First impressions: Valheim early access is already one of the best co-op sandboxes in recent memory

...provided you play with friends, anyway.

    
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halveim

Straight away, I’m going to admit that my favorable impressions of Valheim are wholly informed by the fact that I have the good fortune of playing on a server with a bunch of good people whom I was only exposed to because I know MJ. That’s not to suggest that you have to know someone who writes for MOP to play this game, or that you have to be in a large group of people. But this game really is engineered from the ground up to be a co-operative experience with several friends. And the game is absolutely richer for it.

That would certainly make a lot of sense given we cover MMOs, MMORPGs, and multiplayer games, but so often it can feel like survival sandbox games in particular are greedy experiences where the thrust of progression is laid upon your shoulders and other people are bumps in the road at best and challenges to surmount at worst. Valheim is different, however. It’s a world that’s already challenging and is best conquered with the collaboration of others.

At the absolute brass tacks level, Valheim’s overall beats are precisely the same as any other survival title that’s been released before, where you’re plopped into the world (by a massive raven) and left to fend for yourself by scrounging for materials, learning recipes, and crafting gear and shelter. It’s all tied together with Nordic lore as you’re meant to conquer large foes that can be summoned, which in turn lets you create special equipment. If none of that grabs you to begin with, it’s hard to say that there will be anything wholly exciting to experience here.

There’s something about these steps that feels like a graded slope in Valheim. Simply being exposed to a new material floods you with a variety of recipes to chase. The game also does a good job of smoothing out other survival sandbox contrivances as well. Food isn’t needed to live so much as something that makes you perform better. Being wet and cold can apply some negative effects, but not so much that they outright hinder your ability to do anything, at least in the early going. Stamina drains with everything you do, but it recovers quickly and can be mitigated with careful pacing of actions. Skilling up doesn’t require the navigation of obnoxious tech trees but simply accrues by doing everything, whether it’s running, jumping, using weapons, sneaking around, or logging.

image courtesy of Murderhobo

This all ultimately leaves you free to adventure as you and your group see fit, which leads to all of the fully realized sandbox gaming goodness one could ask for. Everyone in our group learned in the early going that cutting down trees haphazardly is a deadly experience. There was a little crypt delve that featured claustrophobic tunnels, dangerous skeletons, and lots of intriguing loot. At one point I was a cart horse, trying to walk a cart from our home base to a mine (and failing hilariously), followed by some dangerous nighttime mining while the others protected us, and a trip back that had us navigating terrain, clearing brush that would stopped the cart and making sure monsters were taken out.

And those are just the things that have happened in the few hours I’ve been playing. There’s more potential adventure to be had by us soon; the group I’m a part of has just entered its bronze age and we’ve put together a boat, which means soon enough we’ll begin sailing the seas to other islands in our world.

image courtesy of Murderhobo

On top of all of that, Valheim is a uniquely pretty title, hitting this fascinating middle ground between high-quality visuals and medium-poly models, painted over with gorgeous light and effects that draw you in. It’s kind of like Minecraft with RTX but with more polygons. These impressive visuals, paired with some truly gorgeous music, make your randomly generated world one to easily get lost in, on top of the well implemented gameplay beats and some extremely tight controls.

About the only demerit I can leverage against Valheim is connecting to an established server. I had to link to our private server through Steam’s unintuitive server list UI because apparently the server search function was doing some weird things. It’s not a dealbreaker, but for a game that’s built for multiplayer, it’s an annoying little hurdle.

That circles back around to my overall point: Valheim should probably not be played solo. The devs themselves have said it’s best played with three to five others and that really isn’t just PR boasting; this game truly feels like it’s been designed from the ground up to be a co-operative, collective experience where your group comes together to progress in shared power. I’m sure it’s entirely possible to play the game solo, but it also feels like it would be needlessly punishing. But hey, some people love that kind of challenge, in which case, shine on, you crazy diamond.

That really feels like that’d be missing the point and purpose of Valheim, however. Many MMOs are best with friends, obviously, but not many of them feel like they were tailor-made with such care and attention to detail and simple elegance. For all the bluster other sandbox studios make about the good ol’ days of MMORPGs, it can often feel like there are far too many that seem to have not learned any of the lessons of the past and conflate stern, stone-faced minimalism with creating a community. Valheim is simple without being simplistic. It’s refined, condensed, and easy to get into without losing its more hard-bitten edges. And this is just the first early access build.

There’s a lot of hay being made about this game, and that’s for good reason. I can honestly say, without any sense of irony, that you should believe the hype.

There’s an MMO born every day, and every game is someone’s favorite. Why I Play is the column in which the Massively OP staff members kick back and reminisce about all their favorite MMOs. Whether it’s the new hotness or an old fan favorite loaded with nostalgia, each title we cover here tugs at our heartstrings and keeps us coming back for more.
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TheDarthStomper

I love this game! It hits an absolute sweet spot with survival mechanics that aren’t obnoxious, group play without needless toxicity, challenge without being stupid hard, beautiful without graphics-crazy, and a soundtrack I could get lost in all by itself.

