Valheim Early Access Review
Steam has been flooded with survival games since the rise of Minecraft, so when someone breaks through the noise and makes a name for themselves, it’s worth paying attention. Valheim from Iron Gate Studio launched on Steam in early access in February, translating Minecraft-style gameplay mechanics to a viking setting, and managing to sell over five million copies in the process. Valheim’s popularity has shown no signs of slowing down, and its success is well deserved. Valheim starts players out in the fields, mostly naked and with no gear at their disposal. As in Minecraft, the first few minutes of Valheim are spent punching trees to get wood, which can in turn be used to create tools that speed up the harvesting of wood and other materials. These materials can be used to create buildings that players can use to gain shelter from the elements and enemies. It’s a familiar gameplay loop present in many survival games, but it’s even more engaging in Valheim for a variety of reasons. Perhaps one of the main reasons why Valheim managed to stand above other games in the genre is that it does not leave players with a strict hunger and thirst meter. Too many survival games force players to babysit status meters instead of letting them engage in the more entertaining aspects of the game, and so Valheim thankfully does away with that. Valheim players still have to find food, but instead of being punished for not eating, they are rewarded for eating. Valheim players have a base amount of health that they can increase by eating food. They can eat three different types of food at once to not only maximize their overall health, but also to increase their overall stamina. Different foods have different effects, and it’s fun to experiment to see what works. And since players won’t starve, there’s no pressure to make them go out of their way to get food. This allows players to be careful with the hunger system without having to think about where their next meal is coming from. Food in Valheim is generally readily available. Players don’t have to venture far to find all kinds of berries, along with the many boars, deer, and other animals they can kill for meat. It won’t be long before Valheim players have a large stockpile of food, and they can focus on other, more entertaining aspects of the game, such as exploring, crafting better equipment, and fighting challenging enemies. Valheim gives players complete freedom to go wherever they want out of the gate, but if players push too far, they’ll likely end up somewhere they’re not ready for. Valheim uses its biomes to speed up the experience and help lead players through the game, gradually introducing new items and gameplay mechanics along the way. For example, the Meadow biome in Valheim is mainly spent gathering materials and building structures, but then when players get to the Black Forest, they will discover dungeons, massive trolls, and mineral deposits. The game doesn’t hold players’ hands, but it’s not accessible or confusing either. Players will know what to do next for themselves based on what they encounter. While exploring the Meadow biome, early Valheim players will realize that it is very difficult to hunt deer with just knives and clubs. So they will need to focus on making their first bow and arrows. After successfully hunting a deer and obtaining a deer hide, players will learn how to craft leather armor that will make it easier for them to fight Greydwarves and other enemies. This will then prepare them for the first boss fight against Eikthyr, and once that is completed, they will have access to more items that open up additional gameplay opportunities. Valheim is well paced so that players aren’t bombarded with everything at once, but instead are taught one thing at a time. This gives Valheim a rewarding sense of discovery, as players are constantly learning new things or getting some new crafting recipe. This ensures that Valheim players always have a goal, keeping them focused on the game, successfully addressing the lack of direction that some survival games in the past have notoriously struggled with. The main objective in Valheim is to find the boss spawn locations scattered across the map, learn how to summon them, and then defeat them in an epic-scale boss battle. Valheim’s boss fights are intense and can be really challenging, forcing players to make sure they have the right gear and stats before taking them on. Players can team up with up to nine others thanks to Valheim’s online co-op to make boss fights easier, but still offer a decent challenge. The battle of Valheim gives players a variety of options. They can use a bow if they want, which allows for ranged damage and is generally safer than melee combat. Alternatively, they can equip themselves with a knife and a shield, blocking attacks and going in for a surprise attack whenever they see an opening. Whichever combat type Valheim players choose, the game will reward them by leveling up their stats for those specific skills. Using a bow increases the bow stat, using melee weapons increases that stat, and so on and so forth. It’s another level of development that contributes to Valheim being a great experience and a hard game to put down. Valheim players can completely ignore boss battles and fighting enemies, focus entirely on crafting, and still be able to sink dozens of hours into the game. Valheim players create incredible worlds using game-building mechanics, including areas from Game of Thrones, Diablo, and World of Warcraft. Building in Valheim has a bit of a learning curve, but once players get the hang of it they’ll be building their own viking village in no time. And that is the beauty of Valheim. It is an immersive gaming experience, allowing players to have an action-RPG style adventure or giving them the tools to create their own villages and live out their viking fantasies. Valheim players can build longships and explore the seas, or they can go dungeon crawling through the woods. There’s so much to do in the game and everything is anchored at the perfect pacing so it doesn’t feel overwhelming. After playing Valheim, some may be surprised to learn that it is an early access title. However, there is very little about Valheim that is “early access.” In all fairness, Valheim in early access is more polished and content-rich than some full-price $60 games that hit the market as “finished” products. But while Valheim’s content and gameplay are impressive enough that it doesn’t seem like a typical early access game, it does have some technical issues that potential players should be aware of. Valheim has a major bug that disconnects players from the world, and the game itself warns players that they may lose access to their character when playing online. We haven’t experienced these bugs in our own time with the game, and they’ve been reported as relatively rare occurrences. However, these are pretty serious, game-breaking bugs and their very existence will leave players on edge, worried that they could lose all their progress. These issues will be fixed and Valheim’s content roadmap ensures that a lot of new content will be added to the game throughout 2021. In its current state, it’s an incredibly engaging experience and perhaps the first survival game of its kind to match Minecraft with pure fun factor. And if it was amazing in early access, one can only imagine how great it will be when it’s fully released. Valheim is available for PC in early access.