“So you were my death? You look so small and soft.” spoke the large stag head mounted in the entrance hall of my base.

The stag head has every right to be incredulous. Markus earned his place in Valheim for countless feats of combat prowess on Earth. Yet here, on the Tenth World, the mighty warrior has been immolated by his own campfire, body-slammed by the ground after not following proper health and safety protocols for thatching and, most embarrassingly of all, felled by a tree in an ironic and vengeful twist of fate.

Markus is not a complete idiot though, he’s also bested skeletons, trolls, wolves, and goblins. Markus is a small and soft creature in the intimidating world of Valheim, but with proper preparation, a little bit of practice, and perhaps a friend or two, he’s able to stand toe-to-claw with dragons.

Valheim is a tough-but-fair survival-sandbox game, where players are tasked by Odin with slaying his enemies-in-waiting, a task which necessitates survival and mastery of the harsh but beautiful environment.

Brought to Valheim on the wings of a Valkyrie, Markus was carried over and deposited into untamed wilderness. Surrounded by strange rune stones, Odin kindly sent one of his ravens, Hugin, to help make sense of the situation. Hugin is a raven of few words, but provides useful guidance as you gather rudimentary resources and establish your first base.

I built mine on the coast, as I’m sure just about everyone else has. Not out of a pragmatic and level-headed decision to make the most of the benefits of the sea, but out of fear of being surrounded by woodlands. The forest is home to foreboding silhouettes and vicious sounds. In the real world, I worry about the state of the planet’s forests, but in Valheim I happily clear cut the land – flora and fauna be damned.

The building system took me all of 15 minutes to get used to and, once I had, I found it to be satisfying and addictive. Over the course of my first 6 hours of the game, my base evolved organically. Every time I added a new element, I was pleased by the quirky, practical aesthetic of my base – I think it would have made for a satisfying time-lapse to see it expand. While initially a basic shack, I soon added a cookstove and chimney, then a watch tower, then a second floor, then a fence, then a moat, then a farm, then a smithing area, then a small port. Then, like the comments section of a YouTube video, trolls attacked and ruined everything - in response, I terraformed the land into an impenetrable wall.

Having achieved a modicum of security, I decided it was time to pack my bags, unfurl the sails and expand my horizons. Preparation is key – having a good variety of food and potions available, with better options being more complex to create, will dramatically increase your health, stamina, and overall survivability. Better armour and weapons, meanwhile, will greatly increase your effectiveness at fighting. The crafting system is satisfyingly deep, and finding resources to unlock new recipes provides a strong incentive to explore the world.

Traveling by sea afforded me some of my greatest moments with the game. The ocean during a thunderstorm is incredibly immersive, aided by excellent sailing mechanics which have you wrestling against the waves and, potentially, imperilled in unexpected ways by an unfavourable wind. On visuals more generally, some textures and character models are quite low quality; it’s still an early access game, so it may be that these textures will be upgraded later. Either way, it’s of no major significance given that the visual impact of the game is achieved through its lighting, physics, weather effects, and scenery.

These aspects define Valheim’s varied biomes, consisting of meadows, black forests, mountains, plains, swamps, and oceans (with more in the pipeline). The black forests, for example, consist of dense, sinister woodland with natural light providing little illumination to the forest floor – the brightest glows emanate from the eyes of your adversaries.

Each biome has its own flavour of enemies, resources, points of interest, and perhaps most importantly – bosses. Each of the land-based biomes contains a boss, and exploring the world to track down and defeat these bosses is essentially Valheim’s primary objective. The bosses are a satisfying challenge, requiring progressively more preparation and each requiring a different approach. The boss fights are a testament to the progress you’ve made in Valheim, and being able to defeat one signifies readiness for new challenges to be thrown at you; or more accurately, for raids of new creatures to be thrown at your base.

The game is an uncompromised joy as a solo adventure, but after getting established, I had a couple of friends join the server. Multiplayer works well, and its great fun to build a base together, team-up on a boss, or just set out for an adventure. It’s also possible to create dedicated servers, currently recommended for 3-5 people, allowing for you and your friends to play in the same world without the need for a host.

The building system in Valheim lends itself well to a small team of players working together to create a truly impressive base. There are by now countless examples of amazing player builds in Valheim, ranging from mountain fortresses to treehouse villages, to entire towns, and even to a Millennium Falcon. While epic builds are possible solo, they’re eminently more achievable and enjoyable with friends. Furthermore, there are already plenty of awesome crossovers and mods, such as this gorgeous, player-built, World of Warcraft mod.

Valheim is one of the best games I’ve played in a long time. Going in, I wasn’t really sure what it would offer that other survival sandbox games didn’t, so I’ll conclude my review with three reasons why I think Valheim is an especially stand-out game:

  1. A True Sense of Adventure – You determine your own reasons to go off adventuring, and the fact that your character is so vulnerable without preparation means that you take the time to prepare properly and become invested in your exploration efforts. The procedurally generated world is explorable in the truest sense and pays off handsomely with many excellent landscapes and points of interest.

  2. Satisfying Progress – Valheim presents challenges which are tough-but-fair, and that much more rewarding when beaten. From humble, unclothed beginnings of hunting boar with a flint spear, to having multiple bases spanning across each biome and the ability to defend them against waves of enemies – Valheim has effectively aligned player motivation with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

  3. Unforgettable Moments – I don’t want to be too specific about some moments I enjoyed so as not to spoil them for others, but they are often related to the theming of the world, or about encountering something for the first time. These moments will be experienced differently by each player and if they hit you at the right time, they can be particularly impactful. I can’t say that too many games have given me such standout moments.

I’ll end abruptly so I can get back to playing Valheim, but in summary, this game reminds me why I like games. It’s also cheap, filled with content, and has plenty more content en-route. 9/10

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