Steam Game Festival 2021: Valheim hands-on preview

Valheim offers up approachable crafting and survival systems and throws in Norse mythology and challenging combat for a unique take on the genre.


Valheim is a multiplayer survival game developed by Iron Gate Studio and published by Coffee Stain Publishing. Valheim plunges players into a hostile world rich with Norse mythology, hideous beasts to fight, wild game to hunt, and of course, plenty to craft and build.

The first thing players will notice in Valheim is its graphics. They’re simple, yet charming. Everything looks like a low poly-count PlayStation 1 game albeit with modern day lighting and draw distances. It’s a highly stylised art direction that works surprisingly well, with the developers pushing the environments quite far given the art style. Forests feel rich and dense and the storms that buffet the shorelines feel harrowing and dramatic.

As for the gameplay in Valheim, players are dropped into a randomly-generated world and are led through a rather straightforward tutorial by a raven. Some of the first goals include much of what you might expect from a survival-crafting game: make an axe, cut down a tree, make a home, and feed yourself. But soon enough the raven is directing you to go off and hunt one of the major beasts of the area.

All of this can be done solo, but the game is setup to be best experienced with a group. Players can work together to slay creatures, tackle the challenging boss fights, and help one another with crafting and food acquisition. At one point in my co-op play session, my partner and I were hunting deer, trying to avoid letting the wind blow our scent towards the skittish animal. We sneaked up on it in a pincer formation and sprung our attack, me throwing my spear and her slinging arrows. The deer fell and we walked away with a bit more meat, some leather, and a few more crafting recipes to try out.

In terms of crafting, there’s the usual fair of walls and roofs, floors and stars, chests and workbenches, as well as a variety of weapons, tools, and armor, all in a viking style. But unlike other survival games where the terrain you get is what you’re stuck with, Valheim has some terrain editing tools available for the player. While my partner erected walls and a thatched roof to keep the fire from going out in the rain, I used a hoe to flatten out the land and create a more inviting place to rest between hunting and fighting.

All of this took place in a tiny shoreline on one island in a vast and sprawling map. Players can, after some upgrades, craft rafts and eventually ships, which will allow them to travel on the oceans and visit new lands. The raven promised that greater challenges await and directed us into an area that we were warned against visiting when we first woke up in this offshoot of the mighty Yggdrasil. There’s a constant sense of progression as you unlock new recipes, craft new items, and stretch out into the world.

There are a lot of unique and enticing elements of Valheim, enough to make it a must-play title for those vying for something fresh in the survival genre space. With the developers offering a roadmap of what they plan to create, there looks to be even more around the corner to keep players coming back to this charming and challenging world.

This preview is based on a Steam key provided by the publisher. Valheim is now available through Steam Early Access.

Guides Editor

Hailing from the land down under, Sam Chandler brings a bit of the southern hemisphere flair to his work. After bouncing round a few universities, securing a bachelor degree, and entering the video game industry, he's found his new family here at Shacknews as a Guides Editor. There's nothing he loves more than crafting a guide that will help someone. If you need help with a guide, or notice something not quite right, you can message him on X: @SamuelChandler 

From The Chatty
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    February 3, 2021 12:00 PM

    Sam Chandler posted a new article, Steam Game Festival 2021: Valheim hands-on preview

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      February 3, 2021 12:24 PM

      Picked it up last night. Really enjoying it.

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        February 3, 2021 2:40 PM

        Same.. Trying to learn the nuances and what not, but it seems pretty good so far.

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        February 3, 2021 4:10 PM

        Was wanting to try this since I heard about it a few months back. How is the start of the game? Does it explain things or do you end up having to watch someone else play to figure out how to play it yourself? Was struggling with this on Medieval Dynasty so tabling it for a bit until they get some of the early /tutorial stuff polished a bit more. I know I should probably just stay away from early access games all together.

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          February 3, 2021 4:59 PM

          My partner and I dove in and managed to do it pretty easily. There's some slight hiccups as you work out a new crafting and menu system, but otherwise the progression makes sense.

          I would like to see them improve the UI and show some kind of upgrade path or advancement tab so you can see what you've done and what it has just unlocked.

          We've actually returned to it after I finished the write-up, which is often rare given the high turn over of game coverage.

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            February 3, 2021 7:27 PM

            That's encouraging. thx

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              February 3, 2021 7:50 PM

              You can have up to 10 people in a server, which might be appealing for a bunch of Shackers to get in and do some viking survival

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                February 3, 2021 7:51 PM

                Oh hey ya

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                February 4, 2021 12:11 AM

                Is it self run servers like minecraft?

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                  February 4, 2021 1:59 AM

                  Yeah but it's all done in-game. And it's like, 1000% easier. You can just create a world, set a password, and your Steam pals ought to be able to see it in their server list. Character progress carries from server to server which is nice.

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                    February 4, 2021 3:50 AM

                    That sounds like something they'll have to change. If it doesn't stay server side then it'll be rampant cheating by hacking your character files.

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      February 3, 2021 4:25 PM

      Steam, gog, egs link?

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