Valheim Review

Valheim Review
Conclusion
Valheim shattered all early access game release records for good reason. Even in its incomplete state, it's one of the best games ever made, addicting players with extensive harvesting, crafting, building and exploration of a beautifully rendered procedural dangerous world, offering hundreds of hours of gaming enjoyment.
Content
10
Gameplay
10
Economy
9
Technical
10
Community
9
End Game
8
Strengths
Immersion & Environments.
Base Building & Crafting.
Exploration & Combat.
Weaknesses
Can be rough for new players.
Limits on end-game progression.
Tombstone Runs.
9.3
Final Score

Valheim Review Introduction

Valheim is a masterpiece, and possibly one of the best games ever designed. As a 30-year veteran gamer and game developer, I do not say that lightly. This work of art has changed everything for survival, exploration and building games; and it was created by a team of just 5 exceptionally talented developers over a period of just 3 years. They’ve sold more than 4 million copies in less than a month, and reached the #2 position on the most played games list on Steam, overtaking established games like DOTA 2, RUST and Team Fortress 2. And Valheim is only in early access release with an additional year of updates planned before its official launch in 2022. There was no real advertising done, and the overnight success of this game happened through word of mouth and by players keeping an eye on what was being played on Steam and broadcast on Twitch. In the end, Valheim achieved its unprecedented level of success in such a short period of time for one simple reason: the game is just that good.

Only 3 weeks after early access launch, Valheim hit the 2nd spot on the Steam Top Games list.

The design philosophy behind Valheim is work smarter, not harder. Complex procedural mathematics paired with state of the art rendering of simplified textures and models allowed the team to focus on the most important parts of the game: building mechanics, simplified yet engaging combat, balanced gameplay, balanced progression, and immersion.

Whether it’s sailing through a raging sea storm while cutting through the waves in a Karve, or chopping trees at night only to look up and find a Troll bearing down on you, Valheim has taken the genre to a whole new level and redefined what it means to immerse millions of gamers in a beautiful and invigorating world they never want to leave.

  • Developed by: Iron Gate Studios
  • Early Access Release Date: February 2, 2021 (PC)
  • Version Reviewed: 0.146.11 (Feb 28, 2021)

For those who are interested in learning where the game came from and what it looked like a year ago, here’s a video of the alpha.

Note I’ve played all of the content available in Valheim, defeated all bosses, and never used cheat codes.

What makes Valheim one of the best games ever made? Let’s find out!

Plains on the left, Black Forest ahead, Swamp on the right, all while standing in Meadows!

Content

The Story behind the game is based on Norse mythology where Valheim is a middle-tier realm between Asgard, home of the gods, and Midgard, home of the humans. This is a place where the souls of Vikings fallen in battle are reborn so they may tame the dangerous lands. While mythology has most fallen warriors taken to Valhalla upon their glorious death in combat, those taken to Valheim are done so to serve a different purpose: survive and tame a realm that is feared by all, including the gods. That’s the core of the story in a nutshell. Every new character is flown into the world by a giant bird and dropped off in the starting Meadows Biome at the sacrificial altar wearing nothing but a loincloth.

Character Creation is as basic as it gets, allowing for gender, skin tone, and hair color/style. But that’s not a problem; this game isn’t about what facial features your character has. A player can create multiple characters, and play those characters in multiple worlds both solo and online with others, which is a great design. I cover the multiplayer aspect of the game in more detail below.

Welcome to the amazing World of Valheim, which is procedurally generated archipelago (group of islands) based on a random seed value. Not only is the world absolutely huge, people can share worlds that have a good layout (such as good boss and biome locations) by simply sharing their seed. There are currently six Biomes: Meadows (Tier 1), Black Forest (Tier 2), Swamp (Tier 3), Mountain (Tier 4), Plains (Tier 5), and Ocean (no tier). Each biome has a completely unique feel defined by rich terrain design, environmental colors and FX, vibrant foliage, and both docile and hostile creatures. The Plains also has large encampments guarded by the toughest monsters in the game (Fulings). There are also numerous abandoned structures spread throughout the world, many of which have chests full of treasure and other useful resources. But be careful; some structures have been taken over by nasty foes, or even worse, have monster generating piles of bodies! It’s also worth mentioning that many of the archipelago islands are connected with traversable land bridges, and there are abundant rivers and lakes.

The Ocean plays one of the biggest roles in the environmental immersion of the game because the player must sail between the islands with a boat, and such travel can be quite treacherous during storms, especially when Giant Sea Serpents attack. The water is gorgeous, complete with darting fish under the waves that you can catch and cook later on. Wind is an important feature as well; it informs prey of your scent if you are hunting from upwind, and directly impacts your sailing capabilities. It’s also an indicator of incoming storms. The way wind has been implemented in Valheim is one of the best I’ve seen.

Ocean Ho!

Don’t sail to the edge of the world! Per Norse mythology, it’s flat, and you will fall off the edge and die!

Now that we’ve covered Ocean and Wind, it’s time to mention Sailing, which is the transportation method required for moving between islands. The player can build 3 different types of boats: a Raft, a Karve, and a Longboat. A raft is the most basic of the 3 and not recommend for long distance travel. The Karve is the first ocean-focused boat, is faster than the Raft, and has a storage hold of 4 slots. The Karve requires Bronze nails and is the generally the first boat players use to venture out into the world to locate different biomes. And finally, we have the Longboat, which requires iron nails, and is the largest and fastest of the ships, complete with a 16-slot hold, making it perfect for transporting large volumes of ore. Players can use a seafaring technique known as Tacking to sail against the wind. Also, sailing with Crosswind is more efficient than a tailwind.

