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What is Valheim, the Viking game that inflates on Steam?

Viking games Valheim is a survival sandbox experience that has torn up Steam sales charts. Since its launch on February 2, Valheim has been at the top of the bestseller list, and is on an “overwhelmingly positive” rating with almost 13,000 reviews. This huge game has a small, small download, and looks like a 3D game on old school games like Runescape.

So what exactly is it? Valheim, and why does it take off so quickly?

Action and adventure with friends

Valheimthe progress is very similar Terraria or On the way to the stars, in that progress feels organic and natural. Players start in a simple but large meadow, and learn how to hunt animals and build simple shelters. Players learn to kill small stone elves and create a club. From there, players can start building a starting settlement. Once that is done, it is time to start hunting boars, which release the materials for a bow, making hunting deer easier. There is a clear path to progression, with each step opening the next step.

Finally, my friends and I feel confident in the basics, so we explore. We find a good moose boss and fight it, which avoids hard antlers ̵

1; now I can use it to make a pick. This means that the more dangerous Black Forest is worth exploring now, because we can extract the ore inside. Once we have that ore, I can start making more sophisticated tools and armor, which in turn opens up their own recipes and opportunities for advancement.

Valheim - a Viking stands in the Black Forest and sees the sun rise and filter through pine trees.

Image: Iron Gate / Coffee Stain Games

This is what a session with my usual group of friends looks like. We want to go out to the Black Forest to fight a giant ent, but there is a mountain range in our way. The mountains freeze, but we spot wolves, and we think we can take their fur to pack. After a few unsuccessful clippings with wolves, we mark the place on the map and promise to come back and take revenge another day.

We go south and travel around the mountains until we come across a massive lake that we can not possibly cross alone. Instead, we lay down and build a wooden dock and a Viking ship. The longship ferries us across the lake, and we track down and attack the duck and circle around the giant tree with bows and spears. It fights back by summoning massive roots and tearing us apart with giant vines.

The fight goes well until either dozens of goblins call from the tree, so we flee in panic and almost lose our longship in the process. We got no taxes, but on the way back my husband sings sea panties while my friend takes the wheel and navigates us home. We laugh and talk to each other, refreshed by the adventure.

As we explore, the world opens up beyond, leading to mechanics such as building trade routes, establishing a magical portal network and learning to sail and map a nautical map. Valheim feels like a world worth exploring and spending time in, especially because I do not have to spend a lot of time maintaining the progress I have made.

The models are simple, pixelated and polygonal, but they are uplifted by beautiful shading and lighting. It is a balance between modern conveniences and good old-fashioned nostalgia. Sure, hunter and combat trolls are great, but sometimes I just sit on a raft and watch the water round towards the shore, or the sun filters through the trees into a meadow. It is a summer house and deeply cozy, and the occasional brutal storm makes the bright and sunny days even more appealing.

Valheim - a Viking stands on a snow-capped mountain and uses the bow to attack a bird in the distance.

Image: Iron Gate / Coffee Stain Games

A Viking life

Teams and survival games often involve a tough start and a bitter paint before players can get to the sweet experience of building massive bases, hunting down dangerous bosses and conquering a hostile world. Even success stories for survival games like Rust has gone back to making things easier and accessible to new players.

Valheimon the other hand is $ 20 and very affordable. The players take on the role of Vikings who were given an eternal afterlife by Odin himself. One of Odin’s ravens shows up to provide tutorials, and the game distributes tools slowly, and you get the basics of terrorism, farming, fighting, bosses, and crafts. You can not get too deep without understanding your starting tools, and that leads to a good ramp to the game. Fortunately, you do not have to spend long strokes on trees to earn wood before you can get into the real action.

I have only experienced minor errors during the 20 hours I have in the game. I can play with up to nine friends, and it’s super easy to connect to another person’s server. I can even connect a controller without any problems. These are small businesses, but they are also problems that even triple A-games like Fallout 76 struggled to implement, so it’s a huge relief to escape that kind of whole mess.

Valheim - two Vikings are on board a longboat and sail across a blue sea.

Image: Iron Gate / Coffee Stain Games

The game is also mechanically forgiving, without any of the usual survival game obstacles such as food outages or insurmountable repair and expansion costs. There are tools for terrain manipulation, and a building system that allows players to build elaborate structures and sprawling settlements. Building can be a bit fiddly, but players can either place wood or snap pieces together depending on their preferences, leading to something that is mostly simple and flexible. PvP is a switch; unless I sign up, I do not have to worry about another player destroying my house or sinking an ax in my back as I walk.

Play as Rust or Fallout 76 have built huge communities around their survival game loops, but they have also left other players in the cold with either tough design decisions meant to increase difficulties or technical issues. Valheim does not do anything new or out there, but it does not need it. Iron Gate has created a simple but deep game that works on all levels, and it’s enough to explode on Steam.

In short, it is an early access to make and survive indie games as a matter of fact works. It’s not something ridiculously flashy or brand new, but developer Iron Gate has created a solid foundation. All the mechanics here have been done before in games like Sheet or Conan Exiles, but the hard edges and frustrating sanding have been sanded down and smoothed away. In a genre so crowded with derivative, opaque and directly broken titles, Valheim stands out by just working well and making sense.

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