Valheim, a survival sim that puts fun and smarts ahead of survival

I shall now also post about Valheim, because that is what one blogs about these days. As one should, because out of the blue the game has come out and done what so many before it have failed to do; it captures the core of a genre while removing much of the suck, and doing so in a clean and enjoyable manner.

The easiest way to understand why playing Valheim is more fun than say, playing RUST or ARK is similar to how the combat and overall feel in WoW is better than EQ or similar games. Both sets of games do similar things and have their own details and differences, but Valheim/WoW just ‘feel’ smooth and clean. Hitting a skill off your hotbar in WoW is better than doing the exact same thing in EQ. The ‘why’ is complex and has been covered to death in the past, but the important part for today is that combat in Valheim just feels correct, where combat in RUST or ARK feels floaty and ‘off’ by comparison. That’s a huge deal when combat and general gameplay is, well, most of what you do.

Small details also add up. For example, in RUST/ARK you wake up naked and clueless and good luck figuring it all out. Note that both games have now been out for years. In Valheim you fly in via giant bird, and the area around you, while still part of the whole world, is designed with a new player in mind. A crow also appears early and often with tips on what to do and how to do it. The game has been out for less than a month. Oh, and it was made by two people. Why don’t RUST/ARK do this? Because you suffer and die because its survival, or something… I’m sure there was a point to it back in the day.

Unlike its peers, Valheim is a PvE game first. The point is to unlock and kill big bosses, while gearing up and killing ever increasingly difficult enemies as you explore the giant and procedural world (a quick note about the world generation; its insanely good, mostly avoiding creating things that don’t make sense or get you stuck). Why it took this long for someone to realize the potential of a full-on PvE ARK/RUST is beyond me, but its here and surprise, its super fun. While you can play solo, the game is far better with a small group of friends, and in another major “how is this early access done by two people?”, making your game open to others is both very easy and works like a charm. You can even have a paid hosting service keep your world online 24/7 (otherwise when the world host goes offline, others can’t join).

I won’t go into the details of everything you can do, but it has all of the basics. Build a base, upgrade and expand it, collect resources, explore, gain skills by doing things, die and corpse run, teraform, different weapons with different advantages/penalties, etc etc. Again, insane how much this game already has, and how well it all works.

The progression is very smooth, rarely is something critical lacking in an annoying way, and lots of small details make sense and are well thought-out. For example ore and metal bars can’t go through portals (fast travel), so while you can eventually fast travel around the world instead of repeatedly running back and forth, you DO need to plan major trips back when it comes to metal, which is a key progression resource. So you initially have travel for exploration, or shorter distances for local resources. Then you expand and unlock some fast travel to ‘shrink’ the world, but still must make the occasional trip via cart or boat for ore/metal. It just works, and is well thought-out.

The game is full of other examples of smart design. Of things that challenge you but aren’t annoying. The game is just a joy to play, and especially with others. For $20 its the biggest steal in gaming right now. Can’t recommend highly enough!

About SynCaine

Former hardcore raider turned casual gamer.
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6 Responses to Valheim, a survival sim that puts fun and smarts ahead of survival

  1. Kyle M says:

    Yeah, this game is an absolute masterstroke from some some exceptional Devs. You summed up much of why this game is doing so well when many other survival games fall flat. I find most survival/craft games to be way more tedium/work than fun – but this one is great. So glad that a friend picked it up and convinced me to try it. Since then, many games friends who hate pvp and survival elements have also being playing and loving this one.

    I agree that it’s amazing we haven’t seen a big PvE survival game like this. There have been some variants (Don’t Starve Together, jumps to mind) but this one is simultaneously both more accessible and more enjoyably challenging. The beginning can be super chill and easy, or if you want a challenge you can start getting aggressive right off the start.

    It’s so good.

  2. Azuriel says:

    I’m sitting this one out because, dammit, someone has to.

    Well, mainly because I know that I’d get really into it, and “finish” before the new biomes get released, and never know what that game would have been like. Just like Terraria, the other islands with ARK, etc.

    • SynCaine says:

      If the later biomes add to the end of the progression, even if you have to move a character to a new map to get them, that doesn’t result in a full reset, since you can bring gear/items between worlds. Hard stop would be if characters are somehow incompatible between patches.

  3. Yeah, I am both surprised by how hard this game hooked me… this is what my blog has been about now for over a week… and how solid it has been. It is not perfect, and there are a few awkward bits, but I think we were a week in before we spotted a real bug. We had a deer near our camp that was immobile and unkillable. Just standing there like a decoy. I was looking for the ranger to try and catch us for hunting out of season.

    It is a lot of fun for a small group, especially if you have some good division of labor. At our end Skronk is particular about housing, so while I was fine to live on a dirt floor and set myself on fire every morning when we started, he ended up remodeling my initial structure into a nice looking place.

  4. Jonneh says:

    So far my favorite thing about this game is that even though there are only 5 effective biomes, when I look at my map of all the places my group has explored each different area has a completely different set of stories to tell from it even though from the map it looks like just another swamp.

    There is a big stink in the steam forums with people constantly complaining about being unable to teleport with metals but it’s unlikely any of this emergent game play would have come about if it was possible.

  5. Pingback: Valheim Creative Mode – potshot

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