Valheim is good. Really good. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Over 1 million copies have been bought of the early access Viking-themed survival game from Iron Gate Studio since its launch last week. After about spending the weekend and better part of this week romping through the tenth world on Yggdrassil, I can't see myself putting this down anytime soon.
As I write this, all I want to do is go back and farm more Surtling Cores, in fact.
My experience with the survival genre is a bit like an unhealthy love-hate relationship. I've been playing the genre for years, with my best friend and I running a Minecraft server for years where we just built to our hearts content. I've spent hours in ARK helping to tame giant dinosaurs while my buddy slogged at 7fps on his non-gaming laptop, besting TRex's like they were nothing.
However, there were bad moments too - putting over 100 hours into ATLAS for my review on IGN was something I try to forget daily, and will probably still be cursing on my deathbed for doing. It's the game that essentially killed my interest in the genre, one I loved and spent a lot of time with. Valheim rekindled that yearning to explore, craft and settle in a way I didn't think was possible. And the major reason is simply that it respects the users time.
Valheim has some interesting spins on the normal survival fare, such as refunding your entire build cost if you deconstruct something, or not charging materials to repair your current gear. You even get to take your progression, items and more with you should you decide to join friends on a different server than your own. These small features make Valheim easy to recommend - you don't have to worry about starting over or grinding just to repair what you used to grind materials in the first place. Valheim respects you enough to not penalize you for the grind the game forces upon its players.
Progression in Valheim is rather well paced as well, with recipes and items being gradually unveiled to you as you naturally progress through the world. Recipes are learned when you uncover an item or material in the wild. Kill a boar and get the mats and knowledge to make a bow. Take down a deer with said bow and you can start making better leather armor. Kill the first boss, and lightning summoning deer and you'll nab yourself the power to make pickaxes, and so on and so forth. It doesn't feel forced and I felt comfortably exploring and uncovering more at my own pace.
It's not just progression that feels natural, but learning about the wild idiosyncrasies of Valheim feels organic. When I built my first real structure to house myself and a few friends on the dedicated server I run, having to figure out where to place the all-important fireplace was a challenge. You need a fireplace near your bed so you're warm whilst you sleep at night, but if your structure has wooden flooring, you're gonna have a bad time.
Once I destroyed a bit of floor and raised the ground underneath it, I placed the fireplace and went about my business. However, as my home begane to fill with smoke we ahd a new problem. You see, smoke is no good for you, and you really shouldn't live with it in your home, so I ended up having to tear down a whole portion of my wall just to create a chimeny to allow the smoke to vent.
This type of organic discovery in a survival game felt so new and unique and it kept me fueled to more adventures. My buddies and I have started venturing into the various delves in the Black Forest, taking on the skeletons, Greydwarfs and avoiding the monstrous trolls that inhabit them. Along the way I've found carrot seeds I'm excited to use, as well as established three beehives to produce honey back at my main settlement. Copper and tin ore mining were next on the task list, seeing me establish a stronghold closer to the forest because that ore is way too heavy to trek miles back and forth.
And while Valheim isn't the most graphically intense game on the market, it's nonetheless beautiful to behold. It's lowfi graphics feel right out of the PS1 era, however the lighting and abosulutely breathtaking weather effects remind you that art design can make a huge impact even if the visuals aren't Cyberpunk levels. The audio cues add a lot to the experience, such as the brief sizzle to let you know your meat is done cooking before it burns and turns to coal. The soundtrack is also beautiful, with the haunting and lyrical clarinet melody washing over me every time I hear it, feeling as light as the wind around my Viking warrior.
I can't wait to explore more of the biomes and try my hand again at sailing - espeicially after my first failed incursion which saw myself stranded not anywhere near land...having to drown myself just to safely get back to where I started. Hopefully when I do I'll be much more prepared this time. Giving that Valheim is playable with up to 9 of your friends, maybe I'll have some crew members next time.
Valheim is making me remember why I loved this genre. From the satisfying crafting loop to the organic way which you can approach the experience, it's got everything I want out of a survival sim. It's not without its faults, though. I do wish I could build without having a workbench close enough, and I'd rather be able to use said workbench without making sure it was covered. The arrow drop is a bit tricky to get used to as well, and managing stamina and health is a mixed bag. But, at the end of the day I want to keep playing. A survival game that respects my time will get more of it, simply put. And for $20, it's definitely already given me my money's worth.