First Impressions - Valheim

February 23, 2021
FEATURES
PC

It’s hard to believe that Minecraft is almost 11 years old. When the game initially came out, I played it in-between naps on my dad’s work laptop, and almost a decade later, I haven’t been able to take a nap in years. In the 111 months since Minecraft released, the world has changed a lot. America has gone through two presidents, there have been nine and a half Call of Duty games, Russia has invaded one European country and smart cars are now a thing. The United Kingdom is no longer part of the European Union, the Chicago Cubs won the world series, but despite all of this, I’m still punching virtual trees in Minecraft, because the more things change, the more they remain the same.

The point that the previous paragraph was trying to make is that Valheim is a lot like Minecraft. If I hadn’t been given the opportunity to play Valheim a couple of weeks ago, I would’ve assumed that it was one of the many survival games that I never got around to playing in 2013ish, because at its core, it’s no different than the likes of Rust or DayZ. Valheim, like Ark: Survival Evolved and Scum and The Forest, is a quasi-procedurally generated third person survival game that puts a heavy emphasis on base building and resource management. Each time you join a server, you start out naked and need to punch trees until you can craft an axe, then you work your way up from there and eventually end up building huge bases to defend yourself against both AI mobs and other players.

Where we droppin’ boys?

The unique selling point of the game, because survival games always need their unique selling points, is that Valheim is Viking themed. The bases that you build look straight out of the most recent Assassin’s Creed, the best way to get around in the game is in a longboat and the best weapon in the game is a battle axe. The mobs that you fight are all ripped from Norse mythology, the world that the game takes place in is based off of the Norse pagan afterlife and there are even roaming mini-bosses that wouldn’t be out of place in the United States capitol.

In addition to this, Valheim also puts a lot of emphasis on cooperation. Although it’s possible to play the game solo or with a PvP clan, you’re encouraged to team up with other players in order to defeat the game’s insane amount of AI mobs. Although these mobs are generally easy to kill in small numbers, they occasionally launch attacks on player bases and can easily overrun undefended positions. These random AI raids, in addition to players having the ability to turn off PvP, mean that there’s little reason to troll other players and the game as a whole benefits because of this.

I’m on a boat and...

However, neither one of these things truly makes Valheim a unique experience because its core gameplay loop is identical to that of every other survival game on the market. Although this isn’t a bad thing — there’s a reason that survival games are as popular as they are — it also means that it’s difficult to recommend playing Valheim if you or your friend group is already invested in a different survival game. After all is said and done, both the game’s Viking theme and AI mobs are little more than gimmicks, and they’re gimmicks that don’t reinvent the survival game wheel enough to justify the cost of entry.

Instead, the only real reason to play Valheim is if you are looking for a survival game that will run on a dated gaming computer. Like Minecraft, Valheim uses quasi-pixel graphics that, despite looking great, aren’t particularly hardware intensive. This means that anyone who doesn’t want to spend an astronomical amount of money on a top-of-the-line gaming computer is still able to enjoy the game, and especially when considering that Valheim still manages to look surprisingly solid, this is a weirdly strong selling point.

If you have a good gaming computer, though, Valheim is a tough sell to say the least. Although it’s a decidedly solid survival game, it also does almost nothing that the dozens of its existing contemporaries don’t also do. If you’re already invested in a game like Conan Exiles or even Minecraft, Valheim isn’t worth the cost of admission, especially seeing as buying the game now will mean that you need to endure its growing pains as it goes through the Early Access process. If you haven’t spent dozens of hours chopping virtual trees, though, Valheim is as good of an introduction as any to the virtual lumberjack genre.

Valheim is currently in Early Access.

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Derek Johnson

Somebody once told me the world was going to roll me, and they were right. I love games that let me take good-looking screenshots and ones that make me depressed, so long as the game doesn't overstay its welcome.