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John Mclain

It was an incredible game, and the most fun I’ve had in quite literally over a decade playing videogames. (Since Skyrim honestly) I also had a group of about 6 people to play with that all worked together on a private server. (Mandatory for enjoying the game to the fullest.)

“THIS” is how you make a survival game. It absolutely puts every other survival game (and even most non-survival games) to utter and complete shame.

My one and only major complaint is that there is no more content for me to play at this point till they finish more of it.

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Godnaz

I am having absolute blast and it’s not healthy. I’m averaging 11hrs a day, 7hrs on work days, 14hrs on days off. Addicted is the word to describe this I suppose.

The progression is a steady one if done wisely. Fighting the next boss without the currently unlocked recipes (armor/weapons, lotions, food) is doable but risky. Have a bed/portal on standby. A wolf cloak goes a long ways too.

I
Love
This
Game.

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Amorey

One word to describe this game :

    ‘masterpiece’

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Morgan

iz bootiful

MurderHobo
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MurderHobo

The connection issue described by Chris is probably unique to our server, as our host is a programmer who developed his own kubernettes hosting system that doesn’t at this time publish to the in-game server list. I haven’t had issues connecting to private sessions or finding the regular public servers.

I can empathise with those who prefer to play solo or in a PVP realm, but for my carebear co-op tastes this sort of game is a rare gem. I feel the market has been flooded for years with PVP games or on-rails solo adventures. For a dev team to adhere to a vision of a co-operative world seems very rare indeed, and a welcome change to years of forced compromise between disparate playstyles.

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2Ton Gamer

The game is a blast. We cleared a nice path along the coast and built a little garage for our cart that was near 6 copper spots. This made escorting the cart back and it was fresh on health and gave us a nice little place to get our buffs back overnight while waiting out the dark.

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Sorenthaz

It’s basically the closest thing we’ll ever get to a 3D Terraria and then some. But it pretty much shares a similar core with Terraria where the gameplay is about building yourself up, getting a shelter to survive nights, and tackling bosses to get access to new materials/areas that let you build up and progress towards tackling the next boss that opens things up further with a rinse/repeat loop.

Like in Terraria you first need to build up so that you can fight the Eye of Cthulhu and either Eater of Worlds or Brain of Cthulhu. Killing Eater or Brain is necessary in order to get the materials to build a pickaxe that’ll let you mine meteorite, obsidian, and hellstone which are all to help you build up towards fighting the next set of bosses that give you access to new areas/gear/difficulty and the loop kind of keeps going from there. Valheim is pretty similar where you have to beat the first boss before you can really do much in the second biome because beating it gives you access to a pickaxe needed to start advancing from Leather/Flint to Bronze. Other bosses from there drop essential items needed to advance further in other biomes.

It’s also PvE focused with no PvP beyond being able to toggle it on, and you can privately host servers to play with friends. Overall what’s present in the game is great and I’m excited to see where the devs take it and how they expand on it.

Sixuality
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Sixuality

I have two games going at the moment – one as part of a duo and one solo – and both are terrific. If all that’s dissuading anyone from this fantastic game is a lack of people to play with I’d say don’t hesitate because it is absolutely doable.

You may have to prep a bit more – upgrading your gear makes a big difference – and your first delve or troll encounter will be a memorable experience… but it’s just as great solo as it is with others.

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Bhagpuss Bhagpuss

I’m playing it solo and it’s great. In fact, for the way I want to play, I can’t see how it could be improved by having other people around. I doubt anyone would want to wait around for me to spend eight hours building a terrible house only to abandon it to do the same half a mile down the coast. And then do it again. And again. And again.

In fact, so far I think about 75% of my time in Valheim has been spent either building houses, tearing down houses I’ve built or chopping down trees to get wood to build houses. The other 25% has been spent looking for new places to build houses.

About the only thing I’d like to see added right now is a creative mode without the mobs where all you do is build houses.

(Also, in terms of the actual gameplay as it’s presumably intended, it seems fine solo. Not sure if that will continue indefinitely but so far, so good. I certainly wouldn’t worry about spending $20 if you don’t have anyone to play Valheim with. I’m pretty sure there’s $20 worth of quality solo entertainment in there for anyone).

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Rndomuser

Yea Valheim is good if all you want to do is to just relax with a couple of friends together after a long and exhausting day by doing casual activities of exploring or building or grinding NPCs. It is absolutely not a game for everyone (for example not for people who enjoy a challenge of unpredictable human behavior in PvP and not for people who enjoy to RP as a worker of Burger Shot or as a cute dragon girl assistant of the owner of Golden Gator club) but it is a good example of a game that can be very popular if done right from the very beginning even with very limited gameplay variety. And Valheim does many things right, starting from visually attractive graphics (the lush vegetation with rich color palette and beautiful lighting) and user-hosted dedicated servers down to smaller things like in-game text chat (for people who cannot use voice chat). Hopefully more game developers will learn from their example.