Nearly a thousand years later the Viking age continues to captivate the world. Huge franchises from Assassin’s Creed to Magic: The Gathering have already staked their claims on the history and mythology of the Norse, but now a small Swiss studio, Iron Gate, has thrown their helmet into the ring with their debut game Valheim.
Less than three weeks in early access and Valheim has already sold millions of copies, with fans of the survival genre flocking from games like Rust and Ark, as well as attracting newcomers to the genre who just can’t turn down more Viking media. The game focuses heavily on crafting, hunting, exploring, and doing battle either solo or with up to 10 players in a mythical world.
So what’s all the fuss about?
The first thing a new player may notice is that the game looks like something you may have played on a PS2 twenty years ago. I purchased the game without watching even one second of gameplay and was utterly confused when I launched what appeared to be Runescape, but soon the minimalist graphics began to lend a certain kind of charm to the game.
Character customization options are extremely basic, allowing just a choice of gender, hair styles, and skin and hair color, but most of this is covered up as the player crafts increasingly cool-looking Viking threads and has a few cups of tasty mead.
Before the player can relax with a pint, however, they must first learn to navigate a bountiful world full of resources ripe for the pillaging.
The player is dropped nearly naked into the world by a giant bird into a circle of standing stones in a grassy clearing. The stones each represent a world boss in need of slaying, thus establishing a clear mission for the players aside from just chilling out and doing Viking stuff, should they chose to.
Anyone who has played a survival game before will know exactly what to do first. That’s right, punch a tree! From there you get wood, from the wood you make tools, with the tools you can get more resources, and before you know it you have yourself a longhouse, weapons and armor, and maybe even your very own Viking ship.
Construction in the game is very intuitive, allowing the player a nice variety of wall, floor, and ceiling types to experiment with to build their dream villages if homesteading is their style. If not, a simple four walls and bed can serve just fine as well for the more adventure-oriented Viking, but an array of crafting-related structures become necessary to have access to the weapons and armor needed to fight the evil lurking beyond the safety of the meadows.
Hunting and gathering play a huge role in the early stages of the game, as you need to build up a nice surplus of food and supplies gathered from animals such as leather and deer pelts. You need to learn patience and hone your archery skills to take down deer, and have a sharp eye to spot mushrooms and berries in the forest. You wont starve to death from not eating like in some other survival games, but you will want all the food buffs you can get to provide stamina and health recovery for adventuring.
I haven’t ventured too far outside of the meadows myself, but the world is full of enemies such as trolls, drakes, draugrs, ghosts, skeletons, and sea monsters and the player and their crew need to be well prepared to face them and reap the spoils of their victories.
Valheim is still in early access, so even as millions of players are enjoying it as it is there is surely much more to come. What will the future hold for Valheim? At least a few hundred more hours of me running away screaming from trolls, drunk on mead and full of boar meat while all my friends watch and laugh.