Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Better Later

Today I almost bought Valheim. It's the game everyone's buying. Supposedly

Truth be told, so far the only people talking about it in this corner of the blogosphere seem to be Belghast and Wilhelm, although since Wilhelm heard about it from Ula I imagine we might see a post over at Ulalu in due course. Whether the next few days will see a light dusting of first impressions or a full-on blizzard remains to be seen. 

There's always a tendency for these things to snowball, of course. There's the infamous fear of missing out but also enthusiasm is often contagious. And, boy, are Valheim's boosters enthusiastic!

By comparison with many of the reviews on Steam, Wilhelm and Bel are positively restrained in their warm praise for the game. As I write, Valheim has an "Overwhelmingly Positive" rating from just under 17,000 reviews. That's seventeen thousand reviews for a game that's only been on Steam for a week.

I nearly wrote "only launched on Steam a week ago" but Valheim hasn't launched, not yet. It's still in Early Access, which makes all of this overwhelming positivity even more extraordinary. Early Access games have a poor reputation, both in general and on Steam, specifically. The EA tag is widely seen as a caveat emptor at best, more commonly a red flag.

Several of the reviews I read went out of their way to stress that Valheim is not your typical Early Access title: "If you're intimidated by "early access" don't be (in this case). This game puts AAA studios to shame, seriously". Others chose to comment on the price point: "Its worth FAR MORE THAN $20." And almost everyone agreed on one thing: "This game has no business being this F****** GOOD!"

When I read Wilhelm's observations and impressions I was mildly interested. Valheim seemed like the kind of thing I'd enjoy messing about with for a while. It sounded as if it might scratch that Landmark itch I was talking about a while back, probably more so than Jeromai's suggestion, Boundless, which I put on my wishlist but probably won't ever buy.

For one thing, Valheim has a northern European fantasy setting, some kind of loose re-working of Norse myth. It's not my favorite trope but it's certainly one that feels familiar and comfortable. For another, even though review after review compares it to Minecraft, Valheim appears to be blessedly free of blocks.

From the screenshots I've seen, it looks like any regular fantasy game, even if the graphics are its acknowledged weak point, perhaps the only one I've seen mentioned several times. Unusually, even the reviewers who draw unfavorable attention to the way it looks tend to forgive the game's aesthetic shortcomings with surprising generosity. 

That's partly because of the Early Access tag but mostly because the game has an astonishingly small footprint. The download's just a single gigabyte, although several reviews record a mere 500MB, possibly referring to some previous beta build.

Whatever the exact size, it's small. It's also cheap. Twenty dollars or, to me, £15.49. And it's been fantastically well-reviewed, with two bloggers whose opinions I trust reporting they've tried it and liked what they've seen so far. 

So why haven't I bought it? And more pertinently, why did I say I almost had?

Allergies. That's why.

Mrs. Bhagpuss and I went for a delightful walk in the woods this morning. The U.K.'s  in the middle of a very cold snap but the part where we live remains mercifully free of snow. The sun's been out for most of the day and the threatened bitter easterly winds have not materialized. It was a beautiful day for a walk so we took a long one.

And I came back sneezing my head off. I don't know what it was but something in the winter woods got right up my nose, literally. For most of the day I've barely been able to see a screen let alone play anything on one. It's about as much as I can do to type.

That's why I spent an hour squinting through streaming eyes at Steam's soothing blue-on-blue text instead of playing games. And by the time I'd finished I was starting to feel I'd be crazy to wait a moment longer.

It was pushing at a half-open door, anyway.  I was already minded to buy Valheim after seeing how much fun Bel and Wilhelm seemed to be having. My main concern was whether I'd be able to find enough time to play to make it worth the purchase. I seem to have picked up rather a lot of gaming commitments lately and I'm enjoying all of them. I'm not sure I have room to expand much further but there's nothing I want to drop to make space. In fact I already have a waitlist.

Then there's the memory of Atlas in the back of my mind. That's a not-dissimilar game I bought on a whim. I enjoyed it for a while and I would have said I'd gotten my money's worth but Steam informs me I only played for six hours in total and I haven't logged in for two years. 

Atlas was always a gamble. I bought it mainly to get a few blog posts out of it, which I did. There was a chance it could have turned into something spectacular and since the developers are adamant they're still working out exactly what it's going to be, I guess there still is. Even so, do I need to do that again?

Valheim looks a lot more solid than Atlas. Not only does it have the huge approval of almost everyone who's tried it but it has a premise that I find a lot more suited to my tastes than piracy on the high seas. I've always liked the idea of Minecraft. It's the look of the thing I can't take. If Valheim ends up being Minecraft without the blocky visuals that might be enough for me.

So I put it on my wishlist. Then I looked at it sitting there and thought "why wait?". It's not going to get any cheaper. In fact, the FAQ suggests the price will go up: 

"Will the game be priced differently during and after Early Access?

“No definitive plans here yet, but it is likely that the price will be increased over the course of the Early Access period.”"

Might as well buy it now, then, I guess. I moved it to my basket. 

And then I sneezed and kept on sneezing. When I'd finished I thought about it. It hardly seems fair to the game to make it compete with my near-total inability to concentrate, see or think. Maybe I should wait and see how I feel tomorrow.

These sudden allergic reactions don't often last more than a day or so. Fingers crossed, tomorrow I might be able to go more than five minutes without needing to blow my nose. If so, I'll buy Valheim then. Probably.

Another day isn't going to make any difference. Is it?

And look! I got another post out of not buying a game! That's two days in a row! 

I might be on to something here...


  1. There are a lot of Minecraft parallels in Valheim, which is a good thing in its way. (Some of that in my post queued up for tomorrow.) It has kicked off strong enough and is popular enough that it will be around. They announce a who development path forward, so the game will be expanding. The primary advantage of playing it right now is you get to be one of those people who can complain about all these new features and how you had to do it the hard way back in the day. But it will be around when you want it I am sure.

    1. Hah! That's almost exactly what I was thinking when I was considering whether to buy it and play it now or wait until I actually need a new game and have time to give it my full attention. I read the developer's coments on how much of the game is done and what they plan to add and I had strong New World flashbacks. I really liked the original alpha/beta of New World I was in. The open beta last summer was good too but not quite as good as the earlier version. And I'm willing to bet the launch version won't be quite as good as either of them... because it *will* be more of a polished, finished game.

      And in my experience, the more polished and finished games get - at least these kind of open-ended, keep playing for months or years games - the less involving and satisfying I find them. It's the rough edges and the peculiarities that make them so compulsive. So it makes a lot more sense for me to play Valheim now, when I'll probably get the nost out of it, knowing the more polished and successful it becomes, the more likely I'll be to drop it and walk away.

  2. I first heard of Valheim when one of my fellow Naxx raiders posted it in Discord, so it's not just bloggers. But yeah, it got a lot of interest really fast, like Among Us did.

    1. It really is a thing about gaming these days. Maybe it always was. Stuff blows upout of nowhere. Must royally piss off the big companies who spend vast amounts on advertizing and don't get a fraction of the attention!


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide