My thoughts on Valheim, 99.8 hours in
In a world with a growing number of survival games, this one has shot out of the gate like its…. longboat…. was on fire. And with good reason! Despite being in early access as of this review, the game FEELS better than it is. Early on I was asked by a friend to describe the graphics, because I’d been calling them “beautiful”, which they are, and the only comparison I could make was if you were playing a certain popular square-based survival and crafting game on default resources, but then threw on the fanciest most beautiful shaders. There would still be 16 pixels to a block, but they LOOK absolutely stunning. “The most high quality without actually being HD possible”.
As for the gameplay itself, it feels fairly fleshed out. You start off with a crow that teaches you some basics, drops some lore, but doesn’t explicitly walk you through like a standard tutorial. You are, quite literally, dropped into the world with no knowledge or information. Some controls are second nature for most gamers… space is jump [Yes this is important, because some games deign to CHANGE this very basic rule, and it’s weird ok], shift is sprint, left click tends to punch things. But they still change a few things to make the game feel a bit different. You still discover new buttons and exclaim “OH! Hey this button does THIS look!”, which lends an air of newness to the game that belies its fairly simple nature. You beat things up, and as you discover new things you “remember” recipes. Then it’s a new adventure of where the heck do I craft that thing? What ELSE can I discover? It gives you quests, while still allowing you free reign of the world. And what a large open world it IS waiting to be EXPLORED. Except The Plains. Just…. trust me.
Then there’s food. Survival games tend to lend more stress and longevity to the game by necessitating that you eat…. constantly… or risk dying of hunger. Sometimes thirst! And god forbid you want to run somewhere while starving if you don’t have food back at the house…. WORRY NOT. Not so in Valheim. Food is, on paper at least, wholly unnecessary! You’ll be relieved to know that all 25 HP you have by default is perfectly safe… from hunger. And the 6 or so steps you can sprint with allll that base stamina! It’ll regen. However, if you want to survive the Trolls, you need stamina to sprint. If you want to catch fish in the bay, you need stamina or they get away. If you want to mine that great boulder, really it’s a nice boulder, in the Swamp before nightfall… Yup, you’ll need stamina. And that’s where food comes in. Food will give you a temporary BOOST in stamina, health pool, and depending on the food even some other great buffs and regen speeds. All of which, when used tactically, can be extremely helpful.
Now here is my first personal downside. One, there are no chickens. I KNOW. IT’S A TRAVESTY. No easy omelettes for breakfast, no roast chicken for supper, no easy feather farm for fast fletching. But hey, you get feathers from other sources that you’ll be cutting down a lot of, so you ought to be fine. It’s still sad though.
And, despite running into abandoned villages where they have clearly displayed farm plots, farm plots that contain berry bushes, you cannot plant berries! Not any of the berries. Which is just silly, if I can figure out how to plant and grow turnips and carrots, which I can’t even see ripen realistically, surely I can handle relocating or planting a berry bush that I just water and watch grow!
And, perhaps most annoyingly, and without much reason that can be discerned, you can plant SOME trees via seed, but not ALL trees. You can plant Beech, Pine, and Fir for example. But not Birch, or Oak? And call me crazy, but again, if I can plant ANY trees, how is planting any other tree not the exact same premise? It feels weirdly and frustratingly gated without cause, and definitely detracts from the immersive experience otherwise fairly prevalent.
There are many pros and cons, but overall, overwhelmingly, I am consistently astounded by not just the game and the beauty of it, but by the community attached. It is a light-hearted, fun-loving, and hilarious community that really feels like it’s building something. Hopefully, it’s also building better structure mechanics, because the occasional frozen tree and fallen block of perfectly supported wall can be a bit frustrating when all you really want to do is live out your best viking dreams. Maybe that’s why I’m cooking up Valheim food recipes IRL now…