It has been about a month since I first posted about Valheim. I hadn’t heard about it until Ula mentioned it in our Discord. Apparently it was on the front page of Steam quite prominently, but I only open up Steam when I mean to go play a specific game or check out the summer or winter sales, so that wouldn’t have caught me.
But Ula’s mention got me to take a look and, on seeing the price and overwhelming favorable reviews, I decided to give it a shot.
And now, about a month later, it is the game that eats up all my free time. So how did I get there?
I have long said that I cannot make myself play a game I don’t enjoy. Likewise, I often have to examine why a given game is suddenly my favorite to figure out why I keep playing that particular title rather than something similar. And, as I mentioned straight out of the gate, Valheim puts together elements that are very familiar from other titles. Critics of the title like to point out that there is really nothing new about the game, that you could find its features in a range of survival titles. And I agree, there is nothing new under the sun. But that goes for just about any title, so comparing features is too simplistic. Instead, it is which features in what measure that I think tips the balance for Valheim.
So, this is what I think is working in the game’s favor for me.
- Story and Sandbox Combined
Sandbox is always a dream for devs, as the right sandbox will keep players engaged and playing without the need to constantly add new content. The world cannot go unattended, but the devs won’t see the game die off if they go a couple months without a new shiny for players to chase.
But too much sandbox can be a burden in itself. The inevitable, “What do I do now?” issue. As much as I have enjoyed Minecraft in the past, I whenever I finished some goal, like a rail line many kilometers long, I would plateau and stop playing because I had to find another goal on my own.
Valheim has a set of goals, objectives the game has set for you. But they are not immediate, WoW-quest sort of goals. Valheim doesn’t have something for you to do this minute. The story has a pretty light touch on your day to day activity. It is always there, there is that henge for the heads of the bosses sitting by the world spawn point, and some clues to guide you out in the wild, but the game is in now hurry to move you along. So much of what I do is in furtherance of the over-arching tale, but I am not going down a checklist or escorting some NPC or anything like that. I am often exploring, or gathering, or building, or crafting, or cooking, or doing whatever at my own pace. There is always an outpost to be built, a base to be upgraded, and spots on the map that have yet to be uncovered. I feel like there is always something to do and often end up saying I’m going to stop at hour X, and then find myself still going well past my set end point because I kept doing just “one more thing.”
- Co-op PvE
This is a big duo for me. I have very little interest in random sandbox PvP. Even as an EVE Online player, I put my PvP efforts into group efforts that defend our space or attack some foe. Randomly ganking passers by… or, more likely in my case, being ganked by random passers by… holds no interest for me. So having a PvE sandbox was a draw.
And, of course, the co-op aspect was big too. My second post about the game was about the instance group setting up so we can play together. The shared experience in a sandbox is a big drawn for me. We all have different play schedules and some of us are on more than others, but we can all get together for big boss fights or go off on our own time to harvest materials to help build out the base or keep our food supply robust.
I probably wouldn’t be as interested in the game were it not for this option.
- Danger in the World
I don’t die a lot. I went several days without a death the past week. But I am careful in my exploration because I know I can get in over my head out in the wilds, like that time I wandered into the edge of a plains biome and got the Deathsquito surprise.
And even when you’re back in your base, danger can come find you, as Fergorin found out when he ended up having to face multiple troll attacks on our bases. You cannot just wander about the world in daylight without keeping an eye out. The game won’t let you have it all your own way. Going out to mine copper in a black forest biome always means keeping your eye open, as the sound of that pick seems to attract hostile mobs. There are few milk runs and there always seems to be a troll around the corner when you are at your most vulnerable.
- Simple Progression
I was a bit skeptical about upgrading my gear from trollhide armor, which gave me that sneak bonus, to bronze armor. I’d lose my extra sneak and get slowed down as well, all for what seemed like not much of a boost in armor protection. The upgrade values for armor or weapons are small, but they seem to add up. At one point, back in leather armor, I would run from a group of three greydwarfs. When I had bronze armor and a fully upgraded club, I would take on three but was very wary of the greydwarf brute as I wandered the black forest. And trolls were to be kited with a bow.
Now, in iron armor with an iron mace the brute no longer terrorizes me and, once I get in a couple of open shots with a bow, I can stand toe to toe with a troll and finish him off.
Likewise, the swamp was a terror on our first run, where five of us together managed to wipe twice just getting in and out of one crypt. Now I go solo into the swamp, looting crypts and hauling back iron scrap. I need to take some care. I have health and poison resist meads to hand and make sure my hit points and stamina are through food… because there is food progression too, so we’re past berries and mushrooms and onto sausages… and I know I can still get in over my head, so I watch my surroundings.
And now that we’re gearing up to iron I have started making some frost resist potions, because in the cold of the mountains you will freeze without them until you have the right gear.
Meanwhile, back at our main base in the meadows, greydwarf brutes now show up on their own, rather then the usual greylings. And then there are the raids. The game progresses its dangers as you progress you abilities.
- Light and Solid
I have run into a few bugs. Once in a while I have to restart the client because I suddenly cannot open chests or use the forge. Something has glitched and needs a refresh. Likewise, I have also seen some bugged mobs, like the invisible deer, which I could only see because it climbed out of the water and was dripping wet. But for the most part the game is solid, much more so than one might reasonably expect given some of its early access competition.
And it runs very well on my machine. It is lighter and faster than WoW Classic.
- Right Game at the Right Time
I think this might be the main reason we’re playing this now. We have, from time to time, run off to play Minecraft or some other title as a group when our current MMORPG had grown tiresome.
Valheim hit just at the right moment. Over in WoW Classic we are, as a group, level 59 and have gone through most of the five player instances. We still have some work to do, but after 18 months of being focused on old Azeroth, we were apparently ready for something a bit different. If Valheim had launched two months into WoW Classic, I doubt we would have noticed, even if the game had sold twice as many copies. There is always something popular at any given moment and I can pretty pretty oblivious to that sort of thing. Had Ula not mentioned it, I certainly would have missed it.
And, of course, the game scratches a lot of itches for us, as I have detailed above. We can play together in our own world at our own pace with something of a division of labor, dabbling in as much building, exploring, harvesting, farming, or whatever as we like, all while still working towards the next big boss.