Saturday, February 13, 2021

Thirty Days

In a shocking development that's going to surprise absolutely no-one, having posted my highly skeptical first impressions of Valheim, in which I made it quite clear the game had failed to impress, much less hook me, I spent so long playing it yesterday I didn't have time to post my second impressions.

Steam tells me I've now spent 12.7 hours in the viking afterlife simulator and if it hadn't been for the lure of red envelopes in Guild Wars 2's lunar new year (four accounts takes a while) that could easily be fifteen. Or more.

It's not that I've decided Valheim is a good game, you understand. I have no idea whether it's good, bad or indifferent. I haven't seen enough of it to tell. What I have seen are a lot of trees. Many of which I have chopped down. Very many.

I cannot tell a lie.


At one point I spent three straight game days chopping down trees around the architect's nightmare I laughingly call my house. I didn't need the wood. I just can't stop chopping down trees. The way they fall. The way they bounce and roll. The damage they can do. It's compelling.

With the basic stone axe or the slightly better flint upgrade, the only trees around my homestead that I can fell are beeches. Birch and oak, the other two broadleafed varieties that make up the deciduous forest, return a message indicating they're "too hard". 

Maybe I can't cut them down. I can still knock them down.

Damn you, silver birch! I'll get you if it's the last thing I do!


Trees handily lose all their branches when they fall, leaving a neat cylindrical trunk. That in turn splits into two when chopped, before finally shattering into the generic "wood" pieces you can pick up and use. I discovered early on that you can roll these large logs around just by by pushing on them.

I had a plan to fill the pond next to my house with logs in the hope of rendering it uninhabitable for the annoying amphibian "necks". That didn't really work but while I was pushing logs down the slope I noticed anything they hit took damage. 

I say "damage". Large rocks took "0" damage. It registered but meant nothing. Birches, however, gave up actual numbers. I pushed the beech trunks back up the slope and let them roll back down. After four or five tries the birch snapped off at the base and fell into the lake.

That was immensely satisfying until I realised it left me with a stump I couldn't remove because it was, predictably, "too hard". Also not many birch trees are considerate enough to grow at the bottom of a convenient slope. 

If I can just roll another twenty or thirty of these in here...


This, by and large, is how I spent the day. I also played with the hoe for a long while. It can raise or lower the ground. That seemed straightforward enough. I cleared a lovely flat yard all around my house. It was only when I went inside I realized I'd buried half the floorboards in dirt.

I raised the land under a gap in the wooden barricade I'd built around the house only to find that now, when I open the gate, I fall into the pond. I took the roof on and off about half a dozen times. I built a tower and tore it down. I moved the fire to somewhere it wouldn't set me alight every time I used the back door, only then it was too far away from my bedroom and I couldn't get to sleep.

Things went on like that for a long time. I won't bore you with the details except to say that soon one house wasn't enough for me. I started refurbishing any structure I happened to pass. I was out searching for stones which seemed to be remarkably hard to find where I was living and I kept happening across ruins that looked like they could be made perfectly habitable with a little work. I mean, I couldn't just leave them, could I?

At one point Mrs. Bhagpuss came in to ask if I wanted a coffee. She looked over my shoulder and observed that I appeared to be playing some kind of hobo sim set in the Appalachian mountains. She asked if I was living in a pile of cardboard boxes. It did look like that way, I couldn't deny it.

I'd say "hobo" was a tad harsh. How about "outdoor type"?

She also opined that I had very noisy neighbors. This is true. At all times of day and night I can hear yelling and banging around my homestead. I've tried to find out what's causing it but so far it remains a mystery. Some of the noises sound like words, others like explosions. It sometimes feels more like living in an urban jungle than a forest.

As for the attacks and home invasions others have described, I've now seen one. Just the one. I was on the roof hammering some nails into the thatch (not really - construction in Valheim doesn't have that nit-picking level of detail, I'm happy to say) when a message came up across the screen. 

It was too quick and unexpected to catch the details but the gist seemed to be that I'd angered the forest god and he was rallying the animals to the attack. I waited. Nothing happened. 

Eventually I noticed two or three deer and couple of boars hanging out in the undergrowth beyond my perimeter pallisade. They didn't seem to be doing anything. After a while longer another message appeared, telling me the animals were calming down. Well, that was certainly... nothing.

Take a glance to your left, bird. What d'you think I've been doing all this time since you last popped your head out?


Hugin the Raven turned up then. I hadn't seen him for so long I'd forgotten he was part of the game. I went to speak to him and he told me I ought to build a strong defence to protect myself against incidents like this. Thanks for that, Hugin. Waaaaay ahead of you, pal.

"Excitement" over, I went back to my home improvements. This all might have gone on indefinitely only for some reason I got it into my head I ought to build a raft. 

I didn't have anywhere to go or any reason to go there but if you know you can build a raft, eventually you're going to build one. It's kind of a given. So I built my raft and got on. Across the bay I could see what looked like the spot where the giant tree that looms overhead might touch the ground. Good a destination as any.

The raft turned out to be one of the easier vessels to navigate that I've run across in gaming. I had it moving in a few seconds. There was some tool tip that said it was safest to sit down when you ride a raft so I sat. The waves were rolling, the simulation was impressive, I was enjoying the trip out to sea.

I think I'll name her the Surprisingly Seaworthy.


Then the sea turned into ocean. There was a message telling me so. The light got darker, the waves got bigger, the raft began to buck. I was soaked in seconds. Any sensible viking would have turned around and headed back to shallower waters.

