Valheim review: Coffee Stain Studios’ Viking survival game is taking over

Valheim opens with a scrawl of red runes that gradually bleed into text. The Norse legendary unfolds prior to you, as you are blended away into another world in the claws of a crow. Thunder and lightning noise around you prior to you are dropped into a familiar, yet in some way foreign, landscape. There is a sense of secret and wonder as the melodic rating starts to play. You are here. You remain in Valheim.

Yet in spite of all of these fantastical aspects, Valheim stays grounded in a sense of realism that contributes to the experience in concrete methods.

The video game provides a tidy mix of expedition, RPG aspects, and a huge open world that in some way handles to feel natural. It appears to be the best storm, with 4 million copies currently offered.

You show up worldwide as the reincarnation of a terrific warrior from another world, set to do Odin’s job of ridding Valheim of dreadful monsters that even the gods attempt not challenge. Valheim motivates this practice, as beating these managers offers you with access to more tools to produce much better armor, real estate, or perhaps crafting devices.

Nevertheless, this act comes at the cost of the world itself. Each of these animals exists within a particular biome — the meadows, the Black Forest, the swamps, the windswept mountains, and the plains — and in order to battle these monsters, you need to eliminate their kin. And even after you’ve overcome the “boss” of these private locations, the video game forces you to deal with those repercussions in the kind of world occasions.

My effort to eliminate the excellent frost dragon Moder sent out the drakes that inhabited the mountains into a craze. There would be circumstances in which they would swoop below their natural surroundings to assault a neighborhood home I had actually constructed with pals on a shared server. These occasions will continue long after you’ve beat these ancient animals who had actually otherwise existed in harmony till your arrival.

For instance, I couldn’t have actually made a pickaxe without beating the meadow god Eikthyr the Stag, as I needed his horns to mine the earth for unrefined tin and copper. Development without updated armor and weapons is practically difficult in specific locations, as the video game starts to hair you in various locations, with biomes like the mountains needing frost resistance potions to start mining products to get more resistance to the cold when using specific armor sets.

A system of repercussions

Or you might constantly check out the world at your own impulse, as the story enables you to advance at your own rate — if you even wish to advance at all.

I felt a sense of marvel and wonder when checking out the different biomes I discovered in the procedurally created worlds. I frequently discovered myself remaining by empty coasts inhabited just by spread trees and rocks, simply looking into the range while the sun sank over the horizon. There is something tranquil in the isolation Valheim manages me, however it isn’t something that feels empty or hollow.

There is an attention to information in the building of the world that develops a deeply immersive truth—whether it be the act of including appropriate ventilation to your house to prevent being eliminated by dangerous fumes, or the wind instructions determining whether deer and other wildlife will have the ability to ferret out your existence while you’re slipping. Fantastical animals can likewise be discovered in Valheim, with skeletons and Drauger appearing in the bleak swamps set at the edges of the Black Forest.

Exploring the wilderness in Valheim

Image: Iron Gate Studio/Coffee Discoloration Publishing by means of Polygon

Valheim seems like it has more in typical with early period MMORPGs like RuneScape or perhaps Family Tree II in its openness than it does contemporary RPGs, though it obtains comparable concepts. The video game provides a less standard leveling-up system, in which gamers require to utilize products to increase their affinity with a specific stat.

If you wish to level up woodcutting, for instance, you’ll require to use up an axe and get to work. If you wish to increase your obstructing stat, then you will need to obstruct attacks, or perhaps punches from pals, in order to increase the effectiveness of your guard obstructing. Gamers can likewise increase their health and endurance statistics utilizing food products or potions.

I mainly hung out cooking and foraging for food, not thinking about engaging in fight unless definitely required. If anything, Valheim handled to scratch the itch for me that titles like Harvest Moon or Stardew Valley might otherwise no longer reach. While my friends fought packs of wolves and found krakens swimming between vast expanses of ocean, I practiced animal husbandry and farming.

Valheim’s world is low-poly for the most part, but features enhanced lighting and water refraction effects that create a beautiful blend of the early 2000s and modern graphics. Oceans and rivers look lovely, while even the dreariest of environments somehow stand out. Particle effects bloom and blossom in snowy locales, with dense fog sometimes permeating endless meadows of yellowing grass. It made me stop and appreciate the environmental design and procedurally generated scenery. This approach also allows for those even with fairly low-end machines to run the game.

Outside of the world actively fighting back against your intrusion and destruction, you can see the environment begin to change due to your work. Entire fields of grass are destroyed as you mine for valuable metals to make stronger armor, and forests shrink as you chop down trees to make sturdier walls to defend your home that otherwise shouldn’t exist.

This is in itself a depiction of colonialism and environmental degradation as you pillage a continent unknown to you for valuable materials to move elsewhere and do the exact same thing over and over again, until there is nothing left.

However, the player can still abstain from these actions. You might just live in solitude in the forests and meadows, enjoying a more humble abode in order to coexist with the creatures around you. A lot of my time in Valheim was spent fishing at the shores of a nearby ocean, and then cooking fish inside of my simple home. I only wanted to be there silently, listening to the sound of the water lapping against the shore or to see deer bounding through the forest as I clumsily approached them.

Forging a community oceans away

Eventually I buckled down and created a dedicated server for myself and my Twitch community. The online capabilities of Valheim are limited, with only ten players able to occupy a server at any given time, but they work just fine.

And with a recent update, players who were located in Japan were able to finally interact with players from Europe or North America without lag. Some of that lack of international functionality had created a greater sense of immersion while playing, though. One Japanese player on my server was, for the most part, unable to interact with us until recently, which meant we would see him sometimes in the distance, either hunting or at the lodge he had created in his own solitude.

Fishing in Valheim

Valheim can be a quiet place, if you’d like it to be
Image: Iron Gate Studio/Coffee Stain Publishing via Polygon

We would wordlessly trade items, since he couldn’t use item boxes if we were in close vicinity, or cross paths. And even though we could communicate in Discord, in the game itself we would simply acknowledge one another with a simple wave and hurry off in our own separate directions.

Stories like this make Valheim a memorable experience. I would speak about these instances with vigor and excitement, causing others to join my already robust group of players on the community server. We would interact and progress individually, sometimes meeting up at a communal house to share mead and food that I would cook for everyone.

Valheim is a game that comes around once every few years, cementing itself within the popular consciousness. However, it still maintains a kind of rigidity that relies on the player to engage in the gamification of colonialism to move things along. While it may have given me an option to refuse to engage with these mechanics, Valheim offered no true way around them. Continuing to engage with these systems and to feel the direct repercussions of destroying the environment feels intentional, outside of providing the player with another set of challenges to ultimately overcome.

This is a mechanic I have otherwise not seen used in similar games, and it manages to pose questions and challenge the player to look for other options — or to simply stop their “conquest” of Valheim altogether. Ultimately, I would have liked an option to choose to peacefully coexist with the inhabitants of the realm, and I hope that future updates allow for just that.

Either way, the social experience Valheim provides, or sometimes the lack thereof, is currently second to none. While it bears some similarities to multiplayer games that allow us to keep in touch with pals and loved ones who are far away, it also provides a way into the virtual outside world, to take walks in forests with people we enjoy or to produce a curated community experience.

It is a combination of these elements that has made Valheim such a successful and enjoyable experience, one worth sinking hundreds of hours in.

Valheim is out now on Windows PC. The video game was reviewed using a download code purchased by the writer. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, however Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased by means of affiliate links. You can discover extra details about Polygon’s principles policy here.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.