Four million Vikings! That’s the latest news from the team at Iron Gate, a small group of Swedish developers who have overseen the most staggering indie game launch of the year so far. Valheim is an early access survival title that has comprehensively taken over Steam, clocking in over 500,000 concurrent players at one time on February 21, just 19 days after the game’s launch. With four million players and counting and an ‘Overwhelmingly Positive’ rating after 90,000 user reviews, it doesn’t look like it’s slowing down anytime soon, either.
It’s quite an unusual game to be sitting so high on Steam’s most-played list, just behind gigantic esports behemoths like DOTA 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. In Valheim, you play as a fallen Norse warrior trapped in purgatory who has to craft and explore their way through the realm, building up to progress-gating boss battles.
It’s also nowhere near as refined as its peers. Valheim doesn’t feature slick, high-fidelity graphics — but it’s still gorgeous, with its retro PS1 textures juxtaposed against magnificent sun-lit vistas. The game’s combat isn’t the most engaging on the market either, but it has a certain something to it, a Dark Soulsian clunkiness that keeps it addicting and hard to master.
Valheim is most definitely a work in progress, and the worst thing you could expect from it is a perfectly polished experience. In our adventures, we’ve fallen out of the world, suffered rubberbanding issues in co-op and lost progress and important items to the server maw. It’s been frustrating, sure, but it’s never stopped being fun either. To give you an idea of how much depth is on offer here, we’re 25 hours deep into the game, and we just beat the third boss.
There are still many more biomes and features to discover, and so many bonkers ideas to execute upon, inspired by Valheim’s silly physics systems. Any game where you can kill yourself by cutting down a tree and having it land on your head is going to be a brilliant cradle for the human imagination. We’ve recently been causing civil wars by pitting the game’s enemies against one another and using fallen trees in boss battles to carve through health bars with careful chops.
It’s such a refreshing game to lose yourself to because it’s full of constant surprises. No matter how much you think you understand it, Valheim will find a way to shock and delight you. Just last night, we were cataloging our finds into carefully labeled chests (a thankless task, don’t bother) when the head of a deer boss we slew several hours ago started talking to us. Similarly, while charting the coastline in a Viking longship, we stumbled onto a floating island covered in barnacles we found we could mine for precious chitin. Everything was dandy until we realized we were standing on the back of a suddenly unhappy Leviathan…
Valheim will certainly feel familiar if you’ve played survival games like ARK and Rust before, but it excels beyond them by warping some of the more conventional elements of the genre. Instead of frantically managing multiple meters, the only thing a player needs to think about in Valheim is putting food on their stomach