Thursday, April 8, 2021

High Plains Drifter

A couple of weeks back, when I reached the conclusion of the tale of my battle with the great drake Moder, I wrapped the whole thing up with an expression of existential uncertainty: "The plains call. I don't know, yet, whether I will answer.

I wasn't at all convinced I wanted to go to the next biome. I'd seen enough of it already to know how incredibly dangerous it was. Even at the margins, where the plains ran into meadows or black forest, to meet chittering, spear-chucking goblins or giant mosquitos meant instant death. Who'd want to go out into the middle, where they live?

And for what? The chance to corrupt the green and placid meadowlands, open the door goblins could join the skeletons already harrying the local wildlife there? That last boss drops nothing that's needed at this stage of the game but by some reports his death frees the goblin hordes. The last thing I need are fulings raiding my mostly peaceful homes.

As for the crafting, all the remaining recipes became available the moment Moder died. The tears she cries build the artisan table and that lets you build the rest of the crafting stations. So why wake Yagluth? Let him lie. 

Only that's not how it goes. I should have known better. 

Not about the boss. He can wait. I was right about that. No, what I should have known by now is that Valheim has perfect pacing. If it's time to face the terrifying plains then it is time. If you've done what you should to get there, you will be ready when you arrive. Not just ready, either. Keen.

He followed me home. Can I eat him?

I'd have known that if I'd had all the facts. Or, really, if I'd just thought about it a bit harder. When I killed Moder, though, I was still avoiding looking things up in advance. Well, things other than the strats for killing the bosses. I want the authentic experience but I'm not a zealot about it.

Not having done my research meant I was puzzled for a while as to where all the new recipes were. I made the artisan table and the blast furnace and I smelted some black metal but the only new things I could see were a couple of shields. And I don't use a shield.

I wasn't completely ignorant. I'd already managed to leech on a couple of giant buffalo kills. I never did see what they were fighting but I put enough arrows into them to make sure they lost and then I stripped them of their meat and skin, because in Valheim only vikings kill for need, it seems. Everything else just leaves the bodies to rot.

I picked up the leavings and that opened a couple of new recipes. I'd killed a few fulings so I knew they dropped the next metal, black iron, and somewhere along the way I'd picked up the idea that I'd find something else I needed in their camps. Cloth, maybe? Grain? 

It seemed I wasn't going to be able to avoid the plains after all so I set about cautiously pushing forward. Very cautiously. Really, very cautiously indeed... and guess what?

It was great! It was fun. Actual, interesting, compelling, enjoyable entertainment. Yes, it was nerve-wracking at first but I should have remembered how things had gone before, in the black forest and the swamp and the mountains. 

Twister! Oh, wait, that's a rock.

Every new biome in Valheim has seemed terrifying at first. Overwhelming, even. The terrain is difficult, the creatures are deadly, death never feels more than a stumble away. Exploration is daunting, corpse runs exhausting, the only way to get through it is to take it slow, always prepare and never lose concentration, even for a moment. It's intense.

And then after a while, as you open more possibilities, gain access to better armor, learn which potions to carry and what weapons to use, things start to feel less impossible. In a while it feels manageable. And then, one day, without even noticing it's happened, you realize you're feeling almost relaxed. You're having fun!

Okay, I don't suppose many people ever get to like the swamp but it's a long time now since I was afraid of it. It's still annoying but in the way a bad commute might be. You just get on with it and think about something else.

As for the black forest, it's positively welcoming these days. It's been a few weeks since I even bothered to stop what I'm doing there when night falls. And the mountains, while there's not much there I need to go back for, they make for a pleasant day trip and a change of scenery when I need a few hundred rocks for building or some obsidian for my arrows.

The trouble with farming is the hours. Always up before the sun.

It's been a long time since I played a game where the sense of progression was so well-judged. If you rush ahead and try to take on a new biome with gear that only just barely got you through the last one, you're going to get your head handed to you, along with other parts of your anatomy. 

If you take the trouble to max out the level before, though, upgrade everything as far as it goes, you'll find it matches, pretty much exactly, the starting point of the tier you're going to open next. Each biome is chamfered seamlessly into the one above it. When you arrive in a new ecology, if you were able to handle the previous one with comfort, you're already capable of handling what's coming next.

Moving onto the plains in the gear I made for the mountains I was able to take on a couple of regular goblins at once. Deathsquitos no longer took huge chunks off my health and they died in one hit. All I had to do was not panic and they became no more of a threat than boars or necks. 

That didn't really come as much of a surprise. I'd already skirmished with both around the hinterlands where biomes meet and I'd generally come off best. Even in bronze I'd managed to kill a couple of single, stray goblins.

Go ahead, gobbo! Report me! See how far it gets you!

Where I wasn't expecting to enjoy myself was in going deeper into the plains, away from the safe haven of the forests and meadows, with nowhere to retreat if, or more likely when, things went badly wrong. And I particularly wasn't relishing taking on the goblins in their camps, some of which looked worryingly like small towns.

Just goes to show what I know. I've cleared several of those villages now and it's been a real pleasure. It reminds me, like a lot of things about Valheim, very strongly of early EverQuest. Clearing a fuling village feels incredibly similar to breaking one of those large bandit camps in the Karanas or a dervish settlement in the Ros. Or, most of all, an ulthork camp in Eastern Wastes.

