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Valheim borrows ideas from Dark Souls and The Sims, but abandons survival games' cruelest conventions

Valheim
(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

I'm still a little scared of the Valheim trolls. As a series of tell-tales thuds echoes through the mist, I look up from my partially-excavated copper deposit. Immediately, I spot a towering, blue skinned monstrosity striding out of the woods. Swinging a massive tree-trunk club, it fells an entire swathe of forest as it bears down on me. I turn on my heels and flee, the voices of a Dark Souls-esque operatic chorus ringing out in my imagination. 

Trolls are one of the first times you really have to reckon with the many ideas that Valheim has borrowed from elsewhere. They might not be the first enemy you come across, but boars and goblins can be dispatched with relative ease. Trolls, on the other hand, not only tower over you in the manner of some of FromSoftware's most imposing bosses, but force you to reckon with your limitations in a similar way. Everything from parrying a blow to fleeing in terror is likely to sap your stamina enough that you're too tired to swing a sword. I'm a Soulsborne novice, but even I know the feeling of humiliating hubris that comes from sneaking in a few extra hits on a boss that proceeds to squish you before you can catch your breath, and Valheim recaptures that idea perfectly.

Jack of All Trades

Valheim

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

But the Souls-lite approach to combat is just one of a number of ideas that Valheim borrows from elsewhere. Within the bounds of what might initially seem like a standard survival game – complete with a hunger meter, crafting tables, and a massive open world – are a bunch of features that fit nicely within the survival genre mold, but were popularised by very different games. Valheim's experience system, which gradually rewards tasks like mining and woodcutting, seems to have its roots in classic MMO Runescape. The surprisingly detailed approach to building and decoration reminds me of early Sims games. Elsewhere, Valheim borrows a stealth system straight from Skyrim and repurposes sailing from the likes of Sea of Thieves and Assassin's Creed: Black Flag. 

None of those ideas are as detailed here as in the games that helped make them famous, but they were often the work of massive studios sometimes focusing entirely on those systems. A tiny team of developers worked on Valheim, a game that successfully brings all of these ideas together in the same place, while having a whole other genre working away under the hood.

While it might borrow from a host of other games, Valheim pays surprisingly little attention to the games that paved the path that it follows. To call Valheim a survival game sometimes feels like a misnomer, so casual is its approach to establish convention. Hunger and thirst meters, so often a major limiting factor, are gone. Food is an important part of your journey, but it's a factor that's used to facilitate activity by boosting your hitpoints and stamina in a genre where hunger and thirst are often an excuse to stop you in your tracks. Similarly, factors such as lack of sleep or bad weather put soft limits on what you can do – going to bed at night grants a boost to stamina, while staying out in the rain slows you down – but neither a freak lightning storm or a four-day woodcutting bender will hinder you entirely. 

Valheim doubles down on its disinterest with survival norms with how forgiving and generous it can be. Its world is dangerous, and I've lost count of the number of times I've been flattened by a troll or skewered by a Deathsquito, but the game's approach to death is usually very forgiving. Beyond a few points off your stats and a trek back to your grave, dying costs nothing – a far cry from the permadeath of games like Don't Starve or The Long Dark. Maintenance and crafting don't cost much either. Beyond the metals required to make weapons and armor, most materials can be found in early biomes, and there's no cost to either repairing your gear or tearing your entire settlement down and starting again from scratch.

In a genre that's usually prepared to make you fight for your very existence, Valheim is prepared to take a step back and let you find something else within its systems. Its many different ideas are all stripped down enough that they don't get in the way of its gentle take on the survival genre, but detailed enough that anyone from a genre purist to an absolute beginner can take advantage of the creativity and exploration that Valheim thrives on.

Want to make Valheim's grind a little easier? Here are some Valheim cheats to help out.

Ali Jones

I'm GamesRadar's deputy news editor, working with Ben T across our gaming news articles. I started my journalistic career while getting my degree in English Literature at the University of Warwick, where I also worked as Games Editor on the student newspaper, The Boar. Since then, I've run the news sections at PCGamesN and Kotaku UK, and also regularly contributed to PC Gamer. As you might be able to tell, PC is my platform of choice, so you can regularly find me playing League of Legends or Steam's latest indie hit.