Valheim is the latest game to top the Steam charts and find unbridled success on Twitch and YouTube. So what̵
The game itself
Valheim is an early access survival game released on Steam on February 2. Now, Early Access survival games are a dime in a dozen on Steam, especially after the raging popularity of games like Minecraft, Subnautica, Rust, and Terrariums. New entries in this genre are constantly flooding the market – most are poorly made and buggy releases are trying to make a quick buck. But Valheim is very different from those games.
The premise is that you are a Viking who was deposited in the titular realm of Valheim, the tenth Norse world, to prove yourself to Odin by defeating his old rivals in the form of boss fights. Definitely more story than the average survival game, but beyond a short intro at the beginning and tablets scattered around the world, it doesn’t really get in the way of gameplay.
At that point, your goals and activities are pretty standard for the genre: you gather materials, build shelter, and fight threats. You can also play the game with up to nine friends, which always makes these types of games more fun. However, Valheim’s approach to these tropes and the more unique elements it introduces elevates it above most other survival games, even at this early point in its development (which I can safely say that I have played many games in this genre for many hours).
The world feels alive thanks to dynamic effects and events (such as harsh weather), your character rises with every activity you perform, and you can find dungeons all over the world full of loot. The battle also takes cues from action RPGs such as The Legend of Zelda and Dark souls series, and the build system strikes a great balance between creative freedom and simplicity.
The game certainly won’t overwhelm you with information by gradually introducing new mechanics and concepts to you when you’re ready, instead of hitting you with huge walls of text at the start of the game. It’s these smart design choices that make Valheim appealing to fans and non-fans of survival games alike, which is why it’s blown up so quickly. It has just enough basic RPG gameplay to entice normal players, while not completely removing survival elements like material gathering – it even manages to give both unique spins.
I also want to give a brief shoutout to the visuals of Valheim. While you may look at a few screenshots and see the noticeably outdated visual style, it’s worth knowing that this was a deliberate decision by the developers to make the game look unique. I think it works well, especially when helped by the game’s beautiful light and water effects.
So this all sounds great, however Valheim is not without its imperfections and you should be aware of them before jumping in.
Early Access and the future
Early Access is a red flag for many players. This is a program that Steam has that allows developers to sell games in development on the storefront. Nothing wrong with the concept, but it has certainly been abused over the years with completely broken games released through the program and never finished after that. However, Valheim is actually quite commendable in this regard.
There’s a good amount of content in the game as it currently stands, with multiple biomes to explore, bosses to defeat, and mechanics to mess around with. You can easily get several tens of hours out of this game depending on your pace and your interest in the sandbox elements such as building structures. But content isn’t everything, Early Access titles are also notorious for technical issues – something Valheim is certainly not harmless.
When it comes to bugs, the game is pretty light for them – I’ve barely encountered any in the time I’ve been working on it so far. But even players with high-end PCs should expect some framerate issues while exploring, mostly in multiplayer (but we’ll talk more about that shortly). There is also the natural concern that the game might be abandoned, but given the fairly polished condition it is currently in and that it will be published by a well-known studio (Coffee Stain Studios, responsible for games such as Deep Rock Galactic and Satisfying), that seems unlikely. The developers have also stated that the game will likely remain in Early Access for at least a year.
But speaking of the future, the developers recently released a roadmap for 2021 Valheim which outlines four major updates coming throughout the year. These will introduce new biomes, mechanics, and functions to the game (not to mention smoothing out the various technical issues). Valheim is great now but looks like it’s only going to get better as the year goes on.
Before we wrap up, there are a few things you should know before playing Valheim that are not necessarily separate from the game itself. First, Valheim is currently only available on PC, and developers say that’s unlikely to change anytime soon – but releases from consoles aren’t entirely ruled out later.
Next up is multiplayer. While the game is designed to be playable in both single player and multiplayer, the great multiplayer gameplay is a major draw for many people. There are two ways to play multiplayer: on a non-dedicated server that starts directly through the game, or on a dedicated server that runs through a separate program or can be rented from companies such as G-Portal.
A non-dedicated server is easy to set up, just hit “launch server” when you select the world and your friends can join through Steam like any other game. However, this has a few drawbacks: server performance will not be as good as a dedicated server, so lag can often occur, the person hosting the server can expect their computer’s performance to take a plunge (especially if more people join) , and the server can only be active while the host is playing. A dedicated server can solve these problems, but only if you have a spare computer to run one and can figure out the relatively complex process of starting it.
Renting a dedicated server is the best all-round solution, especially if you don’t have a spare PC, but that costs a considerable monthly amount. Once you’ve got multiplayer up and running it’s a great time, but getting to that point might take a few steps if you’re looking for the best server performance. For a small group, non-dedicated servers should be fine, but if you want to push the maximum player limit of 10, then a dedicated server is definitely recommended – regardless of whether you host or rent it yourself.
Is ‘Valheim’ for you?
Valheim manages to appeal to a wide variety of players thanks to its clever mix of survival and RPG gameplay. Even if you generally hate one of those genres, chances are that is the balancing act Valheim still makes the game fun. Not to mention that it’s a fantastic game to play with friends, so if your group of friends is looking for a new game to dive into, Valheim take at least a few weeks.
But even if you pick it up and don’t end up enjoying it, you can always rely on Steam’s refund policy to come back – two hours should be enough for these types of games to find out whether it’s for you or not. If you don’t like survival games as well as RPGs then Valheim definitely not for you, but if you’re a fan of either genres, you may have just found your new favorite release of the year – and then you’re losing 40 hours of your life.