Adding to the already beautiful environment and ambient lighting, we also have Day and Night cycles. These are very important because night time is much more dangerous than day time, often resulting in the player rushing to the safety of a structure as the sun sets. Night time also brings a cold debuff with it, impacting stamina regeneration. New players generally do not want to be caught outside at night as it’s much more dangerous than daytime.

The day/night cycles of Valheim are 30 minutes in total. 21 minutes of daylight, and 9 minutes of night. 365 days in Valheim (without resting) is 182.5 hours in real-time.

There are also numerous Weather effects ranging from rain to full blown storms, hail, and even blizzards in the mountains. On top of this, special items/resistances are required to survive the freezing temperatures of the mountains.

Birds tend to stay on the ground during a rainstorm, making it the optimal time to go hunting for feathers!

Exploration is a key part of the game as the world is huge and shrouded in a Fog of War, and the impact of day/night cycles mixed with fog and other weather conditions can make a once sunny day of beautiful ocean sailing a treacherous journey of potential death as the player accidentally strands their boat ashore a dangerous biome because they couldn’t see the rocks. Potential events like this add to the level of immersion and danger the game offers. If it’s cold and stormy and night, stay at home. Rest. Don’t go out. Unless you want to hunt Sea Serpents, that is.

Dungeons and Caves are the only instanced content of the game. Troll Caves are pretty simple, featuring a single large alcove, sometimes complete with a troll, and sometimes empty. But Dungeons are a whole different animal, using a procedural generation algorithm to create a random maze of connected rooms with twisting and turning corridors. It’s also important to note that running Dungeons is required in order to progress through the game: Black Forest Burial Chambers give Surtling Cores, which are required for making portals, and the Crypts in the Swamp are how players obtain Iron Scrap. Note the player must have defeated the second boss (the Elder) to obtain the Swamp Key, which is required to unlock the Swamp Crypts.

When it comes to lore, Valheim features an in-game Compendium for each character that’s filled out over time as they progress through the game. This information covers active effects, messages, tutorial pointers from Hugin (the raven that provides helpful tips), and Runestone carvings tied to stories, the origins of creatures, and even the locations of bosses.

There are a wide variety of Items available, including: Weapons, Armor, Ammunition, Crafting Materials, Food, Potions, Trophies, Treasure, and more. A character has 32 Inventory Slots. This is a static number that currently cannot be changed. With the exception of items like weapons, armor, and a few other specialty items, most are stackable. Characters also have a Weight Limit, which is initially 300, but can be increased to 450 with the Megingjord Belt purchased from the Trader (covered below). The good news is the player can build an unlimited number of Storage Chests, which is part of the base building process. The basic Chest has 10 slots, and the Reinforced Chest has 18 slots. There are also secure personal chests that have 6 slots.

While there are no actual Quests in Valheim, the core game is really about killing 5 bosses in order to progress through the game and through the different biomes.

Time to smelt this ore!

Being a survival game, Harvesting beats at the heart of Valheim. Cutting down trees is not only extremely satisfying, it can be very dangerous as most players have died at least once due to a large tree landing on their head, especially given the domino effect that often takes place from falling trees knocking each other down. Object destruction (trees, shrubs, stones, etc.) are the bread and butter of basic gathering, and killing creatures to obtain resources like pelts, specialty crafting items, and ore is also a key part of the game. Once a character gets a pickaxe after defeating the first boss, they can harvest stone, mine ore, and manipulate the terrain of the world by digging deep in the ground or raising it.

Some resources require higher tier items to harvest; for example, the player cannot cut down Birch trees until they get a Bronze Axe (a stone or flint axe won’t do it).

Crafting comes next, and the way it’s been implemented is very well designed and balanced. While the player can craft the most basic items such as a club or hammer without any sort of station, real crafting (and base building) begins with the creation of a Workbench, which is required to start building structures, or create more complex equipment like weapons, armor and tools. The next evolution in crafting comes with a Forge, where metal items such as weapons and armor are created (but also require the bars or smelted ore). As the player progresses through the game, they unlock additional processing stations such as a Kiln, Smelter, Blast Furnace, Spinning Wheel, Artisan Table and even a Windmill for making flour. Want to smelt ore? You’ll need coal. Want to make coal? You’ll need to burn wood in a Kiln. If you don’t have a Kiln, which is unlocked by getting Surtling cores from Burial Chambers in the Black Forest, you can burn food into coal. The synergy between the stations and their required materials for operation is very well balanced and fairly intuitive.

Upgrading crafting stations and items is another step to enhancing weapons and armor, allowing for extra damage and protection. The Workbench and Forge can be upgraded by building support crafting improvements as they are unlocked. At this time, the highest level for a Workbench is +5 and a Forge is +7, and depending on the supported improvements for a Workbench and Forge, characters can currently achieve a +4 upgrade rank to most weapons and armor. Specific upgrade levels are required to craft many mid and end-game items, including weapons and armor.

It’s also important to mention some crafted items (such as shields or capes) can have their visual Style defined when they are created. Want a blue and white shield, or a red linen cloak? When you see the Style button available, be sure to click on it and check out the different options.

