Valheim is blowing up at the moment, and at first glance, it might be hard to see why. It has an old school look and a tough learning curve, but the survival sandbox game is sitting happily in the Steam bestseller list for a reason. Once you start playing, you're always just a few more leather scraps and flint pieces away from greatness.
Valheim and a pantless hero
You start half dressed - just a leather tunic between you and the world - and with an empty inventory in a meadow. You're in a world full of strange monuments, boar, deer, and monsters and to survive you need to craft tools, clothes, weapons, a shelter, and learn how to hunt and defend yourself. Die and you’ll respawn, but you’ll need to go way back to the site of your untimely demise to reclaim your precious items. Just getting your basic needs met will take you some time, and there are no missions (although occasionally a mystical raven drops in to explain something about the world) so progressing is about exploring and trying things out, whether you’re trying to make a bow or build a half-decent looking home. It's very forgiving too, you can't starve or dehydrate to death - but being well-fed will give you better health and stamina - and it's easy to repair items, so the game isn't just one long story about trying to make an ax that won't ruin your life.
As you get better at the game, and have mastered crafting weapons and armor, you can try taking on the big monsters in Valheim, The Forsaken. They have to be summoned using resources you’ve collected in the world, and if you defeat you’ll get new resources to craft new items and access to special powers. The first is a giant stag who can shoot lightning from his antlers, but killing him will give you the ingredients to craft a pickaxe - which you need to mine ores - and will buff your stamina, which comes in real handy when running away from anything that might want to kill you.
Of course, you're no sort of Viking without a ship, and the game lets you build those too, starting with piddly rafts and finally longships. This lets you explore further and find even more resources, although traveling isn't without its dangers. There are only three sea-faring vessels to build at the moment, but the game is only in Early Access so expect all sorts of things to be added as the game develops, especially as the audience has proved so enthusiastic.
Friends and farms
One of the things that has made the game so popular, even in Early Access, is the ability to play with up to nine friends, and you can join friend’s servers easily to check out their camps and help them out with those big boss monsters. Just don’t get jealous when they have a sprawling settlement with farms and defenses, and you’re still not sure how to put your hut’s roof on straight. On other servers, I've seen great halls, huge farms, homes with dragon decorations, mead halls, and hunting lodges. I don't know who any other of these Valheim super creators are, but obviously, I hate them all.
I haven't even got to the part where I want to face off against any giant thunder deer yet, I'm just happy pottering about, storing up wood, trying to make my shack into something a little cozier than the forgotten outhouse it currently resembles. When I do get into combat I can't handle it's inevitably because I've gone too far hunting for blueberries, rather than because I'm looking for glory. With no quest reminders popping up and a massive world to explore - even one that has a slightly retro feel - it's one of the most relaxing survival games I've played. At some point, I'll no doubt feel the urge to take on some new challenges in order to open up my crafting options and stop being the equivalent of Valheim trailer trash. Until then, I'll be over here trying to get that damn roof straight.
Valheim is out now in Steam Early Access, and costs $20. If you need help, read our Valheim tips to starting your Viking survival adventure.