The main difference is once you clear a fuling camp it stays cleared. There are no respawns. That makes it practical, even advisable, to take your time. It takes me three or four game-days to completely annihilate a fuling tribe. I have a procedure I mostly follow that entails picking off the scouts and the tower guards first, then gradually working inward to the center, finishing with the big, troll-like berserkers.

It's almost exactly how I would have soloed an ulthork camp when I played my druid, except that instead of kiting them with a bow I'd have snared them and dotted them to death. It would have been the same whittling away of their forces, the careful pulling to separate the linked spawns, only there I'd have used Harmony instead of kiting three or four until two lose interest.

The behaviors of the fulings are fascinating. They seem to respond to certain sounds, particularly the sound of things breaking. It's possible to keep one on you while his friends give up just by putting an arrow in his back as they turn. The berserkers are so keen to show off their size and strength they often leave themselves wide open. 

Mist rolling in, looks like. Or my crop's on fire.

And so on. Working it all out is exactly the kind of thing I loved about soloing in EQ. Valheim also offers some great opportunities for using the z-axis which would have been very much not allowed in Norrath. I cleared a quarter of one goblin camp from the top of one of their own towers and I filled my bags with lox meat just by standing on a boulder. The real problem is running out of arrows.

So, it's fun clearing camps just for the gameplay but is there any more practical reason to do it? Of course there is. Despite their aggressive nature, goblins are surprisingly agricultural. They grow both flax and barley in their camps. Once I got my hands on those crops (and built a spinning wheel and a windmill to refine and process them) all those missing recipes showed up at last.

You'd need to raid a lot of villages to get all the flax and barley you're going to need but luckily you can grow your own once you have a seed crop. Neither will grow anywhere but the plains but, hey, the goblins already prepared the soil and left a bunch of buildings they won't be needing any more, what with being dead. Why not use that?

So I moved in. So far all I've done is install a portal in one of the huts in the village on my home island. I'm not too keen to live there full-time. The camp won't ever respawn but the roaming patrols do and there are always a few deathsquitos buzzing around. 

For now I just port in every morning, check the crop, harvest what's ripe, re-plant half of it and portal home again. 

The plains are astonishingly beautiful. Living there would be like living inside an impressionist painting. My longer-term plans definitely include a beachside plains house and maybe an island home, if I can find a suitable plains archipelago.

Dorothy! Dorothy! No-one breathe in!

In combat terms, two goblins or a couple of deathsquitos are barely a threat any more. I've taken on and beaten four goblins at once, although I had precisely two hit points left at the end, so I won't be repeating that little test. I can kill even two star fulings so long as I see them coming in good time, although I've yet to meet a two star berserker and I'm happy to keep it that way.

I'm working on farming and growing enough linen to upgrade my black iron axe to tier four (it's at three now) and to make a set of padded iron armor, the somewhat surprising progression from the wolfhide I have on. There are a few other odds and ends, too, and of course the all-important barley and lox meat to make the big health and stamina buffing foods. Having enough hit points is key to feeling comfortable when crossing the savannah, I've found.

All in all, the plains have been a delightful surprise. It has a lot to do with the progression, pacing and gameplay I've outlined but it's also that it feels so glorious just being there. The colors, the movement of the grass, the whisper of the wind, even the chittering of the goblins and the grunting of the lox. It's all so damned atmospheric.

The next two biomes, undeveloped as yet, don't have the same allure. The mistlands are spidery and spooky, the ashlands a volcanic wasteland. I'm confident that, when they become available, the challenge will contnue to play out in a measured, manageable, ultimately satisfying fashion. Whether they'll ever become somewhere I'd want to live? That I'm not so sure.

Then again, that's exactly what I thought about the plains.


  1. I guess I won't use that title today. Better change my reference quickly.

    The plains do have their own epic feel. The constant wind, the giant stones, the rolling terrain, the birch clusters, and the smattering of furling camps. And the sounds... the lowing of the lox, the buzz of the deathsquitos, the chatter of the furlings... it is important to just listen.

    We're just getting started there, but it feels like we'll be there for a while.

    1. Oh, I hope you didn't already post with the same title before I did! I saw your post after I finished mine but it could have gone up while i was wrting it. I was going to go with a simple "On The Plains" but I couldn't find a song I liked that used it - plenty do but not good ones. Then I realized the Beastie Boys had used High Plains Drifter as a title and that settled it.

      Valheim probably has the most important ambient sound of any game i can remember. I triangulate on the fuling's cackling to find them and to avoid them. I was listening to a podcast the other day and I had to turn it off when I got onto the plains because it didn't feel safe not to be able to hear every little sound.

  2. It's simple good to hear and see that your enjoying yourself again. Going with caution is always a good strategy. That's how i got used to being in the swamp, just not a night as its dark as night.

    Maybe a strategy for the plains when it comes to arrows is to invoke making a dropbox somewhere on the plains you frequently pass. But then you now already have a base there though. Still the strategy is to drop a Workbench, build a Trunk next to a rock or something and drop a good several stacks of arrows or whatever in it. It's going to remain there undisturbed. Drop arrows in Trunk and done. When your operating out on the plains and your low on arrows, you can remember you can replenish at your dropbox location and solves a bit running out of arrows or ammo on the plains.

    1. I make chests and leave them in overnight shelters all the time - I probably have fifty or more dotted around - and I even use them occasionally as staging points when moving metals. I also make use of the pre-existing chests I find in towers and so on. And yet it never occured to me to just put chests down in the open for specific things like arrows or food that I might run out of. Thanks for the idea!


Wider Two Column Modification courtesy of The Blogger Guide