Valheim is the latest game to top the Steam charts and find rampant success on Twitch and YouTube. So what is Valheim to receive all this special attention; is it worth picking up or is it just another passing fad? Let’s talk about that.
Valheim is an Early Access survival game that was released on Steam on February 2nd. Now, Early Access survival games are a dime a dozen on Steam, especially after the rabid popularity of games like Minecraft, Subnautica, Rust, and Terraria. New entries in this genre constantly flood the market—most of them being poorly made and buggy releases trying to make a quick buck. But Valheim is very different from those games.
The basic premise is that you’re a Viking who was dropped off in the titular realm of Valheim, the tenth Norse world, to prove yourself to Odin by slaying his ancient rivals in the form of boss fights. Definitely more story than the average survival game, but outside of a short intro in the beginning and lore tablets spread throughout the world, it doesn’t actually get in the way of gameplay too much.
At that point your goals and activities are fairly standard for the genre—you collect materials, build shelter, and fight off threats. You can also play the game with up to nine friends, which always makes these types of games more enjoyable. However, Valheim’s approach to these tropes and the more unique elements it introduces elevate it above most other survival games, even at this early point in its development (which I can safely say having 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 levels up through every activity you perform, and you can find dungeons throughout the world filled with loot. The combat also takes cues from action RPGs like The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls series, and the building system has a great balance between creative freedom and simplicity.
The game is also sure not to overwhelm you with information by gradually introducing new mechanics and concepts to you when you’re ready, instead of hitting you with massive walls of text at the beginning of the game. It’s these smart design choices that make Valheim appealing to fans and non-fans of survival games alike, and is what helped it blow up so quickly. It has just enough standard RPG gameplay to entice normal players, while not completely getting rid of survival elements like gathering materials—it even manages to give unique spins to both.
I also want to give a quick shoutout to the visuals of Valheim. While you might look at a few screenshots and see the noticeably outdated visual style, it’s worth knowing this was an intentional decision from the developers to make the game look unique. I think it works well, especially when aided by the game’s beautiful lighting and water effects.
So then, this all sounds great, but Valheim is not without its blemishes and you should be aware of those before jumping in.
Early Access is a red flag to a lot of players. This is a program Steam has which allows developers to sell still-in-development games on the storefront. Nothing wrong with that in concept, but it’s certainly been abused over the years with completely broken games releasing through the program and then never being finished. However, Valheim is actually quite commendable in this regard.
There is 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 a few 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 infamous for technical issues—something Valheim is by no means innocent of.
When it comes to bugs, the game is pretty light on them—I’ve barely run into any during my time with it so far. However, even players with high-end PCs should expect some framerate issues while exploring, especially in multiplayer (but we’ll talk about that more soon). There’s also the natural concern that the game might be abandoned, but considering the fairly polished state it’s in currently, and that it’s being published by a well-known studio (Coffee Stain Studios, responsible for games like Deep Rock Galactic and Satisfactory), that seems unlikely. The developers have also stated that the game is likely to stay in Early Access for at least one year.
But speaking of the future, the developers have recently released a 2021 roadmap for Valheim which outlines four major updates coming throughout the year. These will introduce new biomes, mechanics, and features to the game (not to mention ironing out the various technical issues). Valheim is great right now, but it seems like it’s only going to get better as the year goes on.
Before we wrap up, there are a few things you need to know before playing Valheim that aren’t necessarily apart of the game itself. First off, Valheim is currently only available on PC, and according to the developers, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon—but consoles releases aren’t completely out of the question later down the road.
Next up is multiplayer. While the game is designed to be playable in both single player and multiplayer, the great multiplayer gameplay is a big draw to a lot of people. There are two ways of playing multiplayer: on a non-dedicated server which is launched directly through the game, or a dedicated server that is run through a separate program or can be rented from companies like G-Portal.
A non-dedicated server is easy to set up, just push “launch server” when you’re selecting the world and your friends can join through Steam like any other game. There are a few downsides to this though: Server performance won’t be as good as a dedicated server so lag may be frequent, the person hosting the server can expect their computer’s performance to take a nose dive (especially as more people join), and the server can only be up for as long as 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 launching it.
Renting a dedicated server is the best all-around solution, especially if you don’t have a spare PC, but that costs a decent amount of money monthly. Once you get multiplayer working, it’s a great time, but getting to that point might take a few steps if you’re after the best server performance. For a small group, non-dedicated servers should be fine, but if you’re looking to push the max player limit of 10 then a dedicated server is definitely recommended—regardless if you’re hosting it yourselves or renting it.
Valheim manages to appeal to a wide breadth of players thanks to its smart mix of survival and RPG gameplay. Even if you generally dislike one of those genres, there’s a decent chance that the balancing act Valheim performs will still make the game enjoyable. Not to mention it’s a fantastic game to play with friends, so if your friend group is looking for a new game to dive into, Valheim should occupy a couple of weeks at least.
But even if you pick it up and wind up not enjoying it, you can always rely on Steam’s refund policy to back out—for this type of game, two hours should be enough to figure out if it’s for you or not. If you dislike both survival games and RPGs then Valheim certainly isn’t for you, but if you’re a fan of either genre then you might just have found your new favorite release of the year—and subsequently lose 40 hours of your life.