Viking survival em' up Valheim was arguably one of the biggest games of last year, with its Nordic purgatory providing the perfect lobby for hanging out with your pals. It's no secret that for a long while, my friends and I were smitten with its PS1-era graphics, snappy building, and heady mixture of relaxation and sense of dread. Our odyssey was one of carrots and boars, half-naked sails and bees.
So, count me excited when Liam and I had the chance to sample Valheim's next major update Mistlands, which brings with it a smoky new biome, magic, new building bits, and blimps that are actually giant ticks that soar in the sky and spit acidic warheads at you. It was great to be back.
Liam and I were lucky enough to spend an hour with Iron Gate's lead artist Robin Eyre and senior developer Jonathan Smårs on a whistlestop tour of Mistlands. We joined a special press server which they'd prepared, like, an Ikea showroom, except that it was less lampshades and lino floors and more stone huts and staves. Not that it was a totally separate thing - far from it. It was absolutely a Mistlands biome, just one that wouldn't murder us immediately.
Let's make one thing clear right from the off: Mistlands is an endgame biome that's designed to make you clench. Just like any other biome in the game, there's a chance you'll encounter it early on in your adventures, but by no means does it mean you should drop anchor. Unless you're an absolute hardnut, you'll need to have beaten all the previous biomes and come dressed in your strongest garb to even have a chance at survival. Eyre and Smårs say that "death is always the best wake up call" for players who may have become a bit too comfortable in Valheim's world.
You see, Mistlands is, as the name suggests, a misty land. There's a thick layer of mist that hangs over the forest, which Irongate describe as a mixture of the "two most hated biomes, the Swamps and Mountains". Except that it's eerily beautiful and not either oppressive or cold, with giant shimmering roots of the Yggdrasil tree that lead up into the skies, and provide a wonderful vista for a biome cloaked in fog. Where many of Valheim's other biomes are a lot more traditional in their vibe, the Mistlands lean more into the arcane, which means you feel like you're inching closer to some of the lore's more exciting, fantastical elements.
And the move towards a land whose roots crackle with energy has finally given Irongate the perfect opportunity to bring magic to the game. One of the devs unflatteringly called it, "archery with particle effects", which might be true in a technical sense, but it certainly seemed a lot cooler in the hand. Liam and I were lucky enough to test some staves, including one that sprayed a stream of icicles and another that encased us all in a temporary bubble shield. I was incredibly jealous of Smårs, whose staff turned him into a warlock capable of summoning skeleton archers and warriors to aid us in battle. Each staff seemed like a way of bringing a light sprinkle of character classes to the game, giving players the opportunity to take on different role if they'd like.
To use magic, you'll need to eat food that'll grant you Eitr (a blue mana bar) and then that's it; you're good to go. Simplicity was a key thing for the devs, who didn't want to rush magic into the game in an earlier patch and risk making it overly complex. And there's a real playfulness to the regular weapons too, turning them from your copper axes and spears to unique items brimming with enchantments. I wielded this one axe that dripped with poison, while Liam had a longsword that glowed with energy. While the staves and axes won't be easy to come by, they certainly make a nice change from base Valheim's selection of rather normal gear.
While Liam and I weren't introduced to any of Mistlands' new crafting materials, expect to find a host of new resources you'll need to craft all of the cool stuff mentioned above. We did, however, briefly delve into a dungeon called the "Infested Mine" which was filled with skittering creatures and smooth stone walls coated in a thick green gunk. The devs said they'd taken inspiration from the Lord Of The Rings' Mines Of Moria and Alien, which checks out. While many of Valheim's other dungeons are a bit samey and incredibly claustrophobic, this one felt similarly windy but with a greater selection of pathways to probe.
Aside from our brief jaunt into a dungeon – which the devs kept deliberately tightlipped about – we encountered a number of horrific creatures on our travels. There were these ticks that clung to you and sucked your blood, Seekers (eldritch masses of limbs and nastiness), and my personal favourite: a tick mothership that hovered in the sky and spat bile bombs at us. Seriously, I don't think there were any easily poppable bugs in the entire biome.
One of the main highlights was our encounter with the Dvergr, a neutral party of NPCs that are of the same ilk as the shopkeeper, and who look like blue garden gnomes. They won't attack unless provoked, so we wandered into their little house and had a poke around. Granted, it was a simple structure, but it was neat to see some friendly faces in such a dangerous land. The devs didn't give too much else away, aside from the fact that they have "valuable items", which you'll want to get your hands on to progress.
And to get your hands on the Dvergr's treasure, you'll need to destroy the boxes that house them. This will piss the Dvergr off, sure, but the devs outlined some interesting loopholes that won't necessarily place the blame on you. For instance, luring a bunch of Seekers over to their location, then sneaking away with the loot as both parties slug it out. Or grabbing the harpoon during stormy evenings, hooking them out their hidey holes (as you whisper "I'm Batman"), then stealing their stuff. I look forward to the wacky ways other players will rob the poor Dvergr of their goods.
When it comes to crafting your own homes, Mistlands has some new building bits that will satisfy those with a love for construction. Again, we only saw a few bits of what's likely to be a larger selection, which included a spiral staircase, a nice new wall, and pillars made by stacking what can only be described as massive ice hockey pucks. As for defence for your bases, the DLC also introduces massive bear traps and ballistas that act as auto-turrets, which - aside from being cool - indicates that it won't just be trolls knocking on the door, but some horrendous DLC abominations which we hadn't had the pleasure of dying to in the demo.
Liam and I's first look at Valheim's Mistlands expansion made for a grand time with two lovely devs who were incredibly patient in the face of our incompetence. Where the previous DLC Hearth And Home focused on building stuff, Mistlands seems like it'll offer more of a complete endgame package. Whether there's enough stuff to satisfy the most hardcore players remains to be seen, but honestly, it's just exciting to see the start of Valheim's gradual expansion now that Iron Gate have had the time to process their surge to stardom.
Maybe, just maybe, Kiryun Kazumor and the clan will make a return.