Thursday, February 18, 2021

One Of Us

Even by the standards of a hobby that runs on fads, frenzies and fear of missing out, Valheim really has dropped a rock in the pond. Ancient heroes awaken from their slumber and not just in the game. I was amazed to see a post from Potshot in my Feedly feed this morning. As he mentions, it's been seven years since the last time he felt moved to post. This is why I almost never cull my blog roll. The good ones always come back.

Yesterday SynCaine weighed in with a very good pocket review of the game. He hasn't gone silent altogether but it was only his third post of the year.

His old sparring partner, Tobold, posts more frequently, although rarely any more about video games. His interests have strayed into the so-called real world, board games, table-top adventures, a seemingly interminable digression on the merits of 3D printers. (There are none. They're the modern-day equivalent of the hi-fi separates of yesteryear, designed to be sold at high prices to people who like to fiddle with the process while the rest of us skip straight to the product). 


Tobold, too, has been tugged back into the slipstream of the blogosphere's prevailing winds by Valheim. His succinct summation of the game's strengths and attractions, not excluding some ways its loopholes can be exploited for personal profit, makes a tidy companion piece to SynCaine's. If only Friday blog wars were still a thing.

Syl, herself a recent returnee to blogging after a lengthy silence, popped into the comments here to express her resistance to the ongoing onslaught of commendations. She was kind enough to credit me with the potential power to pull her in but also quick to affirm her determination not to succumb. It's not really my intention or desire to act as an influencer when I pen gushing posts about my latest fancies but it's nice to know someone enjoys the enthusiasm.

I have an odd relationship with recommendations, anyway. I very much enjoy receiving them but making them unsettles me a little. It's an unfortunate psychological quirk, given my paid job literally requires me to "make recommendations" every day, both in person and in writing. On top of that I've chosen a hobby, blogging, in which I frequently de facto cheerlead for all kinds of things I like. I really know how to make things hard for myself, apparently.


My problem with recommendations is the commensurate sense of responsibility, something I loathe. It always worries me that something I say may be taken seriously by someone, who may then go on to act on it and receive an outcome that's not what they expected or, worse, wanted. Also, it's really awkward when someone comes back and tells you they hated something you loved. Or even just kinda liked. It can sit between you for a while.

All the same, it's a natural desire to spread the word when you find something you like and believe others might, too. And anyway, keeping good news to yourself is pretty selfish, isn't it? 

It depends how entertaining you can make it, too. I'm pretty sure Wilhelm has a lot more people looking forward to his instalments on the life of an Imperium footsoldier in EVE Online (can a spaceship pilot be a footsoldier?) or the instance group's latest trip through another World of Warcraft Classic dungeon than can be playing those games themselves. 


His series of (mis)adventures in Valheim make for great reading, whether you play the game or not. The latest post, in which he catches us up with all the things that happened when he didn't have time to post because he was playing the game, scores high with me for recognition humor but makes for a great tale whether you've drunk the Viking Kool-Aid or not.

As Wilhelm points out, it's tough to keep up a blogging narrative in real time when you're spending all day playing. In my case, for the first time I can recall in years, I have found myself wanting to carry on playing in preference to posting at all. I only bought Valheim a week ago and I've already bailed on two days of posting as a direct result. Sorry about that but it's going to happen again.

How long is all of this going to go on, though? Hmm. That's a tough one. These sudden squalls of interest blow up all the time but how many of them last? Remember Genshin Impact?


Mailvaltar does. He's been kind enough to remind any of his readers still playing there's an event on they might not want to miss, suggesting "...anyone who’s played and liked the game before... put Valheim away for a bit (c’mon, we all know you’re playing that one right now) and take a look". 

I'd like to. I really would. I was enjoying Genshin Impact. I played it, I wrote about it, then I drifted away. Other things came up. 

One of them was Black Desert. I was enjoying that one, too. Again. There was a ripple of interest in the blogosphere when ownership transition and the need to sort out your account or lose it pushed a bunch of folk who hadn't been back for a while to dust off their characters and get back on the horse. Or camel.

Aywren was one of them. And what's she doing now? Well, she might be playing Valheim. She posted an excellent overview of the new viking's experience although she hasn't mentioned it again. And Belghast, the first blogger I noticed posting about the game, doesn't seem to have been bitten as hard as some, although his interest seems to have revived with the arrival of friends.

There are a few hold-outs. As well as the aforementioned Syl, Azuriel has professed his intention to sit this one out, at least while Early Access lasts and Jeromai agrees. Other potential pickers-up on the prime posting potential of Valheim, the likes of Syp, Tipa or Kaozz, have yet to reveal their hands.

If I had to guess (and of course I really don't, but I'm not going to let that stop me) I'd say Valheim will become something of a standard. Not a flash in the pan or a nine day wonder but one of those background games everyone dips in and out of for years. That would put it squarely in line with the game to which it's most frequently compared, Minecraft.


