VALHEIM is the game everybody is talking about, and with good reason.
This epic Viking sandbox survival game is like someone mashed together a Norse RPG with Minecraft – with phenomenal success.
The game has already accrued 5million players in just a few weeks of Early Access on Steam. Impressive, given it was created by a small team of five at Iron Gate Studio.
That pace shows no sign of slowing, and I’m overjoyed to count myself as one of the millions of hardy Vikings.
You play as a Viking sent by Odin to a strange and distant realm called Valheim.
It’s a purgatorial realm where you’re tasked with forging a new life – and surviving often brutal conditions.
The world is enormous: it would take hours to sail across even in the fastest ship, a longboat.
You start with a “seed”: a chain of letters and numbers.
This is plugged into Valheim’s system and procedurally generates a world that is different for every seed.
You can use a seed you’ve looked up online with useful landmarks, or try your luck with a totally random seed.
Once you’re bored of your current seed, you can even try a whole new one while retaining your character’s progress.
When you enter the world, you arrive with almost nothing but your wits.
You’ll have to pick up branches and collect stones to craft a small shelter and fire.
Over time, you’ll learn to make and use axes, pickaxes and more.
And with those skills comes greater building capabilities. You’ll build grand stone fortresses in the mountains.
In many ways, the building aspect of the game is like Minecraft.
You need to collect resources and then build to your heart’s content.
The range of “pieces” you can build with is varied, and farming materials isn’t too laborious – unless you’re doing a truly enormous build.
You only need to visit Reddit’s Valheim subreddit to witness some of the mind-boggling creations players have built.
Building a safe homestead will protect you from the seemingly endless aggressive creatures of Valheim.
The world is split into five (and eventually eight) biomes: Meadows, Black Forest, Swamp, Mountains and Plains.
You start off in Meadows, and you’ll encounter the other biomes as you explore the world.
Each biome contains greater rewards, and more dangerous enemies.
It’s great in the early game to steadily conquer an area of the Black Forest, only to gaze at the nearby (but far out of reach) Plains.
Farming rare materials like iron, silver and black metal will take you to very deadly parts of the world.
And you’ll find yourself doing naked “death runs” to retrieve your gear when things go awry.
The graphical style is very unique.
Textures are largely low-res, and your own character sprite looks like it could be from the PlayStation 2 era.
This is intentional, and keeps the game down to a very refreshing 1GB.
But the lighting effects are stunning, with impressive rays of light, reflections on water and more.
It gives the game a next-gen feel and makes it look far better than the small file size belies.
There are plenty of weather effects, and even a terrifyingly tidal ocean that’s absolutely nerve-wracking to sail in during a storm.
I’ve been on the edge of my seat sailing long distances with a boat-load of silver ore through a storm at night, hoping I’m not ambushed by a sea serpent or don’t accidentally crash into a hard-to-see area of the Plains.
There’s something of a “campaign”, which involves locating and ultimately slaying five different bosses.
They’re all tricky in their own way, though I found the third boss Bonemass particularly tricky. He summons deadly slimes, unleashes poison clouds, and is only really vulnerable to damage with a blunt weapon.
Bosses require preparation, co-ordination and good old-fashioned skill.
Much of the magic of Valheim comes from playing in co-op.
While Valheim is immensely rewarding and enjoyable solo, you can have up to 10 people playing on your own “server”.
You’re technically hosting these players, so you’ll find most internet connections start to struggle under the weight of a full server.
But I regularly play with three or four pals with zero latency issues.
Going on epic journeys with your mates in a longboat, exploring new lands and rescuing each other from the lethal sting of a Deathsquito is wicked fun.
And it’s great to farm materials and build truly epic structures collaboratively, just like in Minecraft.
One of my favourite Valheim moments was crafting a giant mead hall with pals, which had a viewing platform that overlooked the sea.
It still stands on those rocky shores as a testament to a brilliant gaming memory.