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Valheim Early Access Review

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  • Posted on 01st Oct, 2022 14:39 PM
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Valheim is an incredibly engrossing viking survival game that will keep players exploring, crafting, and building for hours on end.

p>Steam has been flooded with survival games since Minecraft's meteoric rise in popularity, and so when one manages to break through the noise and make a name for itself, it's worth paying attention. Valheim from Iron Gate Studio launched on Steam in early access back in February, translating Minecraft-style gameplay mechanics to a viking setting, and managing to sell over five million copies in the process. Valheim's popularity has shown no signs of slowing down, and its success is well-deserved.

Valheim starts players off in a meadow, almost naked and with no tools at their disposal. Like in Minecraft, the first minutes of Valheim are spent punching trees to get wood, which can in turn be used to create tools that make harvesting wood and other materials faster. These materials can then be used to create buildings that players can use to get shelter from the elements and enemies. It's a familiar gameplay loop present in many survival games, but it's more engaging in Valheim for a variety of reasons.

Perhaps one of the main reasons why Valheim has managed to stand above other games in the genre is that it doesn't bog players down with restrictive hunger and thirst meters. Too many survival games force players to babysit status meters instead of letting them engage with the more entertaining aspects of the game, and so that's thankfully stripped out of ValheimValheim players still have to find food to eat, but instead of punishing them for not eating, they are rewarded for eating.

Valheim players have a base amount of health that they can increase by eating food. They can eat three different kinds of food at once to not only maximize their total health, but also to increase their total stamina. Different foods have different effects, and it's fun to experiment to see what does what. And since players won't starve to death, there is no pressure making them go out of their way to get food. This allows players to be mindful of the hunger system without having to obsess over where their next meal is coming from.

Food in Valheim is easy to come by in general. Players shouldn't have to venture far to find all kinds of berries, plus plenty of boar, deer, and other animals that they can kill for meat. It won't take long before Valheim players have a large stockpile of food, and they can then focus on the other, more entertaining aspects of the game, like exploration, crafting better equipment, and fighting challenging enemies.

Valheim gives players complete freedom to go wherever they want right out of the gate, but if players venture too far, they will likely end up in an area they're not ready for. Valheim uses its biomes to pace the experience and help lead players through the game, gradually introducing new items and gameplay mechanics along the way. For example, the Meadow biome in Valheim is spent mainly gathering materials and building structures, but then when players get to the Black Forest, they will discover dungeons, massive trolls, and ore deposits.

The game doesn't hold players' hands, but it also isn't inaccessible or confusing. Players will figure out what they need to do next for themselves based on what they encounter. While exploring the Meadow biome, early Valheim players will realize that it is very difficult to hunt deer with only knives and clubs. So then they will need to focus on crafting their first bow and arrows. After successfully hunting a deer and getting deer hide, players will learn how to craft leather armor which in turn will make it easier for them to fight off the Greydwarves and other enemies. This will then prepare them for the first boss fight against Eikthyr, and upon completing that, they will get access to even more items that open up additional gameplay opportunities.

Valheim is brilliantly paced so that players aren't bombarded with everything at once, but are instead taught one thing at a time. This gives Valheim a rewarding sense of discovery, as players are constantly learning new things or getting some new crafting recipe. This ensures that Valheim players always have a goal, which keeps them engaged with the game, successfully addressing the lack of direction that some survival games have notoriously struggled with in the past.

The main goal in Valheim is to find the boss spawn locations scattered throughout the map, figure out how to summon them, and then defeat them in an epic-scale boss battle. Valheim's boss fights are intense and can be genuinely challenging, forcing players to make sure they have the proper gear and stats before they take them on. Players can team up with up to nine others thanks to Valheim's online co-op to make the boss fights a little easier, but they will still offer a decent challenge.

Valheim's combat gives players a variety of options. They can use a bow if they'd like, which allows for ranged damage and is generally safer than close-quarters combat. Alternatively, they can outfit themselves with a knife and a shield, parrying attacks and going in for a flurry of strikes whenever they see an opening. Whatever kind of combat Valheim players choose, the game will reward them by leveling up their stats for those specific skills. Using a bow increases the bow stat, using melee weapons increases that stat, and so on and so forth. This is another level of progression that contributes to Valheim being such a rewarding experience and a difficult game to put down.

Valheim players can completely ignore the boss fights and fighting enemies, focus entirely on the crafting, and still be able to sink dozens of hours into the game. Valheim players have created incredible worlds using the game's building mechanics, including areas from Game of ThronesDiablo, and World of Warcraft. Building in Valheim has somewhat of a learning curve, but once players get the hang of it they will be able to create their own viking villages in no time.

And that's the beauty of Valheim. It is an incredibly deep gameplay experience, allowing players to have an action-RPG style adventure or giving them the tools to create their own villages and live out their viking fantasies. Valheim players can build longships and explore the seas, or they can go dungeon crawling in the woods. There's so much to do in the game and it's all anchored by perfectly paced progression so it never feels overwhelming.

After playing Valheim, some may be surprised to learn that it is technically an early access title. However, there is very little about Valheim that is "early access." In all actuality, Valheim in early access is more polished and content-rich than some full-priced $60 games that hit the market as "finished" products. But while Valheim's content and gameplay is impressive enough that it doesn't look like a typical early access game, it does have a couple of concerning technical issues that potential players should be made aware of.

Valheim has a major bug that deletes players' worlds, and the game itself warns players that they could potentially lose access to their character when playing online. We never experienced these bugs in our own time with the game, and they are reportedly fairly rare occurrences. Even so, these are pretty severe, game-breaking bugs and their very existence will leave players on edge, worried that they could wind up losing all of their progress.

These issues will be ironed out and Valheim's content roadmap ensures that plenty of new content will be added to the game as well throughout 2021. In its current state, it's an incredibly engrossing experience and perhaps the first survival game of its kind to match Minecraft in pure fun factor. And if it's already this impressive in early access, one can only imagine how good it will be when it has its full release.

Valheim is available for PC in early access.

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