Valheim: Fast Track to Valhalla

I wanted to get to this sooner–rather, I thought I would have more time–but my new obsession gained Two. Million. new players almost overnight. It’s shattered almost all other benchmarks set by previous fan favorites on Steam, from concurrent players to peak players to players in general. Which is just insane. I don’t even remember where I spotted what I thought then was a diamond in the rough of Early Access games, but it was the equivalent of finding a Grade A adventure in the bargain bin at GameStop. Then, a few days later, my joy was everyone else’s. And I couldn’t be happier.

Let’s start with the basics, shall we?

No game is likely to disappoint that begins with a gigantic bird providing air taxi services to a dark and mysterious land filled with danger and death. The list of those games right now, off the top of my head, contains only two: Valheim, of course, and Dark Souls. But that’s beside the point. It’s a hell of a way to kick off a party. And there you are, the life of the party, dropped into what seems at first a peaceful meadow. How sweet, how nice. Like any other survival game, you quickly find yourself picking berries and chopping wood. Maybe you have a house by nightfall. Hopefully. Otherwise, when that sound cue hits and the music changes, I guarantee you’ll get a chill up your spine.

And that is perhaps Valheim’s greatest strength, more than likely what sets it apart from so many other games in a similar vein: What would happen if Breath of the Wild and Skyrim had a child that was then adopted by Minecraft? Well, you’d have Valheim! This is something we can find with most games that become startling breakout successes. Somehow, by brewing all these different ingredients in the same pot, the dish comes out fully its own and delectable. Make no mistake, there are plenty of games that try to cross genres and blend diverse mechanics only to end up a hobbling mutated mess. But the ones that carry it off? *chef’s kiss*

Soon after spectacular bird delivery, you will find yourself scurrying through the meadows and forests, plumbing ancient tombs and fighting trolls, and (best of all) braving the waves with spectacular fanfare and sunlit ocean spray. What Valheim accomplishes in spades is not merely its blend of varying genres into a complete experience, but also the feeling with which the game invests your movement through the world. Nothing quite drives this home as well as the first time you set sail, even on just a simple raft, and the exultant music begins. I truly felt at the start of an adventure, which might be the best way of classifying Valheim: as an adventure. And in a time when games have become more and more commodified, to the point that every would-be Adventure game feels scripted to the point of roboticism, this game is truly a shot in the arm.

So too is it the gift that keeps on giving. Every new environment poses new and often unpredictable challenges. Upgrading to new materials (and thus new types of equipment) is askew from the usual means, requiring advancements through what is Valheim’s pseudo questline. More than once I’ve stumbled upon something new, exciting and mysterious in an environment I thought I’d already combed over or explored thoroughly. I’m keeping more than a few things out of this review in hopes that you experience them in full effect for yourself. For a game that can’t really even be classified as Horror-adjacent, let’s just say Valheim serves up plenty of scares. Not unlike Dark Souls, to return to that brief bird-taxi comparison earlier.

The cherry on the top of all this, to use a cliche in reference to a game in which there are none, is that Valheim is not just in Early Access on Steam: it’s in Early-Early Access. Meaning, we’re just getting started, and there’s already so much to do. Indeed, this massive windfall of sales–a leap from thousands of players to millions–can only lift this longship even higher on the wave of success. I’m on the edge of my seat to see what these guys do next.

It’s rare enough that I enjoy a game this much, but rarer still that I enjoy it to the point I believe the hype is not only warranted but something I get caught up in myself. If you have the cash, and the time, I urge you to go and pick this amazing experience up as soon as you can. You won’t be disappointed.