Viking survival game Valheim has done some bloody big numbers since it launched earlier this month. It briefly became the fourth most-played game on Steam in its very first week, and just a few days ago, developers Iron Gate Studios announced it had already sold over two million copies. At first look, Valheim seems a bit like viking Rust, and you might think that's where the inspiration comes from. But according to the co-founder of Iron Gate Studios, Henrik Törnqvist, it takes more influence from singleplayer action-adventure games and RPGs like The Legend Of Zelda and Skyrim.
"We wanted to have more of a feeling of an old school, singleplayer adventure game, kind of like the older Zeldas," Törnqvist told PC Gamer. "Where you get new equipment from defeating the bosses. And we thought it would, or we hoped that it would, mesh well with the survival aspects of a game."
And mesh well it does. I've only dabbled with it a tiny bit so far myself, but already I'm enjoying its survival systems a lot, mostly because you won't just die from hunger or thirst. Törnqvist says these slightly more forgiving systems were Iron Gate Studios CEO Richard Svensson's idea.
"[He] came to the conclusion that an open world simulation that simulates things for no other reason than to simulate them is pretty redundant," said Törnqvist. "That's when he started developing Valheim, which he wanted to be much more gameplay focused, where the simulation helps the gameplay experience of the player, rather than hinders it."
I like this a whole lot. I recently finished the main story bits of Raft, the shark-escaping, raft-building, island-exploring survive 'em up, and whenever you run out of food and water in the early game it's a massive pain. If your pals are nearby they can come and collect you to chuck you on a bed to get better, or you can respawn and lose everything in your inventory. You can go look for your backpack and reclaim stuff, of course, but it catches you in a rough loop if you don't have the supplies to go find it again. Some might enjoy that sort of difficulty curve, but to me it just feels punishing for no reason. All it teaches you is that you need better sources of food and water, but there's no way of changing that without the game presenting enough supplies for you to make those sources.
So, the first update, Hearth And Home, will focus on house building, giving players more things to do around their viking homes: "It will probably be pretty focused on the food preparation aspect of the game with more recipes and stuff like that," Törnqvist said. "But there are also new additional building pieces."
Update 2, Cult Of The Wolf, is all about exploration and combat, while Update 3, Ships And The Sea "will bring in some ship customization and try to flesh out the ocean biome a bit more". I think that's the one I'm most excited for. Any game that lets players explore cool things in the sea is a good one in my book - particularly if you get to do it on a personalised viking longboat.
The fourth and final planned update, Mistlands, will add a new biome with new enemies, items, resources, a new big bad boss and more. Törnqvist said that when the game is finished, "there will be nine biomes with nine bosses, then we're also exploring adding mini-bosses and stuff like that."
He doesn't give any dates on when to expect all this, though it's worth noting Valheim's Steam page says the game will be in early access for around a year, "but depending on player feedback and the amount of content we choose to put into the final game, it may take longer". Törnqvist also gave a little reminder that Iron Gate are a team of just five people, so they have a lot of work ahead of them.
"The whole team is working on fixing all the bugs that come to light when you suddenly get a million people playing your game," he said. "As soon as we feel ready, we will begin working on the updates outlined in the roadmap."
Valheim has plenty of things to explore and discover as it is, though. Ed recently fell in love with the game's bees, and did his very best to make a lovely home that would keep them happy: "Perhaps we placed so much importance on the bees' wellbeing because they were a bit like us," he writes. "Just doing their best to survive."