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I think Valheim looks great, actually

Hear me out: next time, a game with one polygon, total

New smash-hit Viking sensation Valheim is definitely not my kind of game, reader. It is a survival game, a genre I don't generally enjoy because tending to the needs of the pork sack my thoughts are locked in is tedious enough in real life, so I definitely don't want to do it in my virtual down time. I mean, I already have to do it in my down time anyway, and worrying that my viking is cold while also worrying that my actual toes are cold seems a dangerous thing to do.

It's also a game you are encouraged to play with other people, and I am deeply suspicious of other people. So on the face of it, Valheim does not have much to offer me. But I'll tell you this much: I think it looks amazing.

Cover image for YouTube videoValheim Early Access Launch Trailer

My understanding is that not everyone agrees. But those people are incorrect. Valheim is pretty low res by 2021 standards - it's not "pixel art", but it's definitely an early 2000s kind of "boxy". Think the first days of the PS2. Check out them visible polygons, ooh baby. The angles on those tree trunks. The bulrushes look like hotdogs on sticks. I love them. I find it all refreshing because so many games these days seem to either be cramming in as many pixels as possible or using, like, 16 total, with literally nothing in between.

There is a key technical advantage to this as well, which is that Valheim is a cool 1GB download, which in an age of 80-100GB install sizes is an absolute godsend. But I think they should have done it anyway because it just looks cool. I think more games should do it, in fact. It's a great demonstration of how a game can still look good as long as everything is pulling in the same direction, and that 'retro' can mean many things.

"As hotdogs on sticks to the gods are we."

It's not that I dislike pixel art. The term itself covers a whole manner of styles, a lot of which can't really be said to count as low-def any more. I actually really like it. Games like Olija or Thimbleweed Park really go all out with how expressive tiny squares can be, while something like Darkside Detective is a bit more stripped back but revels in it, lampshading it with jokes. The upcoming Narita Boy also looks absolutely bananas.

But it's just... there's quite a lot of it about these days, isn't there? And while it remains lovely, seeing people do other things is fun. I bloody love mac 'n' cheese but I would probably encounter a lot of problems if I ate it every day (although if there are any science grants able to sponsor me in this effort: I am willing to try). So, you know. Sometimes you have sausage and mash, innit? Or hotdogs stuck on sticks and mash, as the case may be.

A Viking stands in the low-res forest of survival game Valheim, looking out across a small lake as the sun flashes across the screen.

Perhaps it's time we redefine "retro" so that it includes "looks like it was made out of folded craft paper". Although, I do understand that this might be too huge a thing to comprehend doing, like when we all saw the NOW That's What I Call Dad Rock album and discovered the playlist includes The Killers, Avril Lavigne and Imagine Dragons, and all felt our limbs crumble into dust.

But I want to make it clear, I don't think Valheim looks good despite the low-poly visuals. I think it looks good because of them. And it has an unusual high depth of field on as default, which can be annoying but I think really works in thise case. Trees in the distance blur into indistinct loveliness, a blue-green mist that resolve into the big ol' chunky wood fingers as you get close. And when you look up...

A Viking stands by some water in Valheim, looking up at a starring night sky.

Valheim has a really pretty sky. I mean, that's where the gods live, right? Makes sense it'd be the best looking thing in the game. As hotdogs on sticks to the gods are we.

Now, if only I didn't have to punch a bunch of trees and build a fire to keep my toes warm. Hmph.

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Alice Bell avatar

Alice Bell

Deputy Editor

Small person powered by tea and books; RPS's dep ed since 2018. Send her etymological facts and cool horror or puzzle games.