After five months since initial release, I finally got to play Valheim, thanks to being given a copy by a friend. I didn’t want it to go to waste, especially since I heard about the hype back in February. I’ve had some survival crafting experience in Minecraft, but not enough to be proficient at the genre, so here’s my chance to really get into it.
As of this writing, I have 100 hours in the game. The furthest I’ve reached thus far is getting upgraded bronze equipment, killing the Elder, and exploring the Swamps, so I’m not that far into the game just yet. However, with how much this game hooked me, I’ll find a way to hit the endgame sometime in the future as more content comes in.
NOTE: This blog post is well over a month late. I had most of the draft down at the end of July, but life and laziness got in the way. I haven’t touched the game in over three weeks as of this posting. I went ahead and published this anyway to not have it go to waste.
What is Valheim?
Valheim is a survival crafting game developed by Iron Gate Studio, a Swedish outfit, and published by Coffee Stain, which is also known for Satisfactory, Sanctum 2, and Goat Simulator. It drops players in semi-random generated worlds based on world seeds. The game can be played either solo or in co-op multiplayer.
The objective of the game is to work your way towards killing all the five bosses—Eikthyr, The Elder, Bonemass, Moder, and Yagluth. You can then take their head trophies and set them in their corresponding sacrificial stone at the spawn point to gain access to their power.
The game is still in Early Access, so it’s not yet in its final form. In fact, as of this writing, one of the items the final boss drops is merely a placeholder, so there’s a chance that the developers will add more gameplay in the future. As of now, the game doesn’t end after killing the final boss, and it’s yet to be known whether there will only be five bosses or more will be added.
While the game is fairly vast and can eat up hundreds of hours in just one playthrough, the game files total just under one gigabyte, which is astounding. It runs well, features stylized pixelated 3D graphics in third-person perspective, and the controls are responsive. Combat is engaging and fairly challenging, taking hints from Souls-like games. I favor this viking combat more than that of Skyrim.
As with most other survival crafting games, what makes Valheim addictive is the progression. It has a fair bit of depth without being obtuse, so you get to learn as you go. The world is split into different biomes, with each having its own resources, so you get to learn about each and prepare yourself for them.
It does have an NPC in the form of a talking raven, who serves as the in-game tutorial, which helps with the learning curve. Other than that, you learn the game by reading tooltips and the runes strewn across the landscape.
The crafting and building plays into the human nesting instinct. If you like building houses in games, you will enjoy this game. You can craft your equipment, build crafting structures, design houses, cultivate farms, and even put up portals to shorten your travel.
When Valheim first entered Steam Early Access in February 2021, it was an overnight sensation. While most of its hype has tapered down as of now, it should pick up again once it gets more updates and finally gets released. I can imagine that the success that Hades had with its Early Access and retail launch, this game will follow suit.
Getting Started with Valheim
It had been a week since I got the game from my friend. I wasn’t able to set aside time yet to play it due to work. But then, it was my birthday and the fates thought it would be funny to have my internet connection go wonky early that morning.
Being forced to neither work nor procrastinate, I decided to open Valheim for the first time. It took time before it hooked me, but it did after 2 hours. When I exited the game to get back to work on mobile data, I felt the pull after a few hours. That’s when I knew I was hooked.
I created a new character, gave him short hair, named him Avoider, started my first world in the first seed that popped up (wcJ6RNya82) , named it “Santacruz” (the district in Manila), and watched the intro cutscene.
Playing blind, I felt my way around after being dropped in. I’ve played enough Minecraft to know the basics—gather resources, build a house, sleep the night away, work towards better equipment, and explore more of the world. I’m not used to dying in these games, however.
It took me two days to build my first house, or more like refurbish a ruined house in the meadows. I just placed a workbench in the back, plopped down a bonfire outside the front doorway, and placed my bed near it. I had no door at first, so it took me a while to figure out how to set up an indoor fireplace.