Unlocking Recipes is a key event in Valheim, and automatically takes place when you acquire a new resource for the first time that is used to build something that has not yet been unlocked. It’s very exciting to loot Iron Scrap or Fine Wood for the first time and watch the screen come alive with numerous new craftable weapons, armor, and structural options.

Farming is another great feature of the game. Players can plant and harvest Carrots, Turnips, Barley and Flax. On top of that, players can also re-plant trees to regrow the forests they chopped down. There are also bee hives that give players delicious honey that serves as the base ingredient for potions and food recipes.

I just finished my new docks! … unfortunately, I didn’t see the mast of my Longboat stuck between the two foundation pillars. No problem! Just yanked them out, turned the mast, and all was good!

Base Building is currently the most beloved and fun features of the game. Even though the building system is rather simplified compared to other games, it’s awesome and capable of producing unique and even beautiful results. One nice visual feature worth mentioning is building components take on the characteristics of the biome they are placed in, so when a player builds in the mountains, everything is snow-covered. Swamp? Wet and slimy. Base building never gets old, and most players take the time to build basic camps and portals as they explore (which can often be a requirement in order to survive). Functionality is also important as workstations are required to manufacture and process resources, so a player has to seriously consider starting a new main base depending how easy it will be to transport the necessary ore to build ships and important foundation components. Players have built everything ranging from giant Mayan stone pyramids, swampy high tree houses, gigantic castles, deep mountainside fortifications, and island strongholds to cliffside adobes, long docks that connect islands, paved roads that run between bases, gigantic piles of resources, and more. I’ve even seen players build walkable risen paths through swamps just so they don’t have to deal with the water and leeches. Generally, players want to build their main base by the ocean with a port so they can easily sail to other islands and transport ore.

I want to share one of my favorite base building videos that shows how to construct a fantastic dock house.

Base Defenses are very important in Valheim due to random attacks by the creatures from the surrounding biomes and occasional triggered events (sieges) that can take place. Experienced players tend to build defenses around their building parameter (moat, fences, spike barriers, etc.) before building their main structures. There’s nothing worse than a group of trolls coming through and obliterating your hard constructive work in just a minute or two.

One of the most critical and important positive design features of Valheim is that destroyed structures and building pieces always drop the materials used to create them. This means the player can quickly break down abandoned structures to obtain the materials used to craft them, and also break down mistakes or changes made while building a base. Also, if parts of your base are destroyed by attacking creatures, the player can recover the materials from the destroyed objects and quickly rebuild.

This is my storage room. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Another key part of the building system is the Weight and Integrity mechanic behind placement of building pieces. As players build structures, it’s important they keep track of the Green/Red colors of each piece. Blue means foundation, Green means good, Yellow/Orange means unstable (but usable) and Red indicates the “final” stable component available. Trying to attach an additional building component to a red piece will result in that new component “falling apart”. This is how the game limits building and structure sizes and enforces Valheim’s concept of basic physics. Ultimately, it comes down to the number of structural items from a ground point to an end point. There are components, however, that act as “foundational passthroughs” such as Iron Beams, which support the tallest buildings in the game. CohhCarnage did a great video on Building Integrity I recommend new players watch.

Terrain manipulation is a key feature for proper base building; raising ground, lowering it, and making it flat are a necessity for a good and proper foundation. Players also manipulate the terrain to create land bridges, moats, and even delves under large rocks for subterranean bases.

Holding shift while using your hoe to level terrain will cause the terrain to level based on the target rather than at your feet!

Once a base is built, the player can also create numerous Furnishings to bring an otherwise empty structure to life with lighting, fires, hanging wall tapestries, floor rugs and more. Note that Furniture directly affects the comfort level and rest bonus of a base, which is covered in more detail below. Item stands are used to fill the interior of structures, allowing the player to mount any item in their inventory on a wall or table. Want to create a last supper table with bread, soup, and meat? Done. Want to hang all of the trophies you’ve collected on the wall? Yup! How about creating a Combat room where every weapon and shield is hanging from the wall, and can easily be grabbed before venturing into the unknown? You can do all of that, and more.

Players can also easily make roads through the terrain with their Hoe, which makes pulling a cart (which is covered below in more detail) full of materials a whole lot easier.

Valheim has a Events system, which are essentially sieges upon your base (note they can only take place when you are actually at your base, so don’t worry about them taking place when you’re out exploring). There are two types of events: Story-based, which can happen after you’ve defeated a boss. And enemy-based events, which are triggered after you kill a specific number of enemies. This forces players to ensure their bases are properly defended and fortified. Events last anywhere from 90 seconds to 150 seconds, and depending on the event and base state, they can be devastating and even destroy key structures. Complete details on events can be found here.

Each biome has its own collection of Passive and Aggressive Creatures. The meadows is the most docile with Deer, Boar and little Greylings. But once the player enters the Black Forest, things begin to get much more dangerous as the players starts to see groups of Greydwarves, Skeletons, and even gigantic lumbering Trolls. The Swamp is full of nasty poisoning creatures like hopping slimy blobs of goo and blood sucking leeches, but also undead Draugr, burning Surtlings and Wraiths. The Mountains have packs of deadly wolves, ice-spewing drakes and Stone Golems; but also the fabled Fenring, which only comes out at night. And finally, we have the most feared: Deathsquitos and little green Fulings of the Plains. The only hostile creature found in the Ocean is the Sea Serpent, which can be deadly to new players who don’t have the proper ranged weaponry to fight, or wind to escape. There is also a star system for enemies, which marks an enemy as being much tougher than normal. At this time there can be up to 2-stars, but make no mistake, they hit much harder and are more difficult to kill. The good news is they drop a lot more loot than their weaker counterparts, and are visually distinct (usually with redder texture).

