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.