During the weekend, Viking survival game Valheim peaked at over 360,000 concurrent players on Steam. As Steam and other game showcases are inundated with survival titles to choose from, ranging from Minecraft (and its many assorted mods) to Ark and Terraria to Rust, the new early access title from Iron Gate AB. burst onto the scene. From a list of basic features and mechanics, Valheim may not look different at all from many other survival titles. So what separates Valheim from one of the other survival titles? Should you try? Here are some key points that explain Valheim’s rise through the ranks …
Two distinct speeds
You can explore the world of Valheim alone or with 9 other friends, on dedicated servers or simply by joining your friends’ world. While the single player experience is basically the same game, it plays out very differently. On its own, the game is more of a zen garden kind, allowing you to take each day at your own pace, enjoy every little bit of cooked food, and be the sole owner of every exploration, every triumph, and every discovery. The pace as a single player is much slower and becomes a sort of survival meditation as you plan each day and over-prepare with every step outside your door. After all, there is no one to help you if you get killed and have to go through a dreaded Corpse Race to get your gear.
Multiplayer is more traditional survival, as players work together to create multiple bases and complete the challenges of building, equipping, exploring, and killing bosses together. Some players are reluctant to adopt this style of play, as not logging into the game for a single day can have profound effects on the level the server is at (we all started the Terraria worlds, left for a day, and are our friends return to the sky with laser guns as we wave our little wooden baby pickaxe…) But after about a week of diving in Valheim, cooperative multiplayer is the best way to play. Meeting your friends and bonding on a storm raft ride or just heading out to mine copper together is a blast.
In fact, you can replenish the Big Bosses and they have multiple spawn locations per world, so if you want to play independently while having a support group on a server, that’s an option as well. If your crew is like mine, players will naturally fill the archetypal Builder, Explorer, Fighter, and more buckets, ensuring you have a fun time every time you log in. money for a dedicated server so you and your friends can come and go as you please instead of having to wait for a friend to set up the world every time you want to play. While I think multiplayer is vastly superior and teamwork does the dream job, single player play is an enjoyable, albeit incredibly different activity, in which you are sure to enjoy each discovery yourself.
Interestingly, barebones PvP is completely optional and pretty much just for fun, which makes the multiplayer aspect of Valheim completely cooperative. It (almost) eliminates the vibe of heartbreak that can permeate some other survival games. Yes, in theory, someone could step into your game and destroy your house if you open up your world to the public, so try playing with people you know!
Simplicity is the key
Valheim’s structure is immediately noticeable and understandable even to players far from the survival genre. Essentially, each biome is a level and ruled by a boss. Close the area for resources, craft new equipment and recipes, kill the boss, rinse and repeat with tools to tackle the next area via the boss drops. Boss fights create server gathering events for you and your friends, and if you’re playing with a particularly curious or adventurous group, there are creative ways to sequence the natural order of progression. The key here is really that the game is understandable right off the bat, with a helpful crow giving players the tutorial steps. You don’t have to worry about crafting fifty more items to craft a single item or intricate multi-faceted crafting schools, just stand up and start progressing through your world.
Conquering the meadow is child’s play, The Black Forest offers a significant increase in exploration and challenges, and things get considerably more intense in the Swamp, Plains and mountains. And Valheim also has optional secrets to uncover that exist outside of the biome hierarchy that can greatly improve your options and progression, like the merchant and a certain sea creature that I won’t mess up. There is something to be said that you are not tasked with trying to concoct thirty different types of resources just to get things done, wood and stone are enough. Survival titles are inherently intimidating by genre, and Valheim is surprisingly welcoming for a game where Vikings fight werewolves in the snow.
Rewards instead of punishment
Yes, Valheim has some pretty serious death consequences in that you have to go back into your body to collect your gear and items, but you can prepare for it pretty well. Other than that, Valheim rewards you for interacting with survival mechanics rather than punishing you for not doing so. Eat food makes you much harder to kill, providing health regeneration, stamina, and other bonuses – but you will not die from not eating. You are encouraged to find shelter and warmth from the cold and damp conditions, but these things won’t kill or damage you either. From a gameplay point of view, it makes world management much easier. You know that if you’re going to do a difficult task, like moving forward into a new biome or taking on a boss, you’ll want to be fully rested with heavy meals in your stomach, but you’re not constantly hassled to death by hunger, thirst or weather counters. This design change is very important in alleviating the excessive frustration of players in a hostile world.
Punctuated and powerful discovery
Most survival games have significant findings, and Valheim puts an exclamation mark on them with sparse musical notes and well-used effects. The world of Valheim can be surprisingly beautiful at times, with awesome lighting and weather adding accents to the action. Thunderstorms. Lightning. White blizzards. The first time that
Come back to reality
Yes, there’s also the COVID-19 factor that shines a light on both lonely and social gaming experiences, but it would be dismissive and wrong to attribute Valheim’s success to that aspect alone. I’m glad Valheim is enjoying a ton of Early Access success, and hopefully that means the team can eventually release an incredible end product. The realities of the situation are that because this is early access and only about half of the content is available globally, there will be an inevitable drop when players reach the end of current content offerings. Many will likely wait until the full version is released rather than tackling all of the roadmap fixes. While this is perfectly normal and expected, expect a lot of screaming from the peanut gallery saying that Valheim is a ‘two week game’ or ‘dead game lol!’ as the player base drains after the initial push. Valheim looks great as an accessible, intriguing and tasty world. You should probably take a look.