On the hunt for Moder, the 4th boss located high in the mountains.

There are currently 5 Bosses in the game, one for each tier/biome. Beginning with Bonemass (the 3rd boss), each boss has a damage “theme” around it. Eikthyr (#1) is a large deer the player must fight in the Meadows. The Elder (#2) is a giant lumbering tree creature from the Black Forest. Bonemass (#3) is a nasty blob of undead goo in the Swamp that summons adds and deals Poison damage. Moder (#4) is a large, angry dragon high in the Mountains that deals Frost damage. Yagluth (#5) is currently the final boss, a giant undead goblin king from the Plains that summons meteors upon its victims and spews a beam of death, both of which are Fire damage. When a boss is killed, a trophy and sometimes special items to progress in the next biome, are dropped. The player then returns to the sacrificial altar where they started the game and hangs the head of the boss on a hook to unlock that boss’s power, which lasts for 5 minutes and can be used every 20 minutes. The unlocked powers of the bosses (activated by pressing F) are as follows:

  • Eikthyr: 60% less stamina drain when running and jumping.
  • The Elder: Faster ability to Chop down Trees.
  • Bonemass: Reduce incoming Physical Damage.
  • Moder: Always have tailwind while sailing.
  • Yagluth: Reduce incoming Elemental Damage.

Players can only have one power active at a time, and can switch between the powers at the Altar of Sacrifice by selecting the completed boss they want to use the power of.

Remember to always clear the area around a boss fight before you summon the boss! Getting adds in the middle of a boss fight can often result in multiple deaths!

Players can discover Treasure in the form of useful items or precious gems and coins, not only in the mini-dungeons, but in the form of shipwrecks, outdoor structures, and by digging into the ground at locations indicating some sort of old structure or wreck. Note coins and precious jewels are used to buy items from the Trader, which is covered below.

When killed, each type of creature can drop a Trophy, some of which are required to summon bosses, while others are simply fun to mount on your walls. The lore compendium is also updated with information on the creature when the player receives a new trophy for the first time.

Players can also Tame Animals. This allows the easy harvesting of meat and pelts. Tamable creatures include Boars, Wolves and Lox. Having a pack of tamed wolves in your base when an event takes place is a sight to see. Instead of keeping the gates closed to protect your buildings, players can unleash a pack of death hounds upon the unwitting invaders!

Some monsters, including 2-star versions of monsters (such as wolves), will only spawn at night!

Valheim is specifically designed for new players to explore and learn, and while there isn’t a specific Tutorial for the game, a raven named Hugin appears after certain events and actions have taken place, providing useful hints, tips, warnings, and even direction for new players. It’s just enough help for people to survive and engage in their own learning process within this dangerous world.

Since the game is in early access, there aren’t any Achievements as of yet.

Hiding in the beautiful environment. Wait… what was that buzzing sound?

Gameplay & Mechanics

Food Bonus is the most important mechanic in the game. It drives not only health and how many hits you can take before you die, but also stamina and regeneration as well. A character can have up to 3 active different types of food, with the most popular starting food combination being Meat, Berries and Mushrooms. There are currently 21 different kinds of food in the game. While a character can eat Raspberries, Blueberries and Honey individually, one can mix the three together to make Queen’s Jam, which provides double the health and stamina and lasts twice as long. This is how the food system works; the best food in the game (Fish Tacos, Lox Meat Pie, etc.) all require base food items mixed with support ingredients such as Thistle.

Resting is the second most important mechanic in the game because it provides a Rest Bonus, which increases a character’s Health Regen by 50% and Stamina Regen by 100% and lasts anywhere from 4 to 24 minutes depending on the Comfort value of the surrounding area. Comfort level is defined by how many rest-supportive items are within the proximity of your character while it’s in the shelter of a base and near a fire. Right now, the max comfort level is currently 17, which provides 24 minutes. The minimum is 3 (provided by a Campfire and shelter), which provides 10 minutes. Each comfort level after 3 provides an additional 2 minutes. Note there is also a bonus while resting of 200% Health regen and 300% stamina regen. I want to emphasize how important Rest Bonus is; the stamina regeneration makes all the difference when exploring new areas or fighting in combat. It’s always worth resting up before undertaking any type of activity that could involve the need for quickly regenerating stamina.

Potions are crafted through a two-step process. The player must first make a mead base of the potion they want to craft in a Cauldron. Once that’s complete, the mead is put in a Fermenter. It takes two in-game days for mead to ferment into the appropriate potion. This is how players craft health and stamina regeneration potions, as well as resistance potions for fire, cold, poison, etc.

