Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Dead Again

 "I guess we can look forward either to dozens of posts, where I eat my words and bang on about the game to the point of delirium or to never hearing me mention it, ever again."

Me, summing up my first impressions of Valheim five days ago.

Yeah, I think we can all guess which way that went. Steam has me at 41.4 hours played, which is an average of around eight hours a day. 

It's not quite that bad. I left the client idling on the login screen while I wrote one post and there have been a few times I stayed logged in while I did something else, like have lunch, but even so I would guess I've been actively playing for around six hours a day since I bought the damn thing.

And to be brutally honest, I have to force myself to log out and come here to post. It's not just that Valheim is the new seven day wonder, which of course it is. It's also the way it plays. The ever-rolling timelessness of it. The almost total absence of natural endpoints. The sheer just-one-more-thingness of it all.

It's a sensation I remember very clearly from my first few months in Everquest, when everything was possible and nothing was understood. The mystery and the danger. 

Don't look this way. Don't look this way!


Oh yes, especially the danger. You know there's a vast world out there to explore but you also know if you make one mistake you'll be all day fixing it, if it even can be fixed at all.

Corpse runs, eh? Did you miss 'em? Turns out I did. There's something I didn't expect.

Then again, I always saw more in the C.R. than just pure misery. I used to annoy the heck out of Mrs. Bhagpuss back in the day, when I occasionally claimed to enjoy corpse runs. No-one enjoys corpse runs, do they? It's just wilfulness to pretend otherwise. 

Well... I did not enjoy losing my corpse. I loathed it. Like many people, I'm sure, there were times I came close to quitting because of a lost corpse.

But corpse runs when you got your stuff back? The ones that took planning and preparation and thought and cunning and nerve, plus some dumb luck? Those were special. I can remember a few, even now, dacades later. 

Corpse runs turn rpgs into puzzle games. Escape rooms in reverse, if you will. Valheim brings some of that back, in an ameliorated, more palatable form. 

Except, when you come to look at it closely, it's not so toned-down after all. When you die you leave a gravestone and all your stuff. Everything you were carrying. The lot. And you don't get a nice little exemption for being low level.


Low skill, I should really say, Valheim having skills that level up but no actual levels. And if you keep dying you're going to be low skill for a long time because death makes you forget a little of what you've learned.

Not every time. There seems to be a random element in whether you lose progress at all and if you do there's an immunity to losing any more for a while. That's handy because getting your stuff back can be tough. Particularly when there's a troll corpse-camping your grave.

Finding your way back to where you died is easier than it was in old Norrath. Back then you had to hope you remembered some landmark near the fatal spot, something you'd recognize again. Or you had to be necromancer or a bard, someone with an affinity or a trick for finding corpses. Or you could buy a chipped bone rod and hope it didn't run out of charges.

In Valheim death leaves a dirty great skull and crossbones on the map showing you where you died. It's very helpful. Until you die again on the way to it, that is. The map only shows your latest grave. Or your nearest. Or something. I haven't quite figured it out. It's just one grave at a time, I know that much.

I had plenty of opportunity to observe how it works this afternon, when I spent a couple of hours getting my stuff back. I won't go through the whole increasingly embarrassing tale. Just the highlights.

I was pushing south to see what was there. I'd already had one run-in with a troll. I'd half frozen to death in the foothills of a mountain range, where I'd seen a blue drake or maybe even a dragon flying far overhead. I'd been holed up in a ruined tower with fires all around me, spending a freezing cold night under siege by Grey Dwarves. And yet I carried on. 

I knew it was a mistake even as I was doing it. I was much too far from my bed, the place I'd wake up if I died. It would be a long run back and I'd be doing it naked. 

Not because I don't have spare gear stashed at home. I have chests full in half a dozen places now. No, the problem, as I've learned by hard experience, is that if you need to loot all your stuff in one click, you have to have enough free inventory space for all your stuff. I know, right? Who'd have guessed?

If the plan is to run in at top speed, click your grave marker to auto-loot everything, then keep on running, which is about the only viable plan when a troll is camping your corpse, it all falls apart if you have to stop and select things one by one. Actually, it's you that falls apart, when the troll brains you with a tree-trunk.

The pernicious difference between corpse runs in EverQuest and Valheim is this: in EQ the penalty for repeated deaths was so harsh I was terrified of losing my corpse, so I took enormous pains to plan for every possible mishap. In Valheim the death penalty feels like it's not that important, so the temptation is to rush straight back and just grab everything. How bad can it be?

Could do with discovering fur anytime now.
Pretty bad. If I'd been paying more attention I'd have checked my stats and taken note of just how far skills drop on death. It's significant. It was only when I finally realized I was seeing the same numbers coming round again and again every time my axe skill levelled up that I twigged.