I've never played Minecraft but I've read a lot about it. Oh boy, have I ever. At any given moment there will usually be someone in my blog roll just starting a new project that involves piling brightly-colored blocks one on top of another. It's a toy as much as it's a game and that's why it has such persistence.

Valheim does seem to have a through-line but the procedurally-generated landscapes, the open world and the extensive construction and terraforming opportunities suggest an indefinite lifespan well beyond the scope of any scripted narrative. I wonder how long it will be before the game gets its own dedicated creative mode? Not too long, I hope.

The current thrall the game exerts will fade in time, but not for good. I imagine it receding into a mellow awareness, always there but rarely heeded. Occasionally the urge to revisit the surprisngly lush lands of this imagined North will return, be indulged, then slip away again. 


In some ways, already, after just a week, I look forward to that day. To relish waking up with what you'll do in a game already there in the front of your mind; to resent competing activities, even ones formerly anticipated with pleasure (other games, blogging...); to welcome being absorbed, taken over by another, imagined life... to welcome that kind of takeover unambiguously, you'd need to be less comfortable with the life of the mind you were leading already than it seems I was.

It's a peculiar sensation. For the moment I clearly prefer to be playing Valheim than doing most anything else I could be doing instead. That's good. It's pleasant to have an occupation. To set against that pleasure, there's some discomfort in realizing what's being pushed aside. Opportunity cost, I suppose they call it.

I had plans for other games. Things I wanted to do. Things I was looking forward to doing. Some of those can be returned to in due course. Others won't be there for long. With irony, having had the mildest bout of gaming ennui not so very long ago, I'd found a happy rhythm again. Then Valheim burst in and threw it all to blazes. 


Ah, well. Can't complain. No, let's rephrase that. Can complain but really shouldn't. If finding a game's too much fun to stop playing because not stopping means not playing other games or writing about them, that's not so much a first world problem as a problem from a world that needs minus numbers to delineate the sheer extent of its excess privelige.

Guess I'd better get on play the thing, then, and stop going on about it. And in case anyone's still on the fence about whether to throw in their lot with the rest of the converted, understand, I'm not recommending anything. Just pointing out the risks.


  1. I managed to get Liore of the old Cat Context blog interested in the game and now her crew... who also make up some of the Fantasy Movie League group... are playing. I went and hung out on their shared world for a bit last night.

    1. Would be amazing if she started blogging again, too. Also if the Fantasy Movie League would start up again. I think that's the less likely of the two right now...

  2. I bought and installed it, but I've not launched it. Had a bunch of stuff going on in the evenings, plus my vid card is failing when I play games anymore which blue-screens the whole pc, so I've not been gaming much at all for a couple of months since I can't find a non-scalped/insanely marked up vid card as a replacement right now either, so... yeah..... I'll get to it at some point.

    1. I think it's a sound plan to get the game now if you have any inkling you might want to play it later. Mrs Bhagpuss is going to buy Valheim this weekend. Even if she doesn't play it right away, she probably will eventually and the devs have said the price is likely to rise so it might as well be now rather than later.

  3. I have to admit I'll be sitting this one out. It looks like ARK: Survival Evolved but with fewer features, because of early access, and ... well, given my disinterest in crafting systems, disinterest in survivalist mechanics, and (much lesser, it's hardly a dealbreaker) disinterest in viking lore... I'm not entirely sure what would be left for me.

    It sure is a lot of fun to watch everyone scrambling around in it, though. Even when I don't personally care to dip into these things I love reading the stories they generate.

    1. Valheim is easily the most story-generating game I've played for a long time. Pretty much every session makes a good tale and that's just playing solo. As I write I'm trapped at the top of a stone tower on the edge of the Plains, under siege by some cackling creature I can't see or identify, waiting for dawn to come before I risk opening the gate I crafted and fitted into the doorway to secure my bolthole. The story of how i got here would fill a very long post.

      As for ARK, lots of people do make the comparison but so far everyone I've read has also made the point that Valheim is, already in Early Access, the better product. I haven't played ARK so I wouldn't know.

  4. Bought Valheim, played about six hours solo, honestly can't say I enjoyed it. Folks seem to be comparing it to Minecraft, but to me it's a Norse-themed Rust with a bit better tutorials and more PVE. I found it quite grindy to get started in: wanted to do some exploring but it took me forever to get set up and I still am not feeling secure enough to try anything challenging. The UI is a mess of tangled menus with little discoverability. The building UI is extremely fiddly and awkward.

    Might pick it up and try it again when I get some spare time, but I'm skeptical.

    1. It is absolutely worth persevering. I didn't think much of it at the start either but a few hours in that all changed. I agree about the start though. Given how relaxing an experience it becomes by about Day 3, I can't see the point of hanging on to the "naked in the woods" survival game start. I think you should start in a small hut with a bed and a fire and basic tools in your inventory.

      Other than the map being so vast, I'm not sure there's anything much to prevent you exploring before you start making a base. The only penalty is skill loss and having to get your stuff back so if you have no skills and no stuff...