This brings us to Afflictions and Modifiers. Shelter (from weather) is a key requirement for creating a safe and rest-based home. The warmth of fire through a simple campfire or a stone hearth, or even a massive bonfire ensures the character stays Warm and can enter resting mode. When a player is caught in a rain storm, or has been swimming, they obtain the Wet modifier, which takes 2 minutes to disappear (unless dried by a fire). Being wet causes a -25% Health Regen and -15% Stamina Regen debuff. The Cold effect applies at night, and causes a -50% Health Regen and -25% Stamina Regen debuff. There’s also Encumbered, which occurs when a player exceeds their weight, causing the character to move at a greatly slowed pace until the weight is lifted. Poison is the first truly deadly modifier a player encounters in the Swamp (but can be countered with anti-poison potions), and Frozen becomes a problem in the Mountains (but can also be countered by anti-freezing potions). Burning is another elemental affliction, applied by Tier 5 Plains Fulings and the final Tier 5 boss (also by standing in a fire). This system works very well and gives the player pause for consideration before doing things like swimming across a river right before nightfall in the Black Forest.

Leveling up those skills!

The game has no Difficulty Setting, but does not need one because it’s a balanced yet brutal game. New players will die. A lot. But as one learns about the biomes, creatures, boss fights, and survival techniques, replaying new maps and characters is a lot easier after the first time as people learn what to avoid and how to progress without taking crazy risks.

There are only three core Stats in the game. They are Health, Stamina and Armor. Supporting Health and Stamina is Food. Armor comes from the items you craft as you progress through the different biomes. At this time, the max Armor value achievable is 100. I want to emphasize how important Armor is. For example, the impact of having 35 armor vs. 20 when entering the Swamp (considering just the combat damage, not poison) can make the difference between survival or multiple deaths. In the end, the game is designed so as a character moves through the biomes, they are expected to have the maximum upgraded armor available for the Biome they are coming from. This means if a character is going into the Swamp for the first time, they should have +3 upgraded all Bronze armor pieces (chest, legs, helm, and shield). If a character is going into the Mountains for the first time, they should have +3 all Iron armor, and so forth. I can’t emphasize how important this is to ensure survival and enjoyment of working through the game content. It’s also important to craft and use the best food available, as this raises both the Health (hit points) and Stamina (ability to fight and run/move quickly for a longer period of time).

There are currently 15 Skills, each related either to harvesting, weapon use, or just general movement. They are: Run, Unarmed, Clubs, Blocking, Axes, Wood Cutting, Jump, Bows, Sneak, Swim, Pickaxes, Polearms, Swords, Knives, and Spears. The way skills increase is by use, and the maximum skill value is 100. The good part of this design is your characters skill level reflects how you’ve played your character. If you sneak a lot and use knives (for backstabbing), you’re going to have high sneak and knives. But if you make another character that focuses on 2H weapons, that skill will raise in reflection of how often you use it. Technically, a single character can level up all skills, but the reality is players generally adopt a specific play style for each character, which is reflected in the skills as the character grows. I do hope they add skill specialization in the future, which entices and even locks specific play styles. Such a feature would support the creation of different characters to pursue those specializations.

The Combat in Valheim is the perfect mixture of simplicity and strategy. Ranged combat with Bows and different type of damaging arrows is required for many targets, with kiting being a staple of survival, especially against tougher enemies. When it comes to melee, Block and Parry are critical. Players learn how to force a parry and stagger on their target, allowing for extra strikes, interruption, and extra damage; this is done by blocking/parrying (right click) an incoming attack as it’s taking place, so timing is essential. Sneaking is also a deadly skill when properly used, allowing the character to creep up from behind undetected only to land a deadly backstabbing blow. Players can also execute a Dodge movement to avoid hits by heavy hitting enemies. The color of the combat damage numbers are important. Yellow numbers indicate the target is weak against that type of damage, Grey numbers represent resistance to the type of damage, and White numbers indicate no extra or resisted damage. There are three types of damage that can be inflicted during combat: Blunt, Slash and Pierce. Different weapons (and arrows) cause different types of damage. Traditionally, Swords are Slash, Daggers are Pierce and Clubs are Blunt. There are also elemental damage effects (Poison, Fire, etc.) and a “Spirit” Damage type, which causes extra damage to undead targets (traditionally caused by silver weapons). For example, Trolls are resistant to blunt, but weak to pierce. Skeletons are weak to blunt, but resistant to slash. This is why it’s a good idea to carry at least two different weapons so your character can switch to a different damage type based on what they’re fighting.

Shield Block power absorbs a certain amount of incoming damage and is based on the core block ability of the shield paired with the blocking skill of the character. My end-game character with the max-level Blackmetal shield can block more than 100 incoming damage; but blocking also takes stamina, so it’s important to manage the combat event properly to prevent blocking with no stamina (which fails to block any damage). The game also has knockback, which is tied to successful critical hits and parried attacks. New players start learning how to use blocking when they enter the Black Forest. The bronze shield quickly becomes a key staple to surviving burial chamber exploration. Learning how to block and parry attacks is critical and can often mean the difference between survival and death.

Movement and positioning during combat while managing stamina is also critically important. Running out of stamina in the middle of a fight almost always ensures certain death. Kiting and fighting multiple enemies at the same time requires skill, watching the animated attacks, blocking, parrying or dodging at the right moment, and knowing when to retreat to prevent death. This includes running away, switching to bow, firing a few shots, and then switching back to a melee weapon and shield. And knowing what type of weapon works best on the enemies you are facing makes a difference. At this time, the best overall weapon type in the game is a Club (the Porcupine for all general content, and Frostner for undead) because they are a mixture of damage types. Ultimately, the combat system is very well-done and fun, but takes time to master.

