Thursday, February 11, 2021

Why Am I Doing This? : First Impressions Of Valheim

 

After considerable thought, and bearing in mind what Wilhelm said in the comments yesterday, this afternoon I bought Valheim. I'm fairly sure it's going to be a five-minute wonder but it's not like it's the first bandwagon I've jumped. May as well get onboard while it's still rolling. I doubt anyone's going to care much a month from now.

If that sounds lukewarm... well, it is. I played for three and a half hours this afternoon and it was exactly what I expected. Since I've never played Minecraft I won't be making the same comparisons as everybody else. Instead I'll say to me it felt like a cross between New World and Landmark

It looks like a very much uglier New World and it plays like a very much less buggy Landmark. In fact, as many people have noted, Valheim doesn't seem to have any bugs at all. I certainly didn't run into even a single, minor glitch in my first session. There were some awkward moments when I couldn't get building pieces to fit where I wanted them but tools not doing what you wish they would isn't the same as them not doing what they're supposed to do.

Is that a mushroom cloud?

 

If don't have any complaints about the build quality I certainly do about the graphics. It's one of those games that looks a lot better in screenshots than it does in game - and as you can see, it doesn't look great in screenshots. 

The environmental art has its moments. The forest can be atmospheric and the lakes and ponds look quite charming in the early morning sunshine. I've only seen one biome (I think) so there may be more joys and splendors ahead.

The character art, though. About that, nothing good can be said. It's one thing to have very limited customization options. It's another altogether for your character to look like a melted waxwork. I saw today that Valheim has sold over a million copies in its first week of release. I sincerely hope some of that windfall goes towards hiring some artists.

The UI needs some work, too. It's clunky, awkward and unintuitive. Fortunately the controls are configurable because some of the defaults are strange. I would make a point about having the secondary attack on the middle mouse button if I'd ever needed to use a secondary attack but I haven't done much fighting yet.

It's a fixer-upper, what can I tell you?

 

That's definitely one of the strong points. The game gives you all the time you need to get comfortable. Or as comfortable as you can be, squatting in a ruined hovel in soaking wet rags. 

In nearly four hours I died three times. The first was in the opening few minutes, when I was heading to the shoreline in the dark to see what was there. Something jumped out of the undergrowth and one-shotted me. I never saw what it was.

The second time three trees fell on me. I was aware of the danger. I'd been careful to stand up-slope of every tree I'd chopped down until then. This time the first tree fell against a second and then the two of them lodged against a couple more. I tried to figure out the dynamics but when the last tree fell the whole lot went every which way, bouncing off each other in all directions. I was caught in the middle and crushed like a bug.

The third time I was killed by bees. I saw a nice hut, raised off the ground, in decent condition. I thought it might make a useful storehouse so I clambered inside to take a look. I didn't see the hive hanging in the rafters until I walked into it and that was that.

Swimming's in. I saw some fish so I guess fishing is, too.

 

Other than those self-inflicted restarts nothing gave me any trouble at all. The most aggressive creatures I met were greylings, who look like little goblins wearing backpacks. I have no idea what they carry in them because every single greyling without exception dropped one glob of resin and nothing at all else. In the end I decided they must be some kind of small, fast treant. 

They seem to be attracted to structures or maybe to fire. There was often one darting about as I was building, feinting in close then jumping back. At first I stopped to kill them but after a while I found it better to carry on as if they weren't there.

I was hoping I could get one trapped inside my shelter so I could get a closer look at it but although they'd come right to the door I couldn't get one to go inside. If I really wanted to catch a specimen, I'm pretty sure I could build a wall around one before it realized what I was up to. They seem dim enough to stand still for it.

There are quite a few boars in the woods. When you approach they back off although a couple of times one atacked me before I saw it coming, then ran away. They have a rubric that tells you they're frightened but they're not so frightened they don't have a go, even though they always lose. 

That's not a visual bug. There really is a giant tree up there. It gets mentioned.

 

Deer are scarcer, at least in my part of the forest. They don't fight back at all, or don't I think they do, although I only managed to catch one. It's not really a meaningful sample.

The last living creature I've seen is some small amphibian going by the unlikely name of a "neck". They look a bit like tadpoles and they're highly aggressive. Also feeble. 

Everything so far has been feeble except for the single skeleton I ran into and those bees. The skeleton was about as tough as your average newbie zone undead and the bees I don't think you can attack at all. They're more of an environmental hazard.

There are a few weather-related dangers but once again they seem very low-key. If you get wet it's some kind of debuff. If you get cold, the same. 

I set myself on fire multiple times after I foolishly placed my campfire between my bed and the door, meaning I had to hop over it every time I wanted to go in or out. There were flames and some warnings but nothing very bad seemed to happen. 

Is it raining or is that a helicopter gunship up there?

 

Smoke inhalation looked like it was going to be more of a problem. I neglected to leave a gap in the roof to let the fumes out and things looked dicey for a moment but then I opened a vent in the ceiling with a quick click of the middle mouse button (it doubles as an eraser for building materials) and that was the end of that.

I did think something bad might happen when I got caught in quite the most spectacular thunderstorm I have ever seen in a video game. It was apocalyptic. More like an orbital bombardment with accompanying laser attack than weather. But all that happened was I got wet.

You can't starve to death, either. You can get hungry but the game makes sure to remind you to eat something and since you can apparently survive quite happily on a diet of raspberries and mushrooms, both of which grow abundantly throughout the forest, there's no real risk of getting the hunger debuff.

