I had this spontaneous idea of giving the boss a go last night, now that we have some level 2 iron gear and weapons. Am kinda getting tired of the swamp.

I don’t use blunt weapons in Valheim, so crafting frost arrows was a great tip for me. I spent an hour on mats for 200 arrows and went to build a base with a portal next to Bonemass’ location which is on another continent from our base. Turns out the boss was awfully placed too, in the middle of a large pool of water right next to a Plains biome with a goblin town at the border. Doing recon on Bonemass, I had both a Fuling soldier as well as one of their large commanders aggroing on me several times while trying to clear the swamp of other nuisances. Fun times!

Valheim Bonemass

Next, I built the much suggested mini-tower up one of the trees close to Bonemass’ summoning skull. I hadn’t heard anyone mentioning stone or anything fancy, so I went with several ladders leading up to a shooting platform way above the boss. As far as on site prep went, that seemed to be all that’s required. Thus armed with frost arrows and a few poison resistance potions, what could possibly go wrong?

We came, we saw, we yoloed

The pretty platform tower held exactly ten seconds after spawning Bonemass. As the three heroes fell through the bursting tree and ladders, chaos and hilarity ensued. The boss moved up on our friend who died instantly after also taking the fall damage from before. We spread out desperately trying to heal up while shooting arrows, realizing Bonemass had a lot of health and the shared frost arrows weren’t going to be nearly enough. Then the adds came.

When the second party member died, I decided to pull back and reset but resetting wasn’t an option. Bonemass kept pursuing me, never resetting his HP bar or despawning. While kiting, both of my party members managed their corpseruns and rejoined the action – that’s when we knew, we were going to show this sucker!

Bonemass Trophy

Sharing aggro between the three of us and kiting the boss around, the fight quickly became easy. Bonemass isn’t particularly fast and as long as you avoid the puke of doom, you can handle both him and the adds fine while minding your potion ticker. We also learned that the blunt weapons do considerably more damage than frost arrows, so we combined both, slowly wearing the boss down. For a small party of three, this certainly seems to be a feasible tactic.

Bonemass succumbed with a shudder and a moan after approximately 20 minutes. It’s been the greatest fun and laugh we’ve had together in a game in a long time! Mountain biome here we come – be very afraid!

Valheim Progress and Multiplay

Valheim has been pretty much all we’ve been playing in this household for the past two weeks and the home base is coming along nicely. We created a harbor base for all the ships and my personal forest cabin has seen the addition of a proper smithy the moment we discovered stone building. Progressing slowly through the swamp biome now, the game is just becoming better and deeper which I did not expect as much. I am still finding out new things about this world and I love how the developers have snuck in little secrets and surprises that keep coming at us. Just to name a few without giving away too much: Thor, Odin, that turtle!

The progress towards Bonemass has been slow which is how I like it. I’ve only just acquired some iron gear and weapons and the tradeoff towards weight is noticeable. That’s when Haldor’s belt really comes in handy and I’m also frequently wearing the trader’s headlamp which has saved my ass many times at night. Speaking of trader items, fishing has been fun too once I figured out I really needed to go where the fish are visibly plentiful because you only catch what’s physically there. That’s rather cool, I don’ think I’ve ever played an MMO where you actually see the fish you’re catching?

Once Bonemass is down we’ll make our way to the mountains. I really look forward to the snowy biome but I’m reluctant to invite even harder events to our base. Once a new boss is down you get visits of waves from the upper next biome it appears, so our defenses better be ready!

Multiplay lag issues

There have now been up to 5 players simultaneously playing and building on the dedicated server we use. The lag has increased considerably ever since the fourth person built a mini base and it’s worst when everyone is online at once. There are times when you cannot even open doors and gates and the birds are immobilized figurines in the sky. The lag spikes even happen when we’re far apart venturing on the world map somewhere, so we’ve looked into solutions which don’t yet exist. The game isn’t optimized yet, it’s early access after all.

As a consequence, we’re keeping things small from now on and going easy on the decoration and light sources especially. It’s tempting to have torches and campfires everywhere for atmosphere but it seriously impinges on server performance. I’ve seen many reddit threads complaining about lag in multiplayer so we just have to wait it out for now, I guess.

Following the updates of the official Valheim twitter account, it also appears that we will have to re-start on a fresh server for future biome additions (while keeping your current world with less biomes). So there might be a time when we’re rebuilding from scratch anyway which will be an opportunity to plan and spread out things a bit better. First time bases are always fun but much improvement is made the second and third time, or so it has been in similar games for me before. Having a lot of fun with Valheim and the building tools right now, I don’t see this becoming an issue any time soon.