It was sunny and daytime just a few moments ago! I swear!

The Monster AI in Valheim is solid. Enemies figure out how to get to you and move in an unpredictable way, which makes it difficult to target moving creatures (even those running towards you) with a ranged attack. I also like how enemies will attack each other. It’s very entertaining to see a troll going crazy on a group of Fulings, or a pack of wolves eating a coven of greydwarves. Boss AI is a bit limited as once a player has learned the boss attacks and telegraphed animations, it can be fairly easy to dodge their attacks. Plus, it’s easy to use terrain modification and building mechanics to mess with boss AI; but to play devil’s advocate, if somebody is creative enough to come up with a way to render a boss defenseless through legitimate building and planning, it’s a way to progress by working smarter, not harder. That’s a good thing, and emphasizes the flexibility of applying different techniques based on a player’s style.

It’s also important to mention the Harpoon because it’s a custom mechanic required for hunting Sea Serpents. Players must mine Chitin off the back of giant turtle-like Krakens floating in the Ocean in order to make the Abyssal Harpoon, which is used to snag a Sea Serpent and drag it on to land so it can be killed and its parts harvested. The meat makes some of the best food in the game, and its scales are used to create the coolest looking shield available. There’s a video on how to hunt Sea Serpents included in the Resources section at the end of this review.

Want to hunt Sea Serpents and have the best chance of encountering them? Hunt at night during a storm! The Ocean is teeming with them! Want to avoid Sea Serpents? Don’t sail in the ocean at night, and especially not in a storm.

A character can hotbar a total of 8 items, which allows for a single keystroke to change weapons or armor, eat food, or use a potion. The recommended hotbar loadout (in order) is: Bow, Weapon, Shield, Hammer, Pickaxe, Hoe, Axe (for wood or combat), and either a health potion, Harpoon or Cultivator. Players can also equip/use items (food, potions, armor) by right-clicking on them directly from their inventory.

Players can press R to sheathe (or unsheathe) their sword and shield on their back, allowing the character to run quicker!

Travel consists of running, swimming, sailing boats and using Portals. There are also Carts that are used to pull large quantities of items (such as loads of ore). It’s important to note that Ore and Smelted Ore (Bars) cannot be transported through portals, requiring the player to use either boat, cart, or just run the materials from one location to another. Pulling 2,000lbs of ore loaded onto a cart through rough terrain is a challenge that every player has to experience, especially at night!

Portals are the most useful method of traveling between established bases. As a character begins to explore the world and ventures out, building additional landing points and outposts, creating a network of Portals becomes very important. The standard technique is to build the “receiver” portal at your main base or portal hub and giving the portal a unique tag such as “SWAMP1” before venturing out in search of (for this example) a swamp. The player loads up on the materials to create the portal once they find the swamp, and when they land on shore and establish a quick foothold (which can be just a workbench), they place the other end of the portal down and give it the same “SWAMP1” tag. This connects the two portals and allows for instant travel between the two locations. This is fantastic for quickly running back to your base (when you’re on a completely different island) to repair your gear, sleep for the night, or just renew your rest bonus. Of course there’s a catch. Ore and refined Bars (such as Iron Bars or Copper Bars) cannot be transported through the portals; you’ll have to sail those back. The good news is Wood and Stone and all other general resources transport through the portals just fine. It’s not uncommon for end-game players to have a network hub of more than a dozen portals, all leading to different biomes and bases.

Death is brutal in Valheim because it takes 10% of all skill points and creates a tombstone with all of the items that were on your character. While a 10% skill loss is nothing at the beginning of the game, when a character starts raising skills beyond 50 and even 60, a single death can costs hours of skill progression time. However, the toughest part of this mechanic is due to the fact that characters often die in very dangerous areas surrounded by enemies, and few players have backup weapons and armor that allow them to put an equal second set of equipment on (from their spawn point or main base) and return to the site of their tombstone and successfully kill the monsters. This is why it’s recommended the player keeps each previous tier of armor in storage as they evolve to the net tier – so it can be equipped to help survive retrieval of ones tombstone.

This brings us to Spawn Points. When a character dies, they respawn at the last bed used to rest. If the character has not used a bed, they will respawn at the starting point of the game. Newly respawned characters have no items and are back in their trusty loincloth. They also have no food, so make sure to store and eat as much food as possible (and rest to regain health) prior to engaging in any corpse run.

If a character does in the ocean, their tombstone will float on top of the water so their items can be properly retrieved with a boat.

There is also a modifier call No Skill Drain that’s applied if your character dies. This prevents any additional skill drain from taking place while you’re trying to run for your corpse, and lasts 10 minutes after death. So if you keep dying while trying to retrieve your corpse, don’t worry; you only take the 10% hit on the first death, and only again if you haven’t died in the past 10 minutes. This is why it’s very important to have a portal nearby the area you’re exploring, because if it takes 15 minutes just to get to your tombstone, the No Skill Drain modifier has worn off, and you will take another 10% hit if you die again.

Valheim isn’t a PvP game, but players can toggle PvP on or off, and fight with others who have enabled PvP. One advantage to PvP is enabling it with a friend allows you to increase your skills by fighting each other, which is one of the best ways to raise your Shield Block skill.

Delving into the slimy crypts in search of Iron Ore.