All of this is very much to the good in my opinion. I'd far rather have the survival risks trivialized while I'm learning the ropes than suffer a string of frustrating deaths before I've even worked out what's killing me. On the other hand, it does raise the question of why bother with penalties at all? It's almost as if the developers feel these sort of games always have them so theirs should too, even though they couldn't really tell you why.

A very bright, non-directional light source directly in front of you is not helpful.

 

I found more than enough to challenge and frustrate me without difficult death penalties. It gets very dark at night and having a flaming torch makes it harder to see where you're going, not easier, just as it would in real life. 

To begin with, I dreaded the coming of darkness. Not because of the danger; because of the tedium. I spent the first night aimlessly wandering through the woods until I got killed by the unseen horror. After that I just waited at spawn until it got light.

By the second night I had a shelter, a ruin I'd found and partially repaired. I'd even made a bed but I couldn't lie in it because you can't sleep without a fire near you and I was two stones short of a fireplace. I foolishly went out into the night to search for some and got lost. It was so dark I couldn't see my house. Once again I had to give up, stand still and wait for dawn. Gallingly, when the sun rose I realized I was about fifty feet from my front door.

On the third night I had a bed and a fire and I made sure I was inside when night fell. At this point darkness went from being an irritating nuisance to a loading screen. Click bed, select sleep, read a couple of lines of text about your dreams, wake up. New day ahead.

In that sleep, what dreams may come?

 

Once again, I have to wonder what the point is. If you can switch night off, why have it at all, other than for the look of the thing? And making it so you have to spend the first couple of nights just twiddling your thumbs seems to be adding insult to injury.

I suppose the idea is that it forces you to make a safe place to return to for fear of being caught out in the dangeous darkness. Doesn't really work if the darkness is just boring, not dangerous, though, does it?

All of this makes it sound like I wasn't very impressed and probably didn't enjoy myself much. Which is kinda, sorta true and yet kinda, sorta not at the same time. It's  a kinda, sorta game on first impressions. 

I do have a pre-existing issue with survival games in that I don't quite get the point of them. What exactly am I surviving for? Of all the genres I've played I don't think I get such a strong sensation that I'm wasting time that could be better spent elsewhere in anything else. 

I can spend literally months of my life doing utterly pointless tasks in mmorpgs without once feeling the slightest compunction to find something more useful to do with my life but half an hour building a hut to spend the night in is enough to make me look at the clock and think about the dailies I could be doing instead.

Thanks Ulf! I was wondering what I was doing wrong.


Valheim clearly addresses all that with a progression path that requires the gathering of various sacrifices to summon a series of boss monsters. It also seems to have some kind of narrative or storyline lurking in the background. I strongly suspect there's a much more structured game in there somewhere than the first few hours suggest.

Whether I'll stick at it for long enough to find out what it is looks iffy right now. It certainly hasn't sunk any claws into me so far. Both New World and Landmark felt positively velcro-like at the same early stage; Valheim is hanging by a thread.

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. It's going to be one of the two, I bet. I just can't tell which, yet.

7 comments:

  1. I've found Valheim super-underwhelming so far. I'm not sure why the comparisons people are making are with Minecraft rather than Rust — as far as I can tell Valheim is a Nordic-themed early-stage Rust with worse UI and a bit of storyline tacked on. I will still poke at it for a bit, but I think I'm close to done playing after about four hours.

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    1. My second session was more fun than the first. I can see that it could have the same kind of hook for me that Landmark did, namely I could spend hours building badly-designed houses and fiddling endlessly with the fine details. Not sure if that's a recommendation or a warning.

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  2. I'm not sure why the character models don't bother me more. Some times I can be quite fussy about that sort of thing. But sometimes not. The graphics overall represent a compromise, though I would say that the atmospheric effects are generally quite good. Fog and smoke and dapples of sunlight shining through trees.

    I think that the game advances with your technology and equipment progress. The assault on our camp came after I upgraded the work bench. The hostile little backpack guys seemed to become more common, and some upgraded versions hit our camp and destroyed my raft at one point.

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    1. I'm revising my opinion on the environmental graphics. I thought they were okay to begin with but the more weather conditions I encounter the better I think they are. I woke one morning to a thick mist with the sunlight coming through and it was quite magical. The dense forest is very convincingly done, too. The rain could do with toning down a little, maybe. Even a light shower sounds like a sonic attack.

      I did notice the first boss's runestone has a picture of a deer and "Hunt My Kin" on it. I was wondering if it takes a certain number of deer klls to get him angry and start the attacks. So far I have managed to kill three deer - I can't catch them on foot and I keep missing with the bow. I have a grade 2 weorkbench, a decent sized house and a full stockade around it but so far nothing is paying me the slightest attention.

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    2. My post queued up for tomorrow has the answer for that as we fight Eikthyr.

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  3. That sounds like the kind of game that's more fun to read about than play. I share your aversion to survival games. I haven't even tried Ark, and it has dinosaurs. I love dinosaurs!

    Still, I'm enjoying the blog posts about it. It reminded me a little of the first time I tried playing a race without any kind of night vision in launch era EQ.

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    1. Now I've seen a lot more of it I've decided it's a pretty good game but an even better toy. In essence, it's the building game I always wanted Landmark to be. I hope they follow Minecraft's lead and put out a Creative mode just for builders.

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