The Afterlife Is Brutal But Rewarding — Valheim First Impressions

I’ve got upwards of 60 hours clocked in with the new survival game Valheim which has taken Steam by storm. I’ve played every single night for about a week and a half, roped my husband into it on the second day, and now our 7 year old son is also playing with us. Valheim launched in early access on Steam on Feb 2nd, and at the time of writing this, it has already reached over 2 million copies sold. It’s absolutely the most fun I have had in a new game in a LONG time.

I first dipped my toes into the survival genre with Conan Exiles, in its EARLY early access days. That was also probably the last time I got really sucked into a game, to where it was all I wanted to do for days on end. Valheim is in the same vein as Conan, but is based on Norse mythology and the afterlife, and the maps are procedurally-generated. You’ve died, and the Valkyries ferry your soul to Valheim, the tenth Norse world. You arrive naked, without food, or weapons…and like most other survival games this one doesn’t do much hand holding other than a mysterious raven named Hugin who shows up every now and then when you discover something new. You have to figure everything out on your own, and that is what I love about this genre. You pick up a stone, a branch of wood, and before long you have a torch and a club.

My first, small establishment.

I stayed close to the starting area, which has mysterious stone altars with hooks, before venturing out farther. Before long I was near the water, and figured that it would be a good place to set up a base camp. After chopping down some trees, I placed my workbench and the beginnings of my first hovel were starting to form. The goal here for the first few days is to expand your homestead and level up your workbench to discover new tools and building supplies.

My first swing at building a house was pretty terrible, the thing barely held together, and I almost died from smoke inhalation from the campfire you need to place near your bed. You should place a bed as soon as possible, because this will be your respawn point in case you die…and trust me you will die. A lot. After realizing I needed some sort of ventilation in my house for the campfire, I broke the first one down and rebuilt a slightly bigger, and somewhat less janky house. Once I was able to craft a hoe, I expanded on the homestead by leveling out the ground to start making a bigger home. I put my son to work chopping down trees and making chests for storage, and on one adventure a tree he had chopped down knocked down several other trees in the area and killed me. Life ain’t easy in Valehim, but it sure can be rewarding. All that wood let us build a perimeter fence around our humble abode, to keep out boars, greylings, and worse.

When you first arrive in Valheim, Hugin marks your map somewhere deep in the Black Forest and your goal is to get strong enough to face Eikthyr. He doesn’t give you much more than that, so you have no idea what you’ll be up against. Before adventuring out, our house was hit several times by coordinated attacks. “The forest is moving!” appeared on our screen and before long, several creatures were descending on our house. That is where the perimeter fence came in handy. They couldn’t break in to destroy our house, and we were able to go out and pick off what we could. In between attacks, we gathered up as many supplies we could, and cooked up a bunch of meat. Our house is situated in the Meadows, which is somewhat safer than The Black Forest, so we felt it was better to keep our house there until we explored more to decide if a move was needed.

Taking the raft out for a spin.

We eventually got enough supplies to build a raft, and of course we wanted to try it out immediately. My husband and I hopped on eagerly, and within a minute of setting sail a massive thunderstorm hit, causing the waves to rock our raft so hard we almost fell off. We decided to go back to shore and try again another time.

Once we upgraded our axes, we ventured into The Black Forest. It didn’t take long before we encountered a HUGE troll. Seeing a large stone structure up ahead, we thought it might be a good idea to run inside for protection and higher ground, but the stone building was crawling with skeletons. We managed to kill them all, and somehow kite and kill the troll. This is also where we discovered you can have friendly fire on. Protip: if you open your profile and uncross the swords on the top right, you won’t kill your friends. After carrying the spoils of our victory back to our homestead, we were thrilled to see we could make some sweet armor with the troll hide we looted. Things were looking good, and before long we’d killed enough boars and deer, and along with our troll hide all three of us had some armor on finally.

