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The RPS Advent Calendar 2021, December 12th

Viking of the hill

Alright warrior. You lived a good life. Now it's time to open this frosty, Viking-y door on the Advent Calendar and see what awaits you in the afterlife. Purgatory? Oh no!

Can you tell what it is yet? Of course you can! It's Valheim!

Ollie: I really didn't expect to like Valheim. In fact, when I describe my experience playing it to my friends, I always say that never have I done such a 180 on a game. When I first started playing, I could see that it was a survival and crafting game like so many others, and the textures were a bit blurry and the combat was a bit janky, and I couldn't really see what had captured everyone's attention. What was it that set Valheim apart from every other survival game?

Cover image for YouTube videoValheim Hearth & Home – Out now!

I realised my mistake as time went on. I was looking for one particular spin on the genre. Valheim doesn't depart from the survival format in any massive and meaningful way; instead, it adds lots and lots of tiny details. Details like how buildings have stability, so you must set your foundations strong if you want to create a bigger house. Or how if you make a campfire indoors without a chimney, smoke will collect in your house and you'll start to suffocate. Or how wooden structures will slowly decay in the rain.

It's not all to do with building, either. The weather and lighting effects are absolutely sublime. I never would have thought I'd end up describing Valheim as beautiful, but it really is. Turns out you don't need high resolution textures for that. And they actually matter, too. During bad weather, birds will land on the ground or on the tops of houses, making them much easier to shoot to gather feathers for your arrows. During foggy mornings, the visibility gets bad enough that it can actually make a big difference to your adventuring plans.

Two Vikings traversing the Plains biome in Valheim, under the shadow of Yggdrasil.

And then there's the water. Oh, this water. Head to one of the hundreds of coasts in your procedurally generated world, and you'll see the waves actually lapping at the shore. During storms the tide will recede far further before throwing itself up onto the land. If you're out sailing (one of my favourite things to do in Valheim), you'll have to pay attention to wind direction and handle massive waves that throw your ship about.

At its core, Valheim is a straightforward survival and crafting game. Build up your gear, fight monsters, build houses, head to new biomes to get stronger resources for even better gear, build more houses, rinse, and repeat. But every part of the game and everything you do within it is well-built, enjoyable, and absolutely brimming with character and atmosphere. And the ease with which you can set up a server and play with friends is an enormous plus point too, because worlds this characterful are always more fun to explore with others. This game has given me hundreds of hours of enjoyment this year playing both alone and with friends and family members, and I daresay I'll keep coming back to it again and again over the years.

Ed: Valheim swung around at a time when I felt rather isolated in my little white box of a room. It was a perfect way to gather some friends I missed and set up a virtual viking clan to stave off the loneliness. Every Friday we’d login and catch up on stuff, even though stuff wasn’t really happening at that time.

Kiryun Kazumor, Sigmund, Ragnar the Red, and Dunder Mifflin. As these clueless bearded men, we’d go from rather tired and weary, to beaming with life. Valheim really isn’t all that forgiving, but we reveled in the hardship. We’d celebrate the small victories with hoots and hollers. First we discovered it was important that the bees were happy. And like babies who test the world with their mouths, we’d punch things just to see what would happen.

Later we’d pelt the earth with our fists in an attempt to plant carrots, which proved more difficult than we could have ever imagined. A half-naked sail helped ease tensions. Eventually, we’d taste victory and enter The Carrot Age. Our clan even adopted a boar and found love.

Chronicling our Valheim antics on RPS has been one of the highlights of my year. Not only did I get to share a great time with some of my closest friends, I could write them into the history books for others to enjoy, so maybe they'd get a laugh or brighten someone's day. I liked the idea that others could feel a part of our bumbling clan if they needed an escape too.

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The all-seeing eye of Rock, Paper, Shotgun, the voice of many-as-one.