Valheim is good

Valheim by unknown Swedish developer Iron Gate Studio has landed on the ‘open world sandbox builder’ scene with a bang and while it’s still in early access, more and more MMO bloggers have started writing about the title. I had no intention on getting this game – first and foremost because it’s early access and I’ve been burnt by titles like ARK and many of its kind before. Sandbox builders / survival / crafting games are a generic dime a dozen and I’ve completely shut off to new releases appearing on my Steam queue. So when bloggers like Bhagpuss began posting more and more reviews with some praise recently, I stayed skeptical despite knowing myself to be closely aligned with Bhag’s idea of exploration greatness.

Then there were also the absolutely hideous character models and character animations, which I couldn’t stand watching Valheim footage. Your character’s walking and running animation is the single most important animation in the entire game; there is nothing you watch more than this one. Uhhh.

So, why would I possibly end up playing Valheim, anyway? Well, for one I was gifted the title because I kept refusing to buy it (the peer pressure was great with this one). From there, it didn’t take long however for me to enjoy myself to the point of clocking in at 35 hours of playtime and looking forward to seeing a lot more. I obviously owe it to the game now to leave my much improved impressions, so here we go!

Valheim second impressions

To get straight to the point: Valheim’s world is gorgeous. I’m not talking about highend resolution here, in fact the game takes only 1GB of disk space and is doing some masterful trickery with low res textures under shrubbery, the way WoW has been doing for some years. Where Valheim excels is how everything works together in harmony, the color changes of the light, the dramatic weather changes, the impressive water effects, the immersive sounds. In short, it’s the overall atmosphere and design of the world that is beautiful. The transition of weather and the day-night cycle are probably the best I have seen to date in comparable games while never putting a strain on my average PC setup. When there is a wall of fog coming up in Valheim, it’s actually FOG and navigating becomes hard and scary (especially at night on sea).

The world map is huge and procedurally generated like in Minecraft but there’s ways to pick particular seeds if you’re looking for that sort of optimization. There is also the handy fact that in Valheim, your character is not world-bound; this means you can always go visit another seed or find resources there and then carry them back to your home world. This is just one of the many things this developer is doing right. Playing together, my partner and I kept commenting on how this studio is clearly made up of actual gamers; many mechanics and details are just done right here that tend to be grating in big money titles. That’s not to say that Valheim doesn’t require further polish, it does – but much of the important ground work is done and bugs are absolutely minor.

Valheim’s exploration is very rewarding. I am obviously biased because I am an explorer at heart and can spend hours just walking through beautiful forest scenery and watch the sunlight change through the trees. If that is your thing, look no further than Valheim! Still, exploration has much more to offer already at this early stage of the game. Quite often you will find abandoned farms or small enemy footholds which can hold particular crafting materials and can be marked down on your map. Many small dungeons and caves can be found from the second biome onward. There’s a few rarer, stronger enemies too as well as a questline that leads to named bosses in linear progression. Fairly early into the game, you can sail a boat anywhere you like, ever so slowly on that vast world map. Fair warning though: stuff is going to kill you dead fast!

Generally, there is a slower pace in Valheim that feels just right. Progressing to the challenges of the second biome (where I am still at) takes time, wandering off where you should not is punishing. The boat takes ages to get anywhere which makes it all the more rewarding when you find a place of interest. Upgrading your gear isn’t quick and some gathering resources, such as certain minerals or portal components, are rare and do not respawn. At the same time, the game handles sustenance in a manner that isn’t overwhelming: plain food is easily gathered and needs to be mixed up for best effect.

Crafting is of course its own chapter in Valheim. Learning new recipes happens by discovering new materials. Generally, everything is learning by doing in this game which goes for all your skills. Progressing the crafting stations with various cosmetic enhancements is rather fun and despite the limited set of building tools and components right now, players are already creating the most amazing Viking structures and forts. Trophy hunting is another great thing that goes with the theme and adorns many a cabin or mead hall. Since this topic is always big with players, the next Hearth and Homes update is already set to deal with home improvements. I would love to see livestock added to the game too, such as chicken, sheep or pigs. Right now, my chicken pen looks rather sad and lonely!

That leaves the topic of combat, as far as beginner reviews go. Even in this department, I have no complaints for now. So many early access games fail in this regard but Valheim’s combat feels good and varied, with noticeable differences between weapons and a distinct learning curve for each (bows for example depend on factors like wind, direction etc.). What I appreciate especially is enemy AI which can be very clever with types of mobs engaging in different ways. Packs of strafing Greydwarves attacking you from all sides can be a pest and wild boars charging and then chasing off again is challenging when you’re trying to skill up archery. Hilarious moments are guaranteed.

And that’s it for now, my Valheim early access review! I will definitely keep playing and look forward to additional content and progressing to the next two biomes that are currently in the game. Iron Gate Studio have started off really well, fingers crossed their quick and early success will not prove overwhelming and detrimental in the longer run.