I'll be honest, survival isn't my favorite genre by any means. I can appreciate the gameplay behind Minecraft, The Forest, and The Long Dark, but these games just don't click with me as it does for others. But, when I saw that Valheim had Vikings, a Norse mythology setting, low-poly graphics, and fantasy elements, I knew this was all stuff I enjoyed. Look, Valheim hasn't quite captivated me yet, but it is easily one of the most polished, competent titles in Early Access to date.
Surviving in the World of Valheim
Before you begin your adventure in Valheim, you can grab a couple of friends—or just yourself—and create your own Viking. The character creator is very simple, but it offers a decent amount of hair and beard styles. Given the number of options, and further, combine this with the option to adjust hai color, and you can make quite a unique Viking. Customization of your own character means nothing in the long run, but I always appreciate the implementation in any game I play.
After creating your character, you're thrust into a procedurally generated world that has a visual style that might be jarring for some. Valheim is both a game that looks old, yet modern. The low-poly style of textures might turn players off since it has an antiquated look, but I find it quite charming and unique. If you look off into the distance, past the trees and meadows in your new world, there's plenty of wonderful sights to gawk at. The sunshafts and faraway look of the terrain is a wonderful sight and adds a touch of life to the world. Indeed, Valheim is a beautiful game.
Beginning my adventure, I was met by a crow that gave me instructions. You'll learn some of the basics of survival from this crow, as it appears when you accomplish certain objectives it lays out. This acts as a tutorial of sorts and guides the player in the beginning hours of Valheim. For now, following said instructions seems optional for players and you can progress as you see fit.
The survival mechanics in Valheim are simple. There's hunger, health, and sometimes you can get cold or tired. To survive, you can simply cook food and eat any berries you forage, create a shelter, and get to crafting. There doesn't seem to be anything particularly original about the survival mechanics thus far, although the most impressive aspect of Valheim was its building mechanics. Like other survival games, Valheim allows for players to create buildings. The process is seamless and allows you to snap pieces of wood together to make your own dwelling (or later on, fortress).
With a myriad of building pieces to choose from in order to craft buildings, it's about as simple as it gets.
All seems well so far, but Valheim still doesn't capture me as much as I hoped it would. Take crafting, for example, you require materials in order to create an item. Said materials might be leather from boar or deer skin from the deer roaming around the area. The process of scavenging for this material—particularly the skin and leather I mentioned—is extremely tedious. The spawns of deer and boar seemed random and exploring further in the world can be dangerous, so venturing far out looking for more isn't practical. You might only get a few of these materials each hunting trip you go on, drawing out the progression process.
It feels to me that the material cost required for early-game items is just too steep. It takes too long to create the bare essentials, like a simple set of clothes and basic weapons. The gathering aspect of survival games should require some time, but I felt like it took too much of my time to gather what I needed. Thankfully, there are plenty of trees and rocks, so at least those crafting materials are abundant.
Then there's the combat, which to me is nothing special. Combat pretty one-dimensional, with a simple attack, block, and dodge buttons. I saw some Steam reviews compare the combat to Dark Souls, but that insults FromSoftware's hit series. It's simply not that compelling. Of course, enemy designs help make combat a bit more tolerable.
I'll never forget the first time I saw a troll thumping around in the forest, with its gargantuan sweeping attacks and giant stature.
One aspect of Valheim that I really appreciate and seems innovative is character progression. Your character increases their skill levels in things such as swimming, running, and various weapon types, thus making you more efficient at living. In death, these skills remain and you don't lose experience like, say, Minecraft. Now, say for instance you want to play with a friend who is in another realm. You can transfer your character over to this realm and retain all progress. In survival games, I often feel as though I wasted my time when I die; in Valheim, at least, not all of your efforts are for naught.
I'll give it credit where credit is due: Valheim is highly polished and beautiful to look at. The mechanics are seamless and I haven't experienced a bug so far. Still, I feel like some of the gameplay is too simple or safe, and the grind to gather materials particularly in the early portion of Valheim is tedious. I do look forward to what comes next, as the developers have clearly proven they are competent and know how to create a solid survival title. Come release, perhaps this will end up being the survival game for me.
TechRaptor previewed Valheim on Steam Early Access with a copy purchased by the author. The game does not currently have a full release date.