Another few scouting missions deeper into The Black Forest led us into camps of Greydwarf, and the Greydwarf Brutes and Shamans are particularly nasty. The Shamans will heal their allies, and poison you, and the Brutes will knock you for a loop, so kiting is absolutely necessary. They also don’t like fire, so a few fire arrows and a torch did the trick. We died more than a few times trying to get to their nests which drop valuable items you need later in the game. While one or two of the Greydwarf mobs aren’t too bad, they do swarm you in packs upwards of ten at a time, and that can get really dicey if there are more than two Shamans in the mix.

After a few trips to harvest more materials, we decided it was finally time to go hunt the mysterious Eikthyr. My son likes to stay at the homestead and build crazy stuff, like a house with nothing but doors and chests on the roof, and we thought it would be safer for him to hang out there. Hubby and I set off to the location Hugin marked on our map, and came upon an altar with a deer on it. We couldn’t summon him without placing deer trophies onto the altar, so off we went back to the house to get some out of our chests.

About to engage Eikthyr!

Finally we were ready (for real this time) to summon Eikthyr. The fight was a blast, and Eikthyr looks super cool. He is a huge buck with giant antlers, and his attacks include a charge and some nasty AoE lightning. Some kiting and a lot of arrows did the trick, and we somehow managed to take him down on the first try. He dropped some antlers that I was able to make an awesome two-handed hammer called the Stagbreaker with. We also grabbed his head, which we took to the altar with the mysterious hooks. After hanging Eikthyr’s head on the hook, we got a buff we can activate every fifteen minutes which lets us run and jump super fast.

Our old friend Hugin the raven showed up to give us our next task, to find The Elder, who was even deeper into The Black Forest. But first things first, we upgraded our items, and now with the help of the antlers we were able to make pickaxes to dig and mine with. Getting some fresh supplies enabled us to upgrade our workbench even more. Once we mined some copper, Hugin told us that we could find Surtling Cores beneath the earth in The Black Forest. So, off we went back into the forest. After spending close to an hour digging all over the place, we didn’t find anything interesting, and my husband wanted to resort to a guide. I generally try to stay away from looking up guides in games like this, but whatever the Surtling Cores gave us was the key to moving on to the next step of the game, so after a quick peek, we were off to find Burial Chambers.

Adventuring in a Burial Chamber!

Our son wanted to come along on this adventure, and was dying to try out the rickety little raft we still had docked by the river. Our son is 7 but he’s really advanced at games, he’s beat Breath of the Wild on his own several times, plays Elder Scrolls Online, World of Warcraft, and Smite with me. But knowing how those Greydwarf things swarmed the heck out of us, we told him to store all his valuable stuff in chests at the house in case anything happened to him. The three of us jumped on our raft and set sail. Thankfully this time it didn’t start raining.

My husband was navigating us through some small islands which had Greydwarfs and nests on them, hoping we wouldn’t get seen; aggro in this game happens from really far away. We landed on a shore deep in The Black Forest, to a location my husband had scouted out on his own earlier which wasn’t too far from a Burial Chamber. The minute my son put his feet on land, Greydwarfs swarmed him, and it took all of 2 seconds for him to die. As we are trying to kill them, a troll shows up, so we took off running. The jerk troll stopped chasing us after a while, and decided it was a good idea to go back and smash our raft to smithereens. We stood back at a distance and watched all our hard work vanish. Once he was satisfied with that, he started after us again, and we took shelter in the Burial Chambers, hoping we didn’t just get ourselves into an even worse predicament.

The chambers were pretty fun, my husband had crafted a tower shield, and I stood behind him and smashed any enemies we ran into with my two-handed Stagbreaker. We cleared the chamber with no issues, grabbed some Surtling Cores and some other treasures, and exited hoping that the troll was no longer waiting for us. With our raft smashed to pieces, we had to hoof it home, hugging the outskirts of the Greydwarf islands, all the while scouting for trolls.

A more organized homestead.

We were able to craft the kiln and smelter with our precious Surtling Cores and upgraded our armor and weapons. Once we were able to craft better armor and weapons it made a huge difference. We had plans for a bigger boat now as well, and before long we set off on an expedition. Many deaths and corpse runs later, we had discovered The Swamp, which was a huge step up in difficulty from The Black Forest. After rebuilding a crumbling treehouse we now have a tiny, safe refuge to shoot all the new and terrifying bad guys that are all around us. Not only are they on land, but now they can jump and they are in the water!