Gathering resources is the tedious part of the game. I particularly skipped the stone axe and went straight for the flint axe since I saw that it had better damage. I didn’t make a club since I thought it was puny and didn’t know about damage types yet, so I used the axe as my sole melee weapon.
My first death was by timber. Everyone who plays this game experiences this dumb way to die. Being hammered on the head by the tree one just chopped down becomes preventable once the physics is understood, but it can still happen to the careless.
When I fought Eikthyr for the first time, I died three times due to not really being prepared for it. But then, I realized that I could block his attacks quite easily. Also, he was easy enough to pick off with a bow, so I did that. I’ve since killed him two more times, and he’s really easy.
This boss was meant to teach players how to be patient while fighting a boss, so he’s meant to be easy. Also, since he drops an essential item, namely the hard antlers for the antler pickaxe to mine metal ores, there’s no way to progress in the game without confronting him at least once.
I would build two more houses to have more stops along the way. I hadn’t known much of the Black Forest biome at this point and had yet to mine copper and tin to make bronze. I had stumbled upon my first burial chamber and got a few surtling cores. My third house was precariously near the Black Forest, so close that it would bite me later on.
Encountering my first troll was quite the spectacle. It looked huge by the water, even when I was standing at a considerable distance. I knew I couldn’t take it on just yet. I would later learn in my second run that I could only take it head on in melee once I had all my weapons and armor at level 3. But here, I didn’t have to moxie yet to even kite it with my crude bow.
Later on, a troll came up to me and tried to turn me into paste, so I kited it and managed to take it down. After that, I was only 10 hours into the game. I then came up with the idea to write this blog post, but I played at least 90 more hours before I managed to finish writing this. Since then, I’ve died a bunch more times, and I even posted on TikTok and Instagram one of those deaths.
While I was kiting this troll, I got distracted as I was about to get hungry again. I thought that if I ate some food, it would replenish my health and stamina to keep going. However, while I was at it, I ran into a rock, which made me stay in one place for a second too long and the troll managed to smash me into powder.
I felt distraught, and I stopped playing for a bit. I even started a second character to try again, but then decided to work through it, build back up, and get revenge. This was where I realized how important sneaking was. Before that, I was actually chasing deer for several minutes on end to kill them with my flint axe, which was the really stupid way of doing it.
It’s doubly facepalming for me since I’m a fan of stealth action games, so not realizing that I could play the game like Hitman to hunt deer makes me feel like such a fool. But out of necessity, I sneaked towards my devastated main base, which is still being clobbered by the troll. It then started to walk away, but I got its attention with a good shot with my crude bow. I then proceeded to finish the job I disastrously botched.
After that bit of revenge, I rebuilt that base and built a stakewall around it to prevent future mishaps. I then explored more of the Black Forest, mined more copper and tin, found the location of The Elder, built a cauldron and fermenter to make food and potions, crafted a cultivator to start farming carrots, and found more queen bees to build beehives for more honey.
A few more days after, I decided that I wanted to explore more of the ocean, so I built a karve and set sail. My plan was to use the ship as a shortcut to the northeastern reaches of the island while also exploring the ocean. It seemed like a win-win, but only if I stayed alive. Of course, it went the opposite way for me.
On my way back from that excursion, I thought that I would land in the southeastern portion of the island as well instead of going straight back home in order to do more exploration. However, along the way, my karve was accosted by a sea serpent. I shot it with my bow and was doing pretty well. As the karve was approaching the shore and the serpent only had a pixel of health left, it went for one last lunge at my ship and managed to wreck it, thus dropping me on the water. It was still a good bit of distance away from the shore, so I ran out of stamina and died there. I was so close.
And that’s the end of this part of the story. I plan to pick it up from there once I’ve published this blog post, although I’m now having second thoughts since that run was so messy and badly managed. But I might as well go through with it anyway, and the game does allow me to break down by bases and rebuild them easily enough. As far as first runs go, it was alright since it was a pretty good learning experience.
