I picked up Valheim sometime in late December, I'd had my eye on it for a fair while and finally decided to take the plunge. I figure now, I would share my thoughts after 13 hours of gameplay, and to see what others think.
For starters, the game is absolutely beautiful. The music is a treat to the ears which I listen too almost non-stop throughout the day. And the type of visual style and textures is something I always appreciate in games.
The sheer variety of furniture and things you can build, as well as how they tie into the game itself through the rested mechanic, I find a truly fascinating design choice. Alongside how food, and what kinds you eat, dictate how much health or stamina you have at a given time.
However. I find this is where my praise ends.
Now, perhaps my expectations are simply too high or too biased by other "exploration and survival" games, like ARK: Survival Evolved, The Long Dark, Project Zomboid, and "gear progression" games like Terraria. So please do take what I am about to say with some grains of salt. And yes, I am well aware that it's an early access title, and subject to change.
Valheim I find to be too linear. There's very little by way of replayability, because with each character, you must take the exact same set of steps, in the exact same order to achieve the exact same outcomes. And the only real differences in those steps, are the terrain.
The two games I will be focusing on for comparison are ARK: Survival, and Terraria. Now, to those of you who have played the aforementioned games. You might think "Well, isn't that the same case with those?" And in some respects, you'd be half true. You'll always fight the same creatures and bosses in both games. But what makes those two games stand out, is the variety by which you can achieve the game's tasks, and deal with its obstacles.
Terraria, for example, with its gear-based progression and non-linear bosses. You have a wide range of weapons and damage types, armoursets and accessories that each play into certain playstyles. People often create a character with the intent of only playing one damage type, which is where part of the replayability comes in.
To the few who have never touched Terraria, the game is broken into two phases "Pre-Hardmode" and "Hardmode". The only requirement to enter "Hardmode" is to slay one specific boss, of the seven available at the time. The other six bosses all have their own unique drops and special items, but none are truly required to make any amount of progress. Smart players can even skip out entirely on progression if they feel like challenging themselves.
This option is, however, not present in Valheim. You must beat Eikthyr if you want to use a pickaxe, you must beat the Elder if you wish to gather iron, and so on. Once you've done it the first time. There's very little, if any reason to ever do it again.
A fair argument for this type of progression, though, is;
"Well, why bother gathering anything less than the highest tier, and fighting any earlier bosses if you can gather the best materials right away?"
My response to this, is that to do otherwise robs the player of the opportunity for choice, and self-imposed challenge. Imagine if we could craft a full set of basic tools right off the bat (pickaxe and all). And now imagine trying too, while basically naked, run into the mountains to mine silver, or sprint to the plains to gather black metal. If you ask me, anyone that manages to pull that off deserves to get that gear early.
Because ultimately, if your bosses are either A: Fun to fight. B: Drop a valuable utility that remains effective throughout the game. Or ideally C: Both the above. Then a players place in the progression doesn't really matter.
Let's look to ARK: Survival on the vanilla Island map. The two main tools, being a hatchet and a pickaxe. Can be crafted at the start of the game. You could, once you unlock the correct recipe, B-line straight for the rich metal deposits situated around the center of the map, harvest as much as you can carry, and then use it to craft yourself strong weapons and armour. The counter to this is that you're very unlikely to survive the ordeal. You need a lot of luck and skill in order to manage it without decent equipment and mounts at the ready. This creates that fun kind of high risk/reward that Valheim is sorely lacking right now.
I saw a while ago someone here mention something along the lines of how the game encourages base abandonment. Once you've outgrown the meadows and black forest. Having a base around the spawn point makes life impractical given the distance and inability to teleport ores and metals. You could argue this creates an incentive to build lots of outposts around the game world, and granted. Some will enjoy that. I for one, do not. I like having a centralised base that I continually add to. That grows and develops as much as me. The way the game is currently set, as mentioned, once you've outgrown a biome, it ceases to have any real purpose along with any bases you've built in that region.
And now we come to exploration. Which, to play fair, I've yet to have a game that's done it well besides Kenshi. Exploring in Valheim feels lacking. There was nothing I felt particularly excited about while wandering the biomes, and if anything, the amount of Greydwarf nests I found in the black forest made any attempts to explore agonizing at best.
But, beyond all that, the one thing that makes exploration dull, is actually in movement.
Now, what do I mean by that? Well. What methods of movement do we have currently? We can run, jump, sail and ride mounts. All this amounts too, is holding the w key, and maybe holding space if we feel like running a bit faster. This is boring.
A large open world, without any real way to explore in a vertical sense, is not tremendously fun to explore. And by vertical, I don't mean literal flight. Take for instance, the Paraglider in Breath of the Wild. It's a relatively small tool, but it massively expands not only the way you can approach problems, but gives high perches like trees, cliffs and towers a whole new meaning. Instead of a cliff being something you now have to spend ages finding a slope you can descend without breaking your legs, it's an opportunity to scout further ahead, and a potential way to escape enemies if you get cornered.
And before anyone pulls the "Well it's not very realistic for a viking to use a glider" argument. I would remind you that we're talking about a game, in which you're deposited into the Viking afterlife by a giant Valkyrie. You are given tips by a giant talking raven, and spend your time killing gods and absorbing their powers.
Anyhow. There's my thought dump. I'd be interested to see what anyone else thinks, do you agree? Disagree? Believe me to be the hellspawn of satan for having the audacity to post? Let me know!