In the harsh Viking purgatory of Valheim, I’ve got an ambitious idea which I might just about pull off. In a game about proving my mettle to Odin on the tenth Norse world by bravely besting a series of monstrous beasts in combat, I’m… building a loft extension. I’m not even running out of room, I just want one. I’ve just finished fortifying my perimeter with some fetching wooden posts and I’m considering a mezzanine floor next, if I can more skilfully negotiate the ventilation issues I caused previously. Perhaps I’m just more of a Viking handyman than a warrior.
I had every intention of fulfilling my oath to my hirsute deity, I swear. To start with my base was functional: just a simple four walls and a fire, a place that played second fiddle to my primary goal of preparing for the battles ahead. Then, as time wore on, I spent more time tinkering. A new set of torches here. A silly new sign there. What would the bosses of Valheim think when, rather than using deer hides to craft leather weapons, I’m putting them towards furnishing my floor with cosy rugs.
I put that down to how approachable Valheim is. Survival games haven’t historically been my bag, but Iron Gate AB’s Early Access effort is welcoming to beginners as it gradually drip-feeds its complexity and encourages more perilous adventures to those who want it. It’s helping Chris fall in love with survival games again, and even though I’m no expert in the genre, I can understand why.
Here’s an example: most crafted items can be scrapped at no resource penalty. That means there’s no pressure attached to just trying something, like a fun new build style or farm or whatever you want. If you don’t like what you’ve done, you can easily place a new workbench with your hammer, select what you want to scrap with middle-mouse, and you’re back to the drawing board with no materials wasted. It’s liberating.
Then again, that flexibility is bittersweet. At least in terms of my assigned long-term goal of settling this brutal world. My time with Valheim has become a process of ceaseless refinement. A pursuit of perfection as elusive as the smoke escaping from my makeshift chimney/hole in the roof. And yes, as you can tell from the images in this article, I’m still extremely far away from that, but the closer I get to my vision of a pastoral idyll, the more I just want to stay put.
Valheim isn’t without challenge, of course, even in the early stages. For instance, just going to sleep can be pretty tricky. First, you need a bed, naturally. But that bed needs sheltering from the elements. Makes sense. Next you need a campfire, but this is where things get a little finicky: your fire cannot be placed on a wooden floor, so you may need to take one out, it must have ventilation or your lodging will fill with smoke, but it must also itself be sheltered, or the rain will extinguish it. If that sounds too complex, it isn’t, really, but Chris breaks it down in his handy Valheim campfire guide. In the end, I did spend a long while solving these problems in an aesthetically-pleasing way, getting even more attached to my humble home in the process.
So I’m in a bit of a bind. Not only are my major foes swanning around Valheim undefeated, but I’m trying to put together the perfect place, but not exploring far enough to source rarer materials and craft more advanced items to make it even more pleasant. In the purgatory of Valheim, I’m stuck in a kind of design purgatory; I love my simple house too much to leave it, so simple it’ll stay.
It’s also the place in which my home is based that’s keeping me sticking around. Valheim’s starting area, The Meadows, has become the anti-Hinterlands for me: this is an early zone I don’t want to progress from in a hurry. It’s lush, serene, and—helped by the fact that your progress skills through extended use—it’s folksy musical theme makes it feel reassuringly like Skyrim. Besides a few boars, some skittish deer, and the odd, rather impotent Greyling, there’s very little danger here.
By contrast, my misadventures in the Black Forest are much more stressful. The music takes a turn for the ominous. Scary skeletons roam. The darkness loves nothing better than to steer you off track. Chris telling me about stumbling upon the Swamp and immediately turning round and heading back the way he came makes me even more apprehensive at the thought of leaving the agreeable bounds of the Meadows.
So here I am, just scavenging for the resources I need to live, and nothing more. To me, Valheim has become a subsistence game, rather than a survival one. Ambling thoughtfully through the fields, patiently picking over ruined buildings and imagining the lives lived before mine, chopping down trees and hunting deer for dinner; the comforting dullness of the Meadows and my daily loop is just what I want before retiring to my carefully-constructed, unfussy abode and reclining by the fire. Tougher journeys are out there if I want them, but I’m happy living out a therapeutic lifestyle in a happy home, and that’s ok. Sorry, Odin.