What Hooked Me?
I was introduced to this game a couple of weeks back, and a friend spoke highly of it, but it had one big issue; it was a “survival” game. I generally find these sorts of games not ‘sticky’ for me. I jump in excited to explore and progress only to find myself frustrated and bored. Yet this game did stick and in a week I’ve racked up a about 40 hours of play time. Then a once in a decade winter storm and power grid failure removed my ability to play for a few days.
During that “down” time, I had some time to think about the game and why it was clicking with me in a way other games in this general genre had not. So in no particular order is an initial list of things I like.
The Setting and theme. I’ve always enjoyed the Norse mythos / Viking theme and feel it really works great as for framing the gameplay loop in this sort of game.
2. The Art Direction.
The lower ‘res’, simpler look of the game could have driven me right away from the game, but the way it is used in this game feels almost painted. I find it almost captures emotion in the way it portrays the game world. Also I imagine it is great for perf and will let the game run on lower end hardware.
3. The lack of what I call “survival friction”. The other survival games I’ve tried or watched streams of all seem to have a lot of things in them designed to make virtual life hard. Things like the night time being super dangerous. The weather or environment starting to kill you as soon as you begin (look at you No Man’s Sky). Food spoiling. Lack of repairing, or costly repairs. At the start of Valheim I encountered none of those things.
4. Death has a penalty but is not game ending. Related to #3, but I wanted to elaborate a bit. When you die you leave a Marker in the world with all your stuff. If you can make it back to the marker, you can retrieve all those items. Plus you can have multiple death markers in the world. Which means you can eventually retrieve any lost items, which is great.
Now death does have another penalty the loss of some skill points. And this loss is an area that I feel the game could ease the pain on a bit more. The higher your skills are at the time of death the more points you lose. I don’t mind this, but would love to see those points or a big portion of those points returned to me when I recover that marker.
And I know other people probably want the game to be more difficult, which is fine. I say make server options to allow various death penalties.
5. Game Goal. There is a clear goal presented to me at the very start. Prove your worth to Odin by defeating several bosses in order to gain entrance to Valhalla. Great, I have a goal and progression toward the first step of that goal was also presented to me right away.
6. Feeling Progression. With each play session I’ve felt some amount of progression in the game. Either, my characters combat power, exploration knowledge, gathering stockpiles, crafting ability, or building/structure progress. Every time I’ve played (excluding power outage rollbacks) , I’ve felt some sense of progress in the game.
7. PvE Focus. The game feels very focuses on the solo or co-operative experience and I love that. I’m hopeful that this means the devs will continue to design content/systems around the co-operative game and fall back on players fighting each other to provide ‘end game’ content.
8. The World. The world feels very big, and dangerous. At least as far as I’ve played so far. I love that after 40 hours I’ve only really explored the land mass I started on. And I love stumbling upon abandoned villages, or old tombs and hope there are even more things to find or that over development they will add additional points of interest to the game.
9. Building Now this might be the case for many other survival games, since I don’t play many but it is something I’m drawn to.
I really enjoy the process of building in this game. Is it a bit awkward and a bit clunky, yes. But the nature of the Viking architecture means helps set my expectations on what sorts of structures I can want to build and I’ve thus far been able to get close to what I imagined with the tools available. Granted I’m not building master, but in previous games I’ve played the setting and theme made me imagine structures that I wanted to build and struggled to get anywhere close. But here my simple long houses and community “halls” were things I was able to build.
Oh also I’m not having to build with just cubes.
10. Stability and Features. For an early access game it has been very stable and I’ve been surprised at the number of game systems already available. Oh and it also already has dedicated server support. Yay.
This is not a comprehensive list of things I like or enjoy about the game, but I do think it covers the things that pulled me in. Also there are a lot of things I think could be added or changed to the game but that is a post for another time.
One last thing; my good, thus far, experience in this game has made me a bit more curious about going back and trying some other games again (either for the first time or again). Though for now I’m just hoping our power grid will stabilize enough to let me get back in and play.