Economy

Since Valheim is a resource gathering, crafting, exploration and survival game, there really isn’t any focus on Economy; however, there is a Trader that spawns in a random Black Forest location who sells very important and useful items for gold coin. The Trader will also buy the precious jewels you come across digging for treasure or exploring dungeons (such as Amber or Pearls). The most important item the Trader sells is the Megingjord Belt, which increases the carry weight of the character by 150 to 450. The trader also sells the Fishing Pole and Bait, which is required to make some of the best end-game food available (Fish Tacos!). He also has fun items like a Santa Hat, and a Headlight cap, which can be useful for harvesting at night or seeing better while exploring dark dungeons.

Players can give items to each other by throwing them on the ground, or providing permission through a Ward for specific characters to enter their base and access their chests.

Why yes, I would like to trade!

Community

Valheim Multiplayer allows up to 10 people to play together, and it’s a ton of fun. Every player has the ability to share their game world with the public server list, but can also define a password to ensure only specific people are able to join. Note non-dedicated servers hosted by players are only available when the host is playing the game. Even though playing with other people increases the difficulty of monsters, it allows players to team up and battle bosses and other challenges together. There is no party system, but players can run together, show their location on the map, and share loot by throwing things on the ground. The game also has a basic Chat system that allows area chat, shouting and whispers. There are also emotes players can use to express their opinion to those around them.

It’s very important to mention the Ward, which is a craftable item once Bronze has been unlocked. By placing one of these in your base, it prevents other players (who have not been given access by the owner) from opening doors, building around your base, opening your chests, or destroying/modifying your base. It’s considered an absolute requirement when playing on a server of people you don’t know very well (or at all).

Players have to be careful when they set up a server that shows in the community. Defining a simple guessable password often results in unwanted players joining your server – and if you don’t have wards set up at your bases, other people can steal loot from your chests and destroy your base!

To address the above issue of a server only being available when the host is playing, Valheim comes with a Dedicated Server for people who want a shared world available for them and their friends 24/7 regardless of who is playing. The server is very stable (I haven’t seen it crash yet), but there are some technical requirements for setting it up and making sure it’s available for public (password protected) access. Here’s a guide for configuring a Valheim Dedicated Server on Windows. There are also paid hosting services for 24/7 Valheim servers (a quick internet search will show the available options). I have also heard people have been able to hack the server to allow up to 50 people in a persistent world, but haven’t played in such as world as of yet.

While playing with others, characters can decide to show their location on the map, and every player can middle-mouse button ping a location on the map for all others to see.

Another cool multiplayer community feature is the ability to take any of your characters and join other worlds. Have a friend who can’t get their body in the Swamp? Grab your top tier character, join their world, and help them out! Even though your base and all resources at your bases are in your world, you carry whatever is on your character to the other world you join. So if you need to build a Longship, you can put the nails and other resources on your character before joining your friend’s server (which will be completely unmapped), allowing you to quickly build your boat and sail to the defined destination.

There is actually a group of players that specialize in assisting people who die and need help recovering their tombstone and items. They are known as the The Body Recovery Squad, and can be found in this Discord Channel.

My base after 50 hours of gameplay.

Technical

The first thing I want to mention is the 1GB footprint of this game, which is ultra small for the amount of content Valheim provides. This reaffirms the approach of “work smarter, not harder”. Such a small footprint is due to the creative use of low resolution textures, low poly models, and the use of mathematics and procedural generation to represent and save the world, all wrapped under the exceptional rendering capabilities of the Unity 3D engine. The end result is a notable technical achievement representing the exceptional skill level of the 5-person development team that made this game possible.

The Graphics of Valheim are unique and visually beautiful, especially given the extensive use of simplistic low-resolution textures for trees, items, and objects. The development team has pulled off an unusual mix of core graphical simplicity reinforced with the leading edge lighting and special FX of the Unity 3D Engine to create one of the most immersive game worlds players have seen. The game also supports the Vulkan rendering system, which usually has better performance than the traditional DirectX 11 & 12 API layer.

The Sound FX are also top notch. When you’re in a ship at sea, it actually sounds like you’re in a viking ship at sea. You can hear the bustle of the forest all around you, the cry of creatures in the distance, and even the sizzle of your silver weapon as it slices through the flesh of your undead victims. And then there’s the most terrifying sound of all to new players… that incoming buzzing sound.

The Music of Valheim is fantastic; it’s unique, and changes as the player moves between biomes, enters treacherous weather, delves into a dungeon, or is welcomed with the morning sun or falls to the darkness of nightfall. Each music track is memorable and stays in your head long after you’ve stopped playing. Very few games have this impact on players, and it’s a testament as to the quality of each piece and how it’s seamlessly integrated into the overall experience of playing the game.

The User Interface design is very basic, more akin to minecraft than anything else, but works well and is fairly intuitive. Splitting items, rotating objects while constructing buildings, interacting with the environment, and engaging in combat is all easy to do and understand.

The developers are Patching, fixing and enhancing the game on a regular basis, releasing updates once or twice a week. The change log is part of the starting interface, so players can see what adjustments were recently made to the game, on what date, and in what order.

The multiplayer server architecture is solid; I haven’t experienced any Connection issues at all, and the dedicated servers are rock solid. I’ve heard other people complain of latency issues, but never experienced them myself. However, given most players host their servers from home (unless one is running a dedicated server, which can be hosted on a VM at a datacenter), I can see how some people may have latency or packet loss issues based on their home connection and configuration.

