Updated: Apr 13, 2021
When survival games release, I click purchase as fast my 8k mouse lets me. Then I usually spend about an hour before regret busts through the door like Kool-Aid Man. Over 100 hours in Valheim so far and regret never even stepped foot on my property.
Valheim was able to hook me right from the beginning. Somehow the developer, Iron Gate Studio, has managed to balance forgiving and challenging survival gameplay. Let's take the concept of eating for example. Developers can be far too literal when it comes to concepts. Survive. To survive you must eat food or succumb to a slow starvation until death. I always found that frustrating. Why? Can't this be a more fun mechanic without being tedious? Iron Gate Studio flips it from a tedium wrench in the gears to a rewarding discovery. You will not die from starvation; however, you will gain extra HP from finding the perfect food combinations. Other quality of life improvements for the survival genre include: cross-world/seed progression, material forgiveness, and danger of the routine tasks.
Cross-world or cross-seed progression is fluid. You can start a new seed or enter anyone's world with your primary character. This includes inventory. You could essentially move all of your belongings from one seed to another if you're so inclined. The last thing I want to do is begin another character and start over from the beginning when a friend wants me to join their world. That's not my kind of fun.
Material forgiveness is a welcome surprise. Valheim has a unique and deep building system. Crafting choices unlock as you progress. Par for the course here. But they're not all equal. Stone is stronger than wood and allows you to build higher and further out from the foundation. Intelligently, you'll need to take foundational support into account. I went in completely blind and biffed a bunch of building. Thankfully, you can dismantle anything and get the building materials back. No need to worry about mistakes resulting in more hours cutting down trees or mining resources just to try and rebuild a 4x4 structure. Speaking of trees...
Let's talk about tasks. Most of my day is spent chipping and chopping away at my tasks in Teamwork. The last thing I want is to mentally log-off from my day job then log-in to a game and start chipping and chopping away at boring tasks. Tree chopping specifically. Could you tell? Developers should always ask the question, "Is this fun?" If the game contains mechanics players have familiarized themselves with for countless hours over years of their lives, then it might be time to brainstorm new ideas. Iron Gate obviously did just that. Add trees to the list of antagonists was the answer! I along with many others have been victims to these murderous trees. Maybe they fell at an angle you weren't expecting resulting in pancake brain. Or maybe you became transfixed by the magical domino effect as your newly chopped tree caused another tree to fall, then another, then another, then the one next to you, you scream, and now you're pancaked. Danger in the routine adds excitement with doubt and the unknown. Simply not knowing what is seemingly routine adds tension. You can no longer trust you're safe even with seemingly monotonous tasks. Be on your guard at all times. This approach makes the gameplay exhilarating and more rewarding. Each tree successfully cut without resulting in pancake brain instead results in a jump-out-of-your-chair-fist-pump!
Valheim is in early-access. Iron Gate Studios seems to be very responsive to feedback with consistent updates, and recently patched in some quality-of-life improvements like increased inventory slots. It's $19.99. I find it difficult to convert dollars to enjoyment, but I can easily say I wouldn't have regretted the purchase at the standard 60. Content is there and more is on the way. Good luck, and may your journey to Valhalla be without too many pancake brain incidents.