Looking Up Guides on Valheim
One thing you have to take note about looking up guides is that you’ll feel dumb. Whether you realize your house design is not optimal, finding out about stuff you missed, or tactics against certain enemies that went over your head the first time around, it’ll make you want to start over.
This was me with house design, taming boars, and having picked a sword over a mace. It did make me think of starting over again, but I went against it and stayed resolute in finishing the game in my original world. The good thing about this game is that while it can be a bit brutal, it gives you a way to gain back what you lost (as long as you’re not playing permadeath).
One of the first things I learned was how to build simple houses as outposts, so that helped in getting copper and tin ore from the Black Forest back to my main base. I also learned how to stack chests using wooden floor boards, so I could have multiple chests in a small area, thus maximizing wall space. I built one outpost from scratch near the mountain biome, then another was in a stone building near the shoreline facing the location of the Elder.
I also learned about chimneys. That was a “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. While the ancestors were able to think of that during their more primitive times, my technology-addicted brain certainly didn’t think of it. But once I got a hang of it, I rebuilt every house and outpost with a covered chimney to let smoke out while keeping rain from extinguishing the fire.
Finally, I learned about world seed 42069lolxd, where the merchant location is well-known by the Valheim community. I didn’t follow the known path exactly, but I did reach the merchant without getting killed. I just went for it, didn’t build a house to serve as a spawn point, and took no breaks. It was risky, especially if I encountered a difficult mob or a persistent troll.
Along the way, I found copper and tin deposits, and I couldn’t help but mine them. Then, I realized that whatever my character had when I logged out, that’s what it has when I log into a different world. That’s when I discovered interdimensional resource gathering in this game. I left my character at home in my original world, then mined ore in the 42069lolxd world.
Due to the world seed system this game uses, you can actually look up maps for seeds on this website. Upon finding this out, I looked up my world seed and was quite surprised by how much I will have to explore in order to fight all the other bosses, especially Moder.
Then there’s this article on Rock Paper Shotgun that shows some of the best world seeds you can play. I might try some of these out in the future.
Things I Really Liked in Valheim
There’s a lot I really like about this game, and nowhere near done yet. At the core of Valheim is progression that’s tied less to character level and more to gear. That means if you die and drop your gear, you either have backup gear, reacquire gear the hard way, or find a way to get your gear back from your tombstone.
Much of your success depends on stacking the deck in your favor, so you need the rested buff, the best possible food, upgraded weapons and armor, stacks of potions, and correct strategy and tactics.
Food and Hunger
This game has the best implementation of a food and hunger system I’ve ever seen. I say that as someone who has limited experience with survival crafting games, but I’ve seen enough games that try to implement food items that end up being trash loot.
Not eating doesn’t kill you, but it makes you squishy as your health is limited to 25. When you do eat food, it boosts your total health and stamina pool, and better quality food boosts them more. Cooking is a crucial mechanic as better food can give you better health and stamina pool and regeneration. This is a brilliant implementation that most other survival games lack.
You want to save your best food for the most arduous tasks, like fighting difficult enemies or travelling to unfamiliar lands for the first time. Some foods provide more health, while others are more about boosting stamina. Neither are better than the other since while having more health lowers your chances of dying, having more stamina lets you run further for longer and fight more effectively.
Nothing is more frustrating in this game than having to fend off a mob while running low on stamina.
The need for better food makes you want to look for the best ingredients, as well as ways to farm them. Food is just as important as your weapons and armor. After all, damage and armor are nothing if you don’t have the health to keep you alive and stamina to do your attacks and block or parry enemy attacks.
Of course, building is what really makes this game really addictive, exploiting the nesting instinct that’s inherent in most gamers. Even if you think you hate building mechanics, the fact that it’s required in order to get through the game.
