Get your Viking on: “Valheim”

Now, I’m quite sure I’m not the only nerd out there that noticed the trend in popular media that has gripped the gaming, TV and literary scenes for quite some. I am, of course, speaking of the myriad of media centered around Viking mythology.
It doesn’t seem to matter how it is presented, whether it is true to history or a more ambitious blend of fantasy and reality that pervades much of this specific branch of media, people love it. I myself am one of those rabid consumers of such media. I find the culture and the mythology fascinating on both an academic and pleasurable level.
With this in mind, it came to my attention that a new video game was just released this winter called Valheim, which was made by Swedish developer Iron Gate AB and published by Coffee Stain Publishing.
What makes this game special? Haven’t there been plenty before it, and likely many more to come long after? While true, Valheim strikes the right note on so many levels that it’s hard to believe that a development team of five people could get anything so right.
My initial impression was skeptical when I noted that the download was roughly 500 megabytes. It took me longer to write this sentence than it took my pc to download the files necessary. This set alarm bells off in my head, because there really is only so much fidelity and content that you can squeeze into that small amount of virtual space.
Oh, how wrong I was. Valheim is still in early access, but it’s both full of lands to explore, monsters to slay, and majestic Scandinavian inspired architecture to construct, as well as being absolutely gorgeous for a highly pixelated game. Think of it like a more polished Minecraft, and you’ll be close to the mark.
The housekeeping out of the way, the title is both single and multi-player, with up to nine other friends being able to join a similar server. I found myself partaking in a solo adventure and am all the happier for my decision.
Aside from the richly primitive graphics, Valheim boasts an immensely pleasurable gameplay loop. You are a dead warrior sent to the tenth realm in order to defeat the enemies of Odin. Sounds straightforward enough, right?
Not quite.
You begin the game by being unceremoniously dropped amongst some standing stones in the midst of a thunderstorm by a Valkyrie who has laid claim to your soul and delivered you to this afterlife. Did I mention that you were stark naked except for some serviceable underclothes?
This is where the journey begins, and it’s different for everyone. With each character you create, you are given a different world to play in. The entire tenth realm is procedurally generated, which means everything is random.
The biomes that you can visit? Placed randomly about the map. The lurking monsters? Placed randomly. The loot and resources that you need to be a successful Viking? You guessed it. They’re randomized.
This creates a novel experience for each and every player, and for those of us who are prone to having a small body of games that we constantly cycle through, it’s a blessing for replay value.
Right away, I was punching trees and chasing cartoonish boars through the woods for their hides. The game is surprisingly calm and low key for a survival game, not something that can be said for some of the other numerous entries into the genre.
This tranquility is refreshing and delightful, replete with a magnificent score of original tracks and a vibrant color palette that makes the flora and fauna of the tenth world shine.
This deeply appealing peace lasted right up until the first time I died. Even though you are technically a dead soul at the beginning of this game, you can still perish in the tenth world. I did so when I wandered somewhere I shouldn’t have and got squished by a giant troll wielding a tree for a club.
Much to my surprise and horror, I awoke in my bed, which rested in the little hut I had crafted from my surroundings. Once again, I was naked, all of my belongings having been left with my old body in a convenient pile. Very far away.
Queue several hours of me scrambling naked through the countryside as I desperately tried to recover my gear. It was a nerve wracking, nail biting experience, and I died so many times until at last I managed to do a suicidal dash to my effects.
There is an overarching narrative behind what is a rather free from game, though to explain it in any depth would likely release more spoilers than I am comfortable with. This story is told through runestones that are scattered throughout the land, and give you a glimpse into the world that the developers created.
With more than 50 hours under my belt in only a matter of weeks, I can firmly say that Valheim is worth the get. It’s only $20 on Steam, which makes it all the more enticing. You’d be doing yourself a favor if you scooped it up, even if you have some trepidations surrounding this genre of game. It’s well worth it, from one Viking enthusiast to another.