Like the rest of the world, I too succumbed to the call of Odin and bought Valheim.

But unlike the rest of the world, here’s my hot take: Valheim ain’t special.


This isn’t to say it’s bad. Valheim is indeed clever in many ways… assuming that it’s austere design is intentional, and not a result of it being an Early Access game built by two dudes. Part of that cleverness is the fact that Valheim put a tutorial inside an otherwise open-world survival game. Just think about all the other survival games out there, and how they all proudly lean into their cold opens and lack of direction. I have spawned into ARK with a level 1 character on what was supposed to be a safe(ish) beach and was immediately eaten by a raptor. That may be par for the course for survival games, but it doesn’t have to be. And so it’s no wonder that Valheim with its exclamation mark raven has hooked millions of people into an experience they don’t quite realize is about to get very survivalish.

By which I mean the tedium of resource gathering.

Coming home.

After killing the first boss, the player unlocks the ability to craft a pickaxe with hard, deer god antlers and otherwise move on to the Bronze Age. Which requires the exploration of the Black Forest biome to find Copper and Tin deposits, which can be smelted into Bronze that can then be crafted into better armor and weapons. It is at this stage that I realized I could have been playing ARK, Conan, No Man’s Sky, Subnautica, The Long Dark, The Forest, 7 Days to Die, State of Decay, or Fallout 76. And probably should have instead, because Valheim is incredibly basic at this level. Whereas I could tame dinosaurs to speed up resource gathering in ARK, I’m stuck sloooooooooowly collecting 20 Copper Ore at a time, bringing it back to the Smelter, and eventually turning it into Bronze. Meanwhile, you get attacked by Greydwarves every minute and a half, punctuating the tedium with a different kind of tedium. Oh, and make sure you scour every hillside on your gathering missions so you can find instanced crypts and collect enough red cubes to create your Smelter and stuff.

Seriously though, I’m reading these other bloggers and then looking at my game and wondering if they have never played a survival game before. And maybe they really haven’t. There is nothing particularly approachable about ARK (etc), especially in comparison to Valheim. But thus far, it appears all the really interesting genre innovation died with Eikthyr.

Hard to convey that initial depth of panic.

For example, a lot of hay has been made regarding how Valheim is a survival game in which you don’t actually die to starvation/thirst. Supreme innovation! But what really happens is that you trade off ignoring food at the front end to becoming obsessed with it for the rest of the game, when the opposite is true in every other survival experience. In Valheim, both your HP and Stamina meters are dictated by what food you eat, and you must eat three different varieties to keep them topped off. You can get by with just cooked meat from boars and deer in the beginning, but later generic enemies can almost one-shot you if you aren’t eating cooked meat, neck tails, and then something else like Honey or Mushrooms. That is a lot more varied farming for food than I would need in ARK or 7 Days to Die once I’m past initial hump.

I will continue on playing for a bit and see if anything fundamentally changes after defeating the second boss. Based on writings of people who have already logged 60+ hours though, it sounds like it will be more of the same with a slightly new resource. Which is literally the formula for survival games, I know. Thing is, other survival games typically have an X factor that sets them apart from one another.

As of yet, I don’t see what that is with Valheim.

Posted on February 24, 2021, in Impressions and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Well it has few similarities with the building/survival clones, Rust, Ark, DayZ and the likes.
    It’s way more similar to the creative progressive open world games like minecraft and terraria.

    Where the progress comes from having to head out in the world and explore and search for something that leads to the next tier.
    But from what I can read, you ain’t seen nothing yet.


  2. I’m assuming you are playing solo? All games like this are more fun with others, but I think especially for Valheim since it’s PvE focused vs having to deal with PvP. Stuff like going on resource trips solo is a pain, in a group its a shared experience and enjoyable. Also the world scaling with more people makes the combat more interesting as swarms of enemies become more common.

    The standout though, and why so many people ARE playing this well beyond the initial few hours of ‘hey what’s this’ is that the core mechanics like combat are better than others in the genre, the world is more fun to explore, and the pace stays ‘correct’ as you go. There is no 10 hour camp to tame a T-Rex in Valheim that you then lose because off-hours someone ganked it. That goes a long way to making playing feel ‘worth it’ here.


    • The point about combat is indeed an interesting one. When I think about ARK, “combat” doesn’t really apply to the nonsense that takes place – there is no dodge-rolling away from a T-Rex. And actually, that’s pretty much the same with all the other survival games I listed. So, yeah, it’s a legit point to make that someone who enjoys a more metered – dare I say “skillful” – combat experience in a survival game finally has an option.


  3. I’m playing solo and I’m having a fine old time. In fact, I’d prefer not to have other people around because I want to be able to build anything I want, wherever I want and not have to worry that a) other people will find it obtrusive or b) wish I’d be doing something more useful.

    What Valheim reminds me of more than anything is early EverQuest, when I was also playing solo. The world is fascinating and dangerous but also consistent and “fair”. Once you learn the local rules and culture everything makes sense. It’s also often very pretty. It has that sense, as did EQ, that you could live there.

    As for the gathering, that really depends on whether you find that sort of thing tedious or relaxing. It puts me into a kind of zen state that I find very pleasant so I have no issues with spending hours doing it.

    On the question of whether people raving about Valheim have ever played a survival game before, clearly it’s both. I haven’t, or at least I don’t think I have. I’ve never even played Minecraft. Maybe it’s not surprising I’m impressed. I’ve read many comments from people who have played plenty of other survival games, though, and what they seem to be saying isn’t that Valheim’s doing anything different – it’s that it’s doing the usual things better. Just as WoW made EQ’s mechanics palatable to a mainstream audience, maybe Valheim is doing the same for ARK and Rust’s.

    Valheim: it’s the WoW of survival games. That probably sums it up.


  4. I think valheim is an oddity in games in its way, thier is nothing within it that you cannot find in other games.

    But as someone who has enjoyed the hell out of it I think what I would say is has going for it is that it all just well works. That is to say the thing it does do it does well, bulding for example or terrain generation, and with the lighting some sceens look awesome. A highlight to me is the the ore logic and fewer other make outposts a nessecity giving me the chance to build new thoughts, a tower? a longhouse etc.

    Oh and for you ore problem, build a cart and pull a bunch of ore in one go.


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