Structures rely on integrity to stay standing. For instance, if you build a house with a really high and wide roof, you’ll need supports in order to prevent the tiles from collapsing due to stress. This forces you to either build those supports or keep your buildings small. This isn’t Minecraft, so you can’t just suspend a floor tile in mid-air. You should either build it on flat ground or place a vertical wood beam underneath to support it.
You’re able to overlap building elements without collision detection, which can look janky at first. But once you get used to it, you can find ways to stack chests on top of each other, mount objects on walls to save space, place upgrades in basements, build spiral staircases, and so on. This building system allows for tons of creativity that I’ve not seen in other games.
You can choose to build either intricate structures that take a lot of resources and effort or efficient structures that take as little effort and resources as possible. Whichever way you go about it, Valheim lets you do well with either approach. You can prioritize efficient structures when you start out, then build magnificent castles and towns later on when you get the stonecutter.
Many veteran Valheim players post their best builds online, and you can aspire to do the same at your own pace. For now, building a grand fortress with all the bells and whistles is the endgame in Valheim, and perhaps the developers will add to that later on as they head towards full release and beyond.
The biomes serve as different levels, each with their own challenges and objectives. The Meadows are the first biome with the lowest level enemies and the least hostile environment.
The Black Forest had graydwarves everywhere who toss rocks at you and trolls who throw even bigger rocks at you while you try to mine copper and tin.
The Swamp has you knee-deep in brackish water, fending off leeches, blobs, skeletons, and draugrs while looking for sunken crypts.
The Plains are nice until you get chased by deathsquitos and fulings, and then you bump into loxes. But you have to build a base there to farm flax and barley for better items.
The Mountains will kill you with cold if you don’t drink a frost resistance potion or wear a wolf or lox hide cape. But even if you do, drakes and wolves will still kill you anyway.
The Ocean has sea serpents that will sink your ship and leviathans that will submerge every time you try to mine abyssal barnacles. I’m really scared of the Ocean.
Future biomes like the Mistlands, Deep North, and Ashlands are coming soon. There’s no telling how far the game will really go in terms of difficulty and complexity. I’ve only gotten through three biomes, and I’m already 100 hours in.
The controls are easy enough to understand, so it’s not hard to get into the combat. What makes it challenging is the stamina management, which compels you to not mindlessly take on fights against multiple enemies since you’ll spend most of your time running away while unable to attack or parry due to not having enough stamina.
Parrying is the most important combat mechanic as it increases your chance to stagger. It does consume some stamina, but you’re able to get opportunities to attack, especially against enemies that don’t stun or stagger so easily like trolls and graydwarf brutes.
There are different weapon types, and it’s good to switch between a couple to mitigate damage resistances. For instance, skeletons are weak against blunt damage, so you’ll want to tech up to a bronze mace as you explore the Black Forest and the Swamp.
You’re never completely invincible, even with the best gear. You have to remain vigilant and always have your guard up or you might just die in a stupid way and regret it while either running back to recover all of your gear or not playing for a few days.
World Seed System
The seeds aren’t completely random. You can look up a seed (combination of numbers and letters) on the Valheim World Generator and that’s pretty much the same world you’ll see in the game. But there are an almost limitless number of world seeds that are possible in the game that you can always look forward to playing in a new world.
Of course, you can make things more interesting by not looking up your current world seed in the Valheim World Generator and just explore it the hard way. You still retain your knowledge of the game, including the biomes and your progression, so you get tested as you start a new game in a new world seed, whether from scratch or in “New Game Plus.”
Or you can look up some interesting world seeds on the Internet and play those if you’re looking for a particular type of experience. The great thing about this system is that there are now lists of interesting seeds that you can try out yourself, then talk about it with other players in the very active community.
Things I Don’t Like in Valheim
Most of this is nitpicking. There’s not a lot to dislike in this game, but those few things are pretty hard to miss. Some pop up every now and then, while others can be ignored and forgotten.