Valheim doesn’t officially support Mods (as stated in the FAQ), but that hasn’t stopped players from making changes to the game as people are already creating numerous downloadable modifications and enhancements for the game. Some of them are very cool and include things like: first person perspective, the ability to craft items from materials in nearby storage, track stats of death, kills, and more, provide a paper doll UI for wearing armor, automatically sort sort items in containers/inventory, queue food for simple button eating, and more. For those who are interested, here’s a video covering how to install and use Mods for Valheim.

There are fewer bugs in Valheim than most AAA games. In more than 100 hours of gameplay, the game has only crashed once, and I believe it was related to a bug where my portal may have shared the same tag name as another player’s portal. Other than that, there have been no bugs – at all. Other players in both the Steam and Reddit communities have also commented on how this is one of the most stable games they have ever played. Hats off to the developers for achieving such a monumental technical feat most game studios are unable to establish at launch, let alone early access.

The games does allow players to enable a cheat mode, which includes the ability for actions such as free camera movement, god-mode, skill adjustments, spawning items & monsters, teleport to a location, move forward in time, remove the fog of war for the entire map, and even instantly kill all monsters in the area.

The Black Forest at night is no place for the faint of heart.

End Game

Even though the amount of content in the game is amazing for an early-access product (easily more than 100 hours worth for each game world), when a player masters the final Tier 5 Plains biome, many people hit a brick wall of progression because there’s no additional biomes to explore or gear to acquire. A maxed out Porcupine (+4), Blackmetal Shield (+3) and Draugr Fang Bow (+4) (with Needle Arrows) are currently the best combination of weapons/shield. An Iron Pickaxe (+4) is the best pickaxe, and a Darkmetal Axe (+4) is the best woodcutting axe. The best end-game food combination is: Lox Meat Pie + Blood Pudding + Fish Wraps gives an amazing 250 health and top tier stamina. At this point, most players turn to extensive base building; and it’s actually a great time to do this because mining stone, gathering ore, and cutting down trees is far easier at current end-game than early on.

At this time, the available options for end-game are:

  1. Craft the best armor and weapons, and upgrade them to max level (+3 and +4).
  2. Build multiple bases and a portal network.
  3. Build farms to grow and produce things like Barley for cooking and Flax for armor.
  4. Fish and make Fish Tacos!
  5. Grow your character by leveling skills (Running, Sneaking, Swimming, Sword, Blocking, etc.).
  6. Hunt and even Capture Sea Serpents (I have one at my base in an enclosed pool).
  7. Help other people.
  8. Collect and mount all types of objects; shields, weapons, trophies, eggs, etc. in your bases.
  9. Start a new game, and/or play self-imposed “survival” (e.g. if you die, you have to restart)

The Valheim Developers have already talked about their roadmap for 2021. The first update will be called Hearth and Home, which focuses on house building aspects of the game. This update will also include new food preparation and recipes. The second update will be Cult of the Wolf, and focuses on exploration and combat. The third update will be Ships and the Sea, and the final Fourth update (before official launch) will be The Mistlands, which will add a completely new Biome to the game, complete with new items and bosses. The developers have confirmed the release version of the game will feature 9 biomes with 9 bosses. Given there are currently 5 biomes, and Mistlands just raises this number to 6, it’s reasonable to conclude that additional biomes will be a part of the updates before the final Mistlands update. Since the developers have indicated their goal is to officially release the game in roughly a year, this gives us a timeframe of every 3-months for each major update release based on what they’ve shared with the public.

After more than 100 hours, all 5 bosses have been vanquished!

Conclusion

The Journey that Valheim offers, even in its Early Access mode, is unprecedented. This fantastic, balanced, beautiful and immersive game provides hundred of hours of enjoyment with the ability to create and explore an unlimited number of unique new worlds. However, dying in the Swamp surrounded by Draugr, Leeches and Slimes can create a tough issue of body retrieval, especially if the player doesn’t have a portal nearby. Dying in your boat because you wandered too close to the Plains or ran ashore only to be destroyed by a horde of nearby monsters is very normal for new players, often resulting in hours of work to try and figure out how to get their body and equipment back. This is the only negative aspect of the game, often causing frustration for new players. But as time passes and people gain the necessary experience to avoid the fatalities of certain biomes, environmental and combat situations, the game becomes much more enjoyable. To be clear, the first playthough can be rough, but after that, it’ s a lot more fun.

Valheim is a revolutionary masterpiece. It has set new standards that are guaranteed to affect the industry for years to come. Everyone who is playing this game is excited about the planned updates, and the addiction to this fantastic world is clearly seen as more than 4,000,000 units have been solid in less than 30 days; and all because the game is that good.

The developers have packed so much into this game, and players can focusing on progression, building, exploration, or a combination of all three at their own pace. The unlimited building capabilities paired with world hopping, procedural generation of all core content for new experiences, and multiplayer fun factor make Valheim the successful game it has become.

If you haven’t played this game yet, I can’t recommend it enough. It’s truly amazing. Play it solo or with friends; either way, the experience is worth far more than the $20 price tag of early access currently offered through steam.

The mountains are beautiful… until 2 wolves jump you while a drake swoops in to investigate the commotion.

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