      All you really need to do is find a semi-ruined building and secure it so you can put a bed in and you can explore as far as you want. Of course, with the worlds being procedurally generated and all different, it's entirely possible that what seems straightforward on one would be less so on another.

  5. Folks should be a little more confident in what they like or don’t like, and specifically why. I’ve mostly been watching in bemused fashion at the Early Access Viking bandwagon. Far be it for me to be a downer on someone’s enjoyment, so I’m content to silently watch those who enjoy it wax rhapsodic about it.

    For me specifically, there are a few areas which stop me making the leap as yet. One is the low poly player model and a couple of the low poly trees/plants. They instill a bit of revulsion in me, possibly similar to your revulsion with Minecraft blocks. It just screams something in between uncanny valley (RIP immersion) and unfinished product (I avoid Early Access as a general rule.) In time, perhaps they’ll improve on these seemingly placeholder models, or someone else might give them a high definition mod.

    Then there’s the roadmap and future plans already laid out. If one plays a game now, it’s very unlikely one will fully repeat a game later, after more cool stuff is added. Experienced that with Terraria, Don’t Starve, etc. It makes sense for me to wait until it’s a little more fully baked, since I have no overwhelming urge to play it immediately.

    Finally, I just don’t really see what it’s doing that is so earthshatteringly new, except for being possibly the only multiplayer survival sandbox that -isn’t- PvP first in focus and works out of the box for solo to multiple players. (Which is great that -someone-‘s figured out that PvE sandboxes are far more popular than FFA full loot PvP playgrounds, but not a selling point to solo me.)

    It looks like ARK mixed with a bit of Terraria pedigree (monster/gear progression-wise) with a bit more simplification along stylistic Minecraft alley to make it more Fortnite stylized. I’ve done the whole ‘chop down trees, hoard resources, build stuff, fight things, we must go deeper, rinse and repeat’ loop in dozens of survival games by now - Subnautica, to name another game not mentioned above, for example.

    I daresay it’s great for players who either haven’t experienced survival games (no names for who has been living under a rock :)) or hasn’t played them in quite a while (like possibly many streamers). Or who want to play socially with friends while the interest is burning hot all around (a very large subset of paying players, while I sadly don’t seem to have a gaming profile with that kind of socialite interest.)

    But it doesn’t feel very new or novel to me, so it makes sense to let it ferment and steep and improve even further until I get in the appropriate receptive mood to tinker with such a game.

    1. Everyone should definitely have confidence in what they like. On the other hand, as every mother tells every child, how do you know you don't like it if you haven't tried it?

      That said, several the points you make come with obvious rebuttals or qualifications. The low poly count and the general appearance/look of the game is an absolute matter of taste. I think Minecraft is eye-gougingly hideous, hundreds of millions of people disagree. I think Valheim is stunningly gorgeous. Not the character models, which do look like placeholders, but the environments, which are hands-down the most convincingly naturalistic I have ever seen, and the character model integrates with them perfectly. Almost the inverse of uncanny valley, in fact.That's a matter of perception and taste. No-one is going to change anyone's mind on it.

      Early Access and when to jump is another perception issue. SOme people think the real thing is the finished product, others think the rough edges are what make it real. My fairly convinced opinion after years of alphas,, betas and early access is that it's a *very* rare game that ends up being better at release or after than it was at a sweet spot in pre-release development. Almost everything ends up over-polished. Valheim has managed to attract first attention when it's exactly in that sweet spot. I fully expect further development to make the game worse, not better. Be delighted to be proved wrong but experience suggests I won't be. Of course, by that I mean worse for me. Commercially, I'm sure it will become more popular because that will be the purpose of the changes made.

      On the topic of similar games before it, I haven't really played much of any of them so it is indeed mostly a novel experience for me, but I have read a lot of comments now from people who have played plenty and they tend to say that what Valheim does is the same things only better. Novelty and innovation are important but there's also plenty of room for iteration and improvement. Build a better mousetrap, as they say. Also PvE audiences have clearly been very badly served in this field until now so there's that.

      The most important caveat, in my opinion, is whether it's too compelling. I don't necessarily want a game to take over my thoughts let alone my life. That would be the main reason I'd be wary about it. It's a bit late now, though.

  6. "The most important caveat, in my opinion, is whether it's too compelling. I don't necessarily want a game to take over my thoughts let alone my life."

    That's the thing, isn't it?

    On the one hand I very much do wish for a game to sink its hooks into me like that again. It's been a while.

    On the other hand...the Covid situation hasn't really provided me with more free time, if anything the last couple of months have actually been more busy and stressful than usual. Hence games that can easily be enjoyed in bite-sized chunks, like Genshin Impact, fit the bill much better right now.

    I do assume I'll have a look at Valheim regardless. Sooner or later.

  7. It's good to see the blogosphere energised again, I'm kind of glad I have no interest in survival sandbox games though as I haven't the time or energy for such a potential timesink. Enjoy though!

  8. So just for the record....I have done it now, am playing Valheim (I did put up a fight though!) :P


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