A lot of the time when checking out an early access game, you tend to tread very carefully, and every now and then you find that rare gem that feels polished, and makes you say, “Hey! This game is pretty good, can’t wait to see what it holds in the future!”.
For me, Valheim, developed by Iron Gate and published by Coffee Stain, is that game. So I thought to myself, “Hey I’ve been enjoying this game quite a lot over the past few weeks, maybe I should review it.”. I’m not only one that has been enjoying it either.
Valheim has currently over five-million players within its first four weeks, and has amassed the legendary review status, “Overwhelmingly Positive” on Steam, which is no small feat for an indie game in early access. With that said, lets get right into the review.
The story in Valheim is short and sweet, and follows your character. You were a warrior in Midgard, also known as Earth, for those who aren’t well-versed in Norse mythology. You fall in battle, and normally what that means is that you will be taken by the Valkyries to Valhalla, to dine and drink with the gods.
However, the Valkyries have ferried your soul to the tenth Norse world as a custodian, where you must adventure to the ends of the realm, from the deepest forest to the highest mountain peak, slaying beasts feared by Odin himself. You must craft powerful weapons, build fortresses and sail long ships towards the horizon to prove yourself to the Allfather.
The rest of the story is up for you and maybe a group of friends for you to forge, as you traverse vast fields and deep unforgiving oceans, dark haunted forests and freezing cold mountains. The rest of your story is in your hands as you forge ahead in this new land.
I absolutely love this games gameplay. First of all, this game is marketed as a brutal exploration and survival game for 1-10 players, and I can say the only thing that was 100% expected was the fact you can play with up to 10 players in the game, which is really fun.
On top of that, the worlds in Valheim are procedurally generated. Much like games such as Minecraft, every world that you make is seeded, meaning if you like the world, you can save the seed and play on it again if you ever so desire.
What I didn’t expect was beneath all the well crafted survival elements that the game offers, is a pretty well-rounded RPG game with survival elements. I was pleasantly surprised when the game didn’t play like every other survivalcraft on the market.
Instead it is, as I said, an RPG game with survival elements, where as you might log in and expect it to play more like ARK, The Forest, or even Green Death, you get a game that plays more akin to Elder Scrolls. The survival elements take a back seat in this title and I think its better off for it.
The game lulls you into this false sense of familiarity. You load up a world, and the first thing you do is punch some trees, gather resources and craft items. Little do you know you are preparing to find Eikthyr, known as Eikþyrnir in norse mythology, and take him down in the name of Allfather Odin.
You soon understand you are in for a more involved experience than you bargained for with the title. There are still four more bosses to hunt down and slay, all having their own mechanics and weaknesses, and with every boss you kill, the more resources you will be able to gather.
Another thing I didn’t expect was to not have to abide by a hunger and thirst system, which sometimes can be the bane of my existence, as I get hyper focused and forget to feed myself. Food serves a completely different purpose than you would expect.
Where as most survival games would use food to keep you from getting hungry, and by proxy starving to death, in Valheim you eat food to increase your health points and stamina for a temporary amount of time, which helps with tough situations and boss fights.
It’s also not just the same kinds of food over and over. You can choose to use base ingredients, but over time you have the option to make dishes which can really buff your health and stamina, and mead which gives you buffs such as poison or frost resistance.
As said before, the survival elements take a back seat in this title, and take more of a form in the crafting side, where it’s crafting tools, erecting castles, crafting stations, and defences. The place you choose to make your base is important, as its where you do everything before setting off on an adventure.
You must build defences for your base, as not only can you raid enemies lairs, but the enemies and monsters can raid your base. Unfortunately, strength of arms does not guarantee your victory, but if you have an impenetrable fortress, you will come out on top.
You don’t only have to have one base either, you can build as much as you want, be it in the meadows, the Black Forest, the mountains, wherever. As long as you have the resources you can do whatever you want, and build portals to cut travel time in-between bases to nothing.
Sailing across the vast seas in Valheim is without a doubt my favourite part of the game. There is so little that goes into it, but a lot at the same time. Sailing in Valheim, aside from walking/running, is your most used form of travel across the realm.
You start off on your starting island, but beyond your little part of the realm, there is several dozens of other landmasses full of new places to explore, take over, and make your home. Each land you come upon is different, with neither ever being the same as the other.
Aside from the thrill of discovery that you will have while sailing, you’ll just enjoy the act of sailing around. You have to make sure the wind is at your back for your sail to catch it, and sometimes even when its storming the large waves can damage your boat from hitting it too hard.
On top of that, be careful about sailing at night, or during storms, because there will always be a chance that you will be stalked and attacked by fierce and dangerous sea serpents that can destroy your boat, or just destroy you. If you manage to kill it, the reward of meat and possibly scales is worth it in the end.
The graphics are something that I have seen be a topic of discussion, with people either loving or hating them. Such criticisms as saying the graphics look bad because of the pixelization of textures, which I obviously don’t agree with to any extent.
I personally think that the graphics, textures, and art style that Iron Gate has chosen for the game is a fantastic choice. They made the game more akin to games you would see on the PlayStation 1, and mixed the title with filters that you would see in modern PC games.
So while the textures may look dated, they are still done in a way to make the games art style look nice and flashy, while using the modern filters in the game to add a nice contrast to the textures and geometry. In the end it all pays off, as there’s no game that I could compare it to, as there really is none that looks quite like it.
With that said, I can understand why people can have a hard time liking the graphics, because as with every piece of art, art is truly in the eye of the beholder. Not everyone will be a fan of the stylized graphics that Valheim was given.
Music & Audio
What can I say about the soundtrack other than it is simply brilliant. Iron Gate has a masterfully crafted a soundtrack that explodes with feeling and power, perfectly matching the Norse Viking aesthetic that the game is going for. Every biome has its own track, from the cheery and happy sounding Meadows, to the haunting sounding Swamp.
Everything in the game has a good sound effect, and the monsters have audio queues that allows you to know when they are near. From a small boar, to a giant dangerous troll you are able to know what is coming before you are able to make eye contact with it.
The story of the game is short and sweet, and is only there in the beginning. It leaves you and your friends to fill in the gaps with your feats and adventures. It pays good homage to Norse mythology, and uses it to its best abilities to give the game a nice flavour.
The gameplay is well thought out, and while being labelled as a survivalcraft game, it is very much so an RPG. The bosses you fight, the world you explore, the items you craft, and the buildings you erect are all done masterfully, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Graphics are absolutely stylish and stunning. The mix of older art styles and modern PC effects such as motion blur, SSAO and chromatic aberration provides a truly unique graphical experience that you can’t get in any other game.
The music and audio are extremely well made, and fit the theme that the game is going for. I find myself slowing down and just listening to the music at times, taking in every note and resonating with it. I couldn’t see any other music or sounds in the soundtracks place.
Valheim is an epic and brutal survival game that is available as for $19.99 on PC through Steam. The screenshots used in this review were taken on PC via Steam with a total of 170.8 hours of game-time.
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