Tuesday, February 16, 2021
Valheim - First Thoughts and how to find your perfect world
For once I am playing what all the cool kids are playing these days, which is Valheim, on Steam. It is an indie "survival" game is Early Access, which doesn't sound like much. But it spread like wildfire on Steam, because it is so very good. People tried it, liked it, streamed it on Twitch, and then everybody who saw it wanted to play as well. So now it shot up to third spot on the Steam charts, with more current players than PUBG, Rust, or Apex Legends. Not bad for a $20 indie game in Early Access!
I don't normally play many "survival" games, because they tend to be designed for you to *not* survive. Many of these games are unnecessarily harsh, and the multiplayer versions are frequently about unlimited ganking PvP. Valheim is a "survival" game only in as far as Minecraft is. You don't die of hunger, thirst, or cold. But you do want to have food and warmth and a place to rest in order to gain buffs to health and stamina, which makes doing everything much easier. And the multiplayer version is cooperative by default, players need to turn on PvP if they want to.
So in the end, Valheim plays more like an open world adventure game, with some hints of a lost branch of MMORPGs: Games like Ultima Online, A Tale in the Desert, or Everquest Landmark, which are more about exploring and settling an open world than doing endless quests. You improve your skills by practice. You craft, you hunt, you gather. Finding new materials unlocks new crafting recipes, giving you better tools, weapons, armor, and buildings. There are animals and monsters to hunt for loot, there are occasional events of monster armies trying to invade your base, and there are boss monsters that unlock the next "age" of your tech tree. For example the first boss gives you material to build your first pickaxe, which moves you from the stone age to the bronze age, by allowing you to mine copper and tin.
All this is done on a huge procedurally generated map, which is the true brilliance of Valheim. In spite of the procedural generation, the created maps tend to all work quite well, and are interesting. Maps can be different enough to lead to different strategies. For example the “islands” can be more or less connected to each other, and that affects how useful ships are. In a great design decision, your character is stored independently of the world, so you can go and visit different worlds with your character. Each map has a “seed” code, so you can create a world with a map recommended to you by someone. You can also make a new copy of the same map, which is something I did to “reset” dungeons.
I am currently playing on a nice map, which you could reproduce by using the seed “Tobold0026”. And yes, I created maps Tobold0001 to Tobold0030 to find the one I liked best. For that I used the built in cheat code to reveal the whole map after creating each world. As maybe my personal selection criteria about what constitutes a good map are different from yours, you could do the same. Probably start playing with a random map to learn how to play, and then move to a new world if you find some aspect of your current world sub-optimal. In my case the random map I started on had relatively small “Black Forest” zones on my starting island, so I moved to a new map with bigger Black Forests. Every map has different “biomes”, starting with Meadows for the stone age, then after you kill the first boss, you can find some of the bronze age resources in the Black Forest. However, you always need resources from previous biomes too, so a good world has a good mix between everything.
Besides just landscape, mobs, and resources, each biome also has special points of interest. That can be abandoned buildings, runestones with messages, or dungeons. There are also above ground burial sites, which you can dig out with a pickaxe. Somewhere in the Black Forest you can even find a trader, who buys the treasures you found in the dungeon, and sells you magic gear or fishing equipment. The whole world is filled with enough interesting features to make exploring interesting, while being large enough to avoid the problem of running out of resources. The abandoned buildings you find give you a good idea of how to build a simple house or shelter. But depending on how much time you want to put into this (including gathering the wood or stone required), you can build much larger houses. The necessity to have a fire poses a challenge, if you want to build a functional chimney. Starter tip, you can build the fire outside the house, and protect it with an overhanging roof from being extinguished by rain, which is a lot quicker than building a chimney. In addition to your house, your base will also grow to include storage areas, livestock enclosures, fields, and extra buildings like a smelter to turn ore into metal.
The overall feel of Valheim is very much like living in a world of adventure of your own making. It’s a sandbox, but game mechanics like the tech tree, and the bosses gate the content in a way that you always have an idea of what to do next. Even without quests. It somehow makes me a bit sad that MMORPGs haven’t evolved a bit more into that direction. My recommendation is to check out Valheim, it is a very good game for just $20. And for once, “Early Access” means a game that is already more polished than some “released” games, with an apparently quite active development team, and a lot of promise for the future. Recommended!