Journey to the tenth Norse world of Valheim carried in the claws of the Valkyries to eliminate Odin’s rivals and bring order to the land.

Mostly by chopping down trees and brewing mead.

Survival, with survikings

Your first few minutes of Valheim will be super familiar for fans of Rust, Minecraft or 7 Days to Die. Walk around near-naked, collect stone and rock, and build some basic tools. So far, so what.

However, you’re here for a purpose. No aimless building or pointless PETA-angering slaughter of the wildlife – you’ve been chosen by Odin to rid the land of Forsaken, twisted spirits of the land. The very spot you land in and your first spawn point is a circle of altars dedicated to them, with every visit (by death or otherwise) reminding you of this objective hanging over your head like the sword of Damocles.

It gives wandering around this low-poly, high particle effect world a feeling or purpose. Once you’ve grappled with the crafting mechanics and are past the underwhelming initial options, the game space gradually unfolds in an exceptionally engaging experience.

Tutorial Raven is, admittedly, also fresh

Raze a village, raise a barn

Building is more basic and more expensive than 7DTD or Minecraft, but no less satisfying. You have a lot of freedom in how you place your small number of pieces, with each either snapping into place or plonked down ad-hoc with a single button hold. Building higher increases the instability of individual pieces, helpfully colour-coded, with more advanced materials giving you more leeway before things collapse like a poorly baked souffle.

You can also make a smoky box-shaped hovel WHICH IS AN EQUALLY VALID CHOICE

Truly impressive projects like land bridges joining islands or elaborate mansions need a lot of purposeful gathering, and are complicated by needing to stay in range of relevant crafting stations. You’ll find yourself breaking down and leapfrogging workbenches across the land to realise your vision of a trans-Valheimian interstate.

With a simple toolset and limited options it’s possible to build some truly magnificent structures.

Advanced earthworks – moats, walls, quarrying – are all possible and highly effective, albeit exorbitantly expensive. Enemies neither jump over nor kick down terrain in order to bash your horned helmet in. Caves, however, are neither in the game nor possible to build, with your character digging entire vertical columns away with a single swing… but with the aforementioned enemy ignorance of natural barriers this would be very broken.

Sailing up the tech tree

Taking down the Forsaken means gearing up – you won’t get far against nature gods with a stone axe and rags. The best weapons and armour are locked behind long journeys and even early Forsaken. There’s no rushing later bosses or risk-free gathering, with materials scattered across Valheim in biomes that’ll push you to your current limits.

Even finding these materials isn’t the last word. If you want bronze you’ll need to lug exceptionally heavy copper and tin all the way to a smelter slowly by foot, clumsily by cart, or in small quantities by boat. The smelter itself is built with rare items from delves – the game’s instanced dungeons with higher level enemies – meaning placing on is a major investment. Even when you unlock the instant travel portals, you cannot take unworked metal through necessitating a fully equipped outpost to build the items you want or another arduous journey.

Moments before disaster

Earning your fun

Perhaps this sounds like a chore. It absolutely is. But the slow travel and dangerous environs create situations which spawn stories. That building over there isn’t something you threw-up haphazardly – it was your safehold against trolls when mining for copper, the base you returned to again and again while fruitlessly searching for delves, and the place you huddled in with a sliver of health while greydwarves tried to break down the door.

Walls™! Because screw that.

It really feels like you’re starting from the stone age and working your way up. Everything feels hard-earned, and the constant barrage of attacks from enemies provides a frisson of danger to everything you do. The best word of progress is measured – slow, but not tedious. You always have a long-term goal in mind, with everything you’re doing no working towards that. This gives you a reason to think about the world you’re in, consider the best or quickest way of achieving your goal.

And while the game makes progression hard-won, it’s simultaneously easily kept. Broken items can be repaired for free and you can almost always recover all resources from destroyed/dismantled structures. Most importantly, like Terraria, equipment is character based. You can take your Viking to a friend’s realm to flex/be flexed, or just start a new character to play together. While the game does have skills that affect gear performance – levelling as you use them – there’s no limit to skill progression, but there’s nothing stopping you from having different characters specialising in different weapons.

The good hurt

Speaking of weapons, combat is super satisfying. A variety of weapons, armours and arrows, different damage types, enemy resistances to consider and a solid parry mechanic means fights transcend the click-to-win trope seen in other games of this genre – at least with enemies of comparable levels.

Unfortunately, it’s let down by lacklustre enemy AI. Often slowly walking away is enough to keep you from harm, with attack patterns easy to predict. This isn’t enough to make fighting a complete write-off though, with death coming fast if you’re not paying attention.

Wake up and smell the mead

If you’ve been glancing at the screenshots (which I’ve lovingly curated for you so you goddamn better be) you’ll notice the graphics are an odd mix… the models and landscape are low poly but the lighting is incredible. The sun spreads a golden hue over the landscape and glints over the rolling seas, while fog blankets everything in a moody grey. While it’s a bit jarring to see Playmobil pigs jerking around this wonderfully lit landscape at first, this soon fades away. And this mix of details allows for a beautiful and unique looking game that clock in around 1Gb.

Beautiful sun, hiding some bastarding enemies

Sounds are beautifully realised, with each creature given distinct cries, and trackable by listening to them crash through the undergrowth. The music is thumping drums and soaring wind instruments, very setting appropriate and scene-setting, though can get a little repetitive if you’re sticking around the same area.

I give Valheim one shadowy demon deer out of one. Top marks.

Final word

Valheim is slow… but engaging. I’ve lost hours to it in an almost meditative trance. In fact this article has mostly been written for a week now, but again and again I wanted just one more evening of play… to make sure I did my best on this review of course…

Frustration was extremely rare, and even death is forgiving. Allegedly you lose skill points but I never noticed this. Your last death is marked on the map and you grab all your gear in a single button press. Even if you die again before getting back to your corpse, this grave stays in place.

It’s an incredible effort from the developers. With over 3 million copies sold in such a short span of time, and a considerable amount of game even in early access, they’ve got something really special on their hands. They also seem very open to feedback, with contact details prominent in the game. I hope they escape the curse of under-developed early access games, because I really want to see what Valheim can become.

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