First off, it’s not as lightweight as you think. While its files are barely 1GB total, you can’t just run it in a potato. In fact, my current system barely hits 40fps in open areas. Also, it stutters whenever it does a world save, and their solution was to give a warning 30 seconds prior. This is a system that’s far from optimized, but it can only work a certain way to play the way it plays.
You also get FPS drops with elaborate building designs due to the number of entities the game has to render on the screen. The entities system is a big part of what makes Valheim as it makes things very interactive, but it’s also what can impact its performance. What Valheim players need right now is for the GPU market to go back to how it was five years ago.
No Item Breakdown
Also, there’s no way to break down items at the moment, so you have to be careful whenever you’re crafting items. If you unintentionally craft an item since you don’t get to cancel it once you click on the button, you lose the items used to craft that item and you’re stuck with it. You can only store it or throw it away. Hopefully, you don’t have too many of those accidents.
Ineffectual Weapon Types
Not all the weapon types are viable. The spear still could use some work, while the two-handed weapons tend to drain too much stamina. The Stagbreaker is great for killing multiple skeletons and graydwarves at once, but not much else. In the end, you only need two weapons at most—axe and mace—to go with your shield, and that’s it.
Not Enough Shortcut Bar Slots
There really are not enough slots on the shortcut bar. I personally find myself filling up seven out of eight slots with weapons and equipment, and I don’t get enough left over to use for potions. I use the eighth slot to keep track of the amount of the item currently being gathered
Things I Have Not Done Yet in Valheim
Well, I’ve only killed two out of five bosses so far, explored three out of the five currently available biomes, and only got up to the bronze age. Clearly, I’ve only seen a third of the game so far, but I already sunk 100 hours in.
I also have not experienced playing multiplayer yet. There aren’t a lot of friends that I could convince to play with me at the moment since I got on the boat pretty late, but perhaps I can get my chance once the new DLC comes out.
Also, I’ve not committed to building a castle or mansion in the game outside of creative mode. If I do end up committing to doing it, I’ll have to use the Elder power and cut down a whole lot of trees to build a grand fortress. That’s going to take a lot of time.
Complex builds may be a good reason for me to actually reach out and look for other people to play with in this game, especially once the major updates come out.
While I was finishing this blog post, I thought not to play my first character until it’s done. In the meantime, I started playing a second character. I wanted to finish this post first before I went off to recover my body from the sea, but I still couldn’t get enough of the game.
This second playthrough went a lot faster since I now knew the basics of the game. I immediately gathered resources and put down a base near the water, then worked towards getting weapons and armor to take down Eikthyr.
I actually killed The Elder with this character at this point, but it’s now stuck after being killed by a one-star Draugr when I made a mistake while establishing a main base on that island. If I want to get back there, I either build back up or somehow find a way to sneak past them to get my stuff back, then kill them properly.
I then created a third character, tried to record an optimized let’s play, and died to Eikthyr because his spawn was right next to a burial ground with tons of skeletons. I haven’t kept going with it, and I should sometime soon.
A fourth character saw me be even more efficient at going through the first two bosses, even mining copper and tin in a different world to cut down the travel time. I also created a fifth character for creative mode, so I got to try out different builds I saw on YouTube.
As I finish writing this post, one character died in the middle of the ocean when my karve was accosted by a serpent in the middle of the night. It only had one pixel of health left before it attacked my ship one last time. If I had released an arrow just a bit faster to kill it, I would’ve safely gotten to shore. But alas, my tombstone now floats in the middle of the sea.
Meanwhile, another one got killed in the mountains when attacked by a one-star wolf. I got overconfident and I noticed that I had a frost resistance potion, so I figured that I could survive. I had killed a no-star wolf before, so I didn’t think they were that tough. I was wrong and paid the price for it. That was the last time I touched the game as of this writing.
Perhaps I’ll play again once Hearth & Home finally comes out.
Have something to say? Do you agree or am I off-base? Did I miss a crucial detail or get something wrong? Please leave whatever reactions, questions, or suggestions you may have in the comment section below.
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