Stairway to Valhalla – Valheim Review


Brