March 09, 2024 - Valheim

Topics: Video Games

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A screenshot of my character's tower-keep in Valheim

Valheim is a "Survival sandbox" video game developed by Iron Gate Studio and published by Coffee Stain Studios. I would describe it as a bit of Minecraft with the combat of a Souls game, but with cozy-comfy vibes in the breaks between the combat-action that reminds me a bit of Stardew Valley.

Upon arriving within the inner wall's courtyard of the keep, my character's tower looms large

I don't write posts about Video Games very much because they are a guilty pleasure for which I don't see much value in writing about, and I don't engage them with the frequency or duration that I did when I was younger so I don't have much to write about anyway. Still, with a short break in accumulating other experiences to share, I thought the lull might be filled with a highlight of the game I've accumulated significant playtime in starting last summer.

Due to the comfy vibes of Valheim, I find myself spending as much time engaging with the Minecraft/Stardew Valley aspects of the game - the exploring, crafting, and building game loops - as with the primary combat arc of defeating the big-bads. As of this writing, I'm on the cusp of engaging the fourth area's boss despite the many hours I've already played.

Cold and rain-soaked travelers from all over will find warm respite at The Burn

Perhaps the biggest detour along the main gameplay arc was in the construction of my character's primary homestead. It is a tower-keep located on the cusp between the green pastures, grasslands, and fields and the densely forested hills. I try to keep myself shielded from spoilers, but I am aware that there are cheat modes available to assist with construction, obtaining constructions supplies, etc, but I've used none of it. I've mined every stone and collected every piece of wood used in the tower-keep's construction.

Still, I find the main combat loop to be fun and engaging, and appreciate the challenge in adjusting to each area's combatants. Each of the big-bads that I've faced has had a new mechanic to learn and adjust to, much like a Souls-game's bosses would. The variety of crafting choices for weapons and armor, has been fun as well - crafting a character whose capabilities match my preferred playstyle. I also appreciate the balancing loop that prevents your character from getting too powerful too quickly: If your character dies, they will be revived, but some of the skill points your character naturally accumulates through the use of actions will be lost. It provides motivation to avoid failure without being overly punitive.

When preparing for the next excursion, my character stops by The Purple Dragon for a board and beer

Inside The Purple Dragon, an adventurer can help themselves to the available provisions, or prepare their own

I have yet to play the game multiplayer but hope to after my first playthrough is complete. When I constructed the tower-keep, I imagined what it would be like for other players to engage with it. I think the exploration and revelation of the map, collaboration in construction of buildings, and group dynamics of fighting the big-bads would be tremendously fun.

The game plays well enough on Steamdeck, but I'm primarily playing the game on an MSI MEG Trident X 10SD-864US desktop gaming computer with a PS4 Dual Shock gamepad (instead of keyboard & mouse). I find that for a 3rd person game heavy on exploration, having a bigger screen is a significant advantage.

The ground floor of the tower provides convenient access to storage and supplies

The second and third floors of the keep are a hub for Portals facing each of the cardinal directions of the map to indicate their destination's general heading

The top floor of the tower is my character's personal chamber with doors that open to the balcony

There is still much I want to do to refine the tower-keep, and I find additional structures to build occasionally, so these screenshots only capture its current state. In just another few weeks, I expect the keep to look moderately different.

The balcony overlooks the entire tower-keep's courtyard and beyond

The developer of the game continues to add updates and release new content at a pace that seems to outpace my ability to consume it. The music and the sound design in the game is also very good. Although I've heard some people complain about the quirkiness of the graphics, I actually find that for a fantasy settings, less-realism is good as it provides more surface area for suspension of disbelief.

The game is a very good value for folks who like the mixture of the game types I mentioned above. One of my closest friends however would probably dislike the game due to the lack of positive directional guidance. The game provides only the lightest nudges in where to go or what to do , and leaves the Exploration almost entirely up to the player - for which I am grateful.

Under the tower-keep is a secret passage providing a means of a stealthy departure into the dark forest beyond

Although I'm very focused on being productive accomplishing real-life goals and priorities via my Hierarchy of Fulfillment framework, I've also deliberately listed some goals to complete some video games so that I don't have to feel guilty about the opportunity cost of spending time on a guilty pleasure versus being productive. This approach is not a complete solution to Toxic Productivity, but it does help.

Because I tend to only play one game at a time until I complete it, this means that I've spent many more months on Valheim than on other games. I'm looking forward to finishing Valheim in the next month-ish though, so that I can move on to other much-neglected game in my queue/backlog.

After I wrote the above, I remembered that part of the inspiration for this post was a moment where I observed a few trees in a park I was visiting that had a birch tree and two birch tree stumps which instantly made me think of Valheim. It has been a long time since I've been so engaged with a video game that it embeds itself in my sensory processing loop.

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A picture of a Birch tree and two Birch tree stumps in a playground which reminded me of Valheim, and was an inspiration for this post