Fortunately there is that skill loss immunity buff. Without that I'd be about back where I started five days ago, I reckon. I have died a lot, almost entirely because I thought it didn't really matter. That's how I finally ended up dying this afternoon, on the edge of the Swamp, far, far from home, all my bags completely full, in over my head as usual.

There was a ruin. It looked interesting. I crossed the stream to get a better look and a gang of Grey Dwarves came barrelling out. I don't back down to those guys. I pulled out a torch (they're terrified of fire) and started swinging my axe. 

I wasn't very fit when it all began. I was low on food and wet from crossing the river. I knocked down a couple but there were at least three more and one of them was big, a Grey Brute, a nasty piece of work. Hits hard and can take it, too. I should have run but I thought I was going to get the other two down first. And I did. But the Brute got me.

It's taken me five minutes just to get past my house.
When I woke up, miles up the coast, I made several attempts to run back just as I was. A troll killed me the first time. I forget what killed me on the next run. I thought I'd better at least get a weapon so I jogged back up the coast to another house I had, where I thought there might be some useful stuff. There wasn't. And I died again on the way. 

Then I thought I might make a raft and sail down. Oh, that was a plan. Took me twenty minutes in my skivvies killing boars with a club for leather scraps. Then I had to make a jetty because I can't just do things the easy way. And when I finally got on board it turns out sailing is a lot more complicated than I realized. The wind was against me. I could have walked faster.

That plan abandoned along with the raft, which I left bobbing in the swell, I made another run and this time I got all the way to my original corpse... which I couldn't loot because it was completely full and I was still carrying the club I used to beat the boars to death.

I died again but at least this time I had a marker at the right spot. Next time I travelled over high ground. I'd imagined the coastline would be the safe route but not so. The edge of the treeline, where the snow begins, that was the right way to go. Until night fell and the Greys came out. Lucky I found that tower.

Finally I came to a flat rock looking down on the ruin where my two grave markers stood, side by side. By now I'd started to appreciate the risks. And to see what I was doing wrong. Rushing, mostly. And not taking the death penalty as seriously as it merited.  

It was coming back to me at last, some of that hard-earned EverQuest knowledge. Preparation is key. Never run straight back to the place you died, imagining this time it won't go the same way. If you couldn't handle it with your armor on, how likely is it you'll do better naked?

I think I'll put the hot tub about... here.

So I built a house. Couldn't do that in EQ. But you could rebind, if you were a caster. And you did, if you had any sense, so if you died again at least you'd have a shorter run the next time. 

Beds in Valheim are exactly the same as bind spots in classic EverQuest. Setting your bed as your spawn is the precise equivalent of casting Bind Affinity. And I could have done it almost as quickly. I could have chopped down a couple of trees, dropped a workbench, tossed up two walls and a roof, lit a fire, placed a bed and presto! Work of a few seconds. Well, five minutes.

I was going to do that. Then I chopped down a tree and a whole bunch of new recipes popped. Pines give logs that make log cabins. Who knew? Not me. Not until then. 

So of course I had to make a log cabin. I did actually force myself to do the corpse run first. Threw up a shack to get the bed made. A chest to put all the stuff I was carrying in so I could do that one-click drive-by looting thing. Which went perfectly. Just got to think before you rush in.

As soon as I had my stuff back I killed that blasted Brute - he was the only one left - and spent the next three hours building my  cabin in the woods. Next to a Swamp. A whole new biome to die in.

But that's an adventure for tomorrow. We'll see, then, if I've learned anything from today.


  1. Darnitall, now I'm more than half-tempted to buy this game too...

  2. I like your post title. Welcome to my world! I find it interesting you're so taken with this. It does seem to echo some game experiences you've loved, plus the danger and the mystery, who could resist.

    1. It's an odd mix of two apparently unrelated things, both of which I already know I like: house building and open-world exploration. I guess it's basically the same experience everyone else has been getting from Minecraft all these years only my brain just won't accept Minecraft's graphics - my imagination bounces right off the blocks. Valheim has the right look for me, which Minecraft never did. Plus it is very well paced in terms of progression. That's quite a hook.

  3. You're probably the only person in the world who could almost get me to play this game but no, I shall resist. :p
    Am getting ARK or Conan Exile vibes, that is to say the hype around Valheim has been a little too loud, a little too ubiquitous on social media lately and twice burned is thrice shy in my case. Also, I hate the way the character is running lol...I did really enjoy your adventure diary though!

    1. Hadn't heard Conan Exiles mentioned but ARK, definitely. The point most people seem to be making, though, is that Valheim is ARK done as it should have been, without all the bits that everyone didn't like. Personally, it seems to me that the comparison everyone's making which really rings true is Minecraft. For me it's very definitely Minecraft with graphics that don't make me want to... well, play almost anything other than Minecraft.


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