It’s been one month since Valheim released in early access, and I’ve been playing nonstop since. Swedish developer Iron Gate Studios’ Viking survival game keeps you hooked, and it’s entrapped millions of players, knocking out sales milestones left and right. But to me, the most outstanding part of Valheim is not the difficult combat or the survival mechanics; it’s the base building. The real magic is in crafting and constructing a home, which rewards player progression by supplying more tools to further unleash your creativity, providing meaningful advances outside of simple stats or DPS.
I am not normally someone who spends time in a game building a home or making my interiors look pretty. I usually want to go through the core gameplay, beat the bosses, and rinse through the combat. But Valheim’s homebuilding mechanics and structure captivated me, and I’ve now spent well over 120 hours in the game, seeking the next piece to fit in my grand puzzle. I want to finish that puzzle, and I know more pieces are coming in future updates.
My first weekend in Valheim was spent by my girlfriend and I trying to survive on a steep hill in the Black Forest. We fought our way through ruthless attacks from the Greydwarves every night, with seldom a break to lie down to sleep to avoid them. It made progressing a challenge, but we eventually faced off against the second boss, the Elder, and prepared to advance to the Swamp biome. That is, until we roped multiple friends into joining us in the game the following week and began our adventure all over again, now in a large group. That’s when I knew Iron Gate had really created something exceptional.
Now, there were eight of us. We taught our friends how to play the game and the basic mechanics, and as a group we started the shell of our initial mead hall. Then, we decided to go with a dedicated server, and we all started fresh once again. This time, given our experience, the new server was where things started with a bang. We had our mead hall’s foundations up in no time.
Nearly having the mead hall finished forced us into the Black Forest to seek the coveted Surtling Cores, used to propel us into the Bronze Age. There were shouts of excitement and plenty of hoots when the first bronze ingot fell from our smelter. The new crafting recipes flashed across our screens, and my eyes lit up with a thrill, like it was like our first day all over again. We were excited to make something new and see what it did.
We agreed to upgrade our tools before anything else, as to make harvesting these resources faster. It paid off. We soon had a chest full of copper and tin, and we were busily blending them into bronze ingots in no time at all.
The bronze ingot rush gave rise to having more items inside our mead hall. It became a better reflection of our progression than even our characters. We hung braziers and constructed a fermenter to start crafting mead like proper Vikings.
We also discovered more mechanics, like structural integrity. We learned the differences between the highlighted colors you see each time you put a building piece down. These details were instrumental when we discovered the stonecutter, and how you could raise the foundation of your home using the stone blocks and treat them like the ground.
These discoveries only fueled our ambitions. We went through the same processes when we discovered iron and silver. But silver was less essential for us because it only granted us new weapons and armor. Iron was the actual gold of Valheim. Bronze offered a few decoration items, but iron introduced reinforced blocks, more forge upgrades, and stonecutting.
The stonecutter workbench was a large turning point, and it made for a worthwhile reason for me to start over once more, now with all of my options in front of me. I took it as a sign and decided to leave the group, at least for a while. I set my sights elsewhere, wanting to start anew in a barren wasteland that offered no protections: the Plains.
The Plains biome contains some of the most formidable creatures in Valheim’s early access. The deathsquitos are always swarming after you when they spawn in, and the goblin-like fulings prowl around in patrols whenever night arrives. I had to set up a suitable wall structure to protect myself, and making sure I had enough stone on hand for these projects was a nightmare.
My new mead hall in the Plains had everything I could have wanted. I built a small kitchen for my food chests. I had multiple fermenters for my mead. I had a fire pit with all of my cooking stands and my cauldron for whenever I hunted down a sea serpent and needed to renew my stores. The upper area was full of more storage and beds for any of my former companions who decided to stop by.
The stone perimeter I created took twice the time I’d put into my hall, but the protections were well worth it. I was even capable of building one around two lox and taming them.
I had discovered a lot of what it meant to build a home, how these small, inconsequential details that I generally for granted in other games offered something, even if that was just time saved. Just the organization itself made the location feel more put-together, and like I had achieved something that I couldn’t replicate at any other site.
Of course, there are still small sections of my mead hall that I want to redo. I want to find a new way to structure the roof. I want to see what it looks like when I put a fire in one corner of the house, and when I build a display hallway for all my weapons. Sometimes I even want to start over again to see what comes to mind this time. It’s this endless cycle of sparking creativity that makes Valheim addictive and rewarding.
But for now, I’m content to improve my current location by building a shipyard. This mead hall is right next to the sea, and I haven’t explored too far out there yet. But my group has, and they have plans to visit and check in on my progress. I’m working on creating a lighthouse to better guide them to the safeties of the harbor.
After that? Who knows. Maybe I’ll build a new mead hall somewhere on a mountain and deal with the struggle to remain warm. That’s part of the beauty of Valheim: it’s up to me.