Once we were confident enough to summon The Elder, the second boss Hugin the raven sends you after, we gathered our Ancient Seeds and headed to his altar. The fight was much harder than Eikthyr, and I honestly don’t know how you’d do it with less than two people. My husband tanked him with his shield while I shot fire arrows into him. It was a long fight with one death, but we did it. Once you hang his head on the altar you’ll get a buff that lets you chop down trees faster. What is really great about these buffs is that they stack, so if you have more than one person on your server, as long as you stand close to each other when you activate them, you can keep both running at the same time.

Slaying The Elder - Valheim - PC - [Gaming Trend]

We’ve gotten much braver in The Black Forest now, and taking down trolls is a breeze. Now we are in the process of moving all of our stuff from our little house into a bigger crafting hall we have created. I managed to capture some boars, which breed adorable little piggies, so we have an endless supply of boar meat. We’ve found the merchant and now I can fish, and we have some portals that allow us to move between locations quickly. Our last adventure as of writing this took us into The Plains, which we are definitely not ready for. While we were sailing back from discovering the new lands, a horrible thunderstorm came which washed waves over our boat. My poor son got tossed overboard, and it was quite the adventure trying to loot his body in the middle of the ocean in a big storm. Life is brutal in Valheim, but at least we have each other.

My poor kid went overboard in a storm.

We’ve discovered some new ore and wood in The Swamp and can make new items, which will hopefully make us stronger to venture into The Plains. Our friend Hugin the raven no longer gives us hints, so we have no idea what to expect for the third boss fight. But one thing we have figured out is that this game is ALL about exploring and upgrading. Before long the things that were really scary become trivial.

Something else to note is that the music in the game is just so peaceful. In fact, most of the time we have spent in The Meadows area has been relaxing. The graphics are quite beautiful, nothing groundbreaking, but some of the sunsets and foggy sunrises have been especially serene. A lot of people are complaining about the “Minecraft” look of things. Yeah, your character kinda looks like a pixelated block, but the world graphics, especially the stuff in the distance looks great. If you look up in the sky you’ll see the world tree. It’s very well done, and the game is fairly small, fast install at only 1GB. A few minor tweaks with motion blur, chromatic aberration, and depth of field should have older systems running decent.

My husband is a big fan of Coffee Stain, which is the company who published Valheim, as well as Deep Rock Galactic, and Satisfactory. He played both of the other titles and said they were incredibly polished, and thinks that Coffee Stain is poised to be a big name for indie developers. Even though Valheim just launched into early access, the game runs smoothly, and we have only run into some minor bugs; the main one being my son closed the game down without hitting exit first, and his character didn’t get saved. For him, it wasn’t a huge deal because he just enjoys hanging out and building stuff, but I know it’s happened to several other people so it’s something I hope they fix.

Living my absolute best afterlife.

To say this game is incredibly fun and challenging is an understatement. I feel like we have only just scratched the surface of what it has to offer, and it’s something we can do together as a family. Two of our friends have since joined us on our server, and I am super excited to explore The Plains and see what comes next. I’d highly suggest checking this game out if you’re wanting something new and challenging. Just be prepared to have it suck you in!

Valheim is still in early access on Steam, and is currently $19.99 USD. I’ll keep updating our progress as we go, so keep an eye out for more coverage on our YouTube channel, as well as the site!

Holly Hudspeth is a best-selling author living in Fort Worth, Texas. She has six published novels to date; The Skyy Huntington Series, which is an epic dark fantasy adventure, and One Small Detail, a stand-alone medieval fantasy. Holly also enjoys writing fan fiction based on her avatars from games such as EverQuest, Elder Scrolls Online, and World of Warcraft. Her first major purchase at the established age of nine was the NES, and she has been gaming ever since. She enjoys fantasy games, city builders, RPGs, MMOs, SMITE, and The Sims franchise. Most nights she is in SMITE with her husband and friends, or playing ESO. When she isn't gaming, she is probably either at Disney or planning her next trip there.

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