I am not a sensible viking. Well, perhaps I am, a little bit. Before I set out I'd put most of my valuables (Hah! Valuables! That's a good one!) in chests in my house. I'd already decided I'd better only take what I could afford to lose because you leave all your stuff where you drop and if I died at sea I didn't foresee getting any of it back.

(Funny story. I'd died in the water once already so I knew what I was getting into. I was hunting deer along the shore and after I wounded one it ran into the sea and I foolishly swam after it to finish it off. It seems even badly-wounded deer have more stamina than vikings because I ran out of energy and drowned before I could catch it. My corpse was in the shallows but only just barely in swimming range. If there hadn't been an underwater rock I was able to climb on to get my breath back I'd never have gotten my stuf back at all. So you can see what my prospects of a corpse recovery in the deep ocean were likely to be).

Oh, no. This can't be good.


Despite the wallowing and inundation, I kept on going. I could see a shore not that far away. If the raft didn't founder I thought I could make it still. And then the serpent appeared.

I actually said, out loud, "You have got to be kidding me!". It wasn't a big sea serpent. Maybe twelve, fifteen feet long. And purple. With the classic ridged back. It swam around me in circles, occasionally lunging forward to take a bite out of the raft. Really. I saw it do it.

The raft sank lower and lower in the water until finally it broke up. I got out my knife and prepared to go down fighting. Then I drowned. Or it ate me. One or the other. I was dead, either way.

Just make it quick, okay?


I woke up back in bed, in my underwear. I'd put a lot of stuff in the chests but I only had one tunic and one pair of pants and now they were at the bottom of the ocean. And staying there.

Priority number one became getting some new clothes. That meant getting some leather scraps and/or some deer hide and that meant hunting boars or deer or both. Didn't seem like it was going to be too much of a problem. There were always animals around and about and while deer were hard to catch, boars were easy.

Only there's never a boar around when you want one, is there? I mean, the entire genre runs on them and yet if you need them, where are they? Not in my part of the forest, that's for sure. Not this time. 

Okay, now we're getting those Scandi feels.


That's how I ended up a long way from home in a part of the map I hadn't visited, which became the moment I realized I'd barely been anywhere, seen anything, done anything. Valheim has one of those fog of war maps that opens up as you travel. Mine was almost completely fogged over still and I'd been playing for almost a month, game time.

It occurred to me that I was letting down the archetype I frequently claim to represent. Dr. Bartle will be asking for my Explorer card back if this goes on. And just about then the scenery began to change. Instead of dense forests studded with lakes and meadows the ground became rockier, more uneven. I very nearly fell down a ravine.

Looking up to the skyline along the ridge above me I saw evergreens. Firs, to be precise. Ahead of me, above a steep bank over a river, stood a deserted house, weathered but with all of the roof and most of the walls intact. It was getting late. It was a long run back. 

Raspberries: Blessing or Curse? Discuss. (Hint: depends if you plant them in a doorway or not).


Okay, so I own a second home. Don't hate. I spent a couple of days fixing up the new place. It was a lot less chaotic than my old home or at least it was until I got at it. 

There were some raspberry bushes in the doorway and in trying to move them I somehow raised the floor so high I couldn't get in, so I had to replace the door with a bigger one. Then I had a run-in with two Grey Dwarves in amongst the firs so I thought I'd better get some defences up and in doing that I managed to destroy three workbenches. Seems if the land shifts beneath them they implode or something. Still figuring out how that goes.

Eventually it got to being really late. I'd already passed on posting, only my second missed day this year. I had plenty to write about (here's some of it) but I didn't want to stop just to talk about what I'd been doing. I wanted to go on doing it.

That's not happened in a while. I'm  not surprised, though. This is Landmark all over again. I've written before about how building stuff can get to me and also about how undecided I am about whether I like it or not. It has all the harmarks of a bad habit if not an addiction. I'm very wary of indulging.

Here's a tip. If you put a section of roof on slightly crooked, it keeps the rain from putting your fire out while still venting the smoke. Cosy!


At the moment it's not like there's a whole lot else I have to do, though, so if I'm going to blow a week or several hacking down imaginary trees to build imaginary backwoods shacks I guess this is as good a time as any. Better.

What I definitely can't say yet is whether any of this makes Valheim a good game. I'd go so far as to say it's a good toy. I'm certainly having a lot of fun playing with it. But whether there's more than that I'm still waiting to find out.

One thing I really am impressed by is how little the designers seem to be botherd by what I think about their game. When I logged out last night I was on Day 30. Hugin has all but given up on me. The deer god doesn't seem to care any more. Other games would be badgering me to get on with the plot by now, sending me passive-aggressive reminders of my duties and responsibilites. 

Okay, Maslow, that's Physiological and Safety done. What's next? Belongingness and Love? Hmm. Can I get those with a flint axe?


In Valheim, I get the impression I could just set up home in the forest and live there forever, doing my own thing and that would be just fine with everyone. And right now that's pretty much what I plan on doing.

So if you'll excuse me, I'll get right back to it. Those trees aren't going to fell themselves.


  1. Having experimented with swimming a bit, losing your raft means drowning in short order. I haven't seen a serpent yet, though Skronk likes to mention the possibility when we're way out on open water.

    Valheim doesn't hurry you along. You can sit and make you longhouse and have a good time. But if you want bronze tools and the like... or a freaking pick axe... you have to get up and do some of the things Hugin likes to bring up. Trophies need to be hung on those hooks.

    1. I wonder if I was just very unlucky with the serpent or if the deep ocean is swarming with them? I wouldn't go out there again without a proper boat, not some flimsy raft, so I 'm not likely to find out.

      I just read your post on the deer god. Very helpful. Probably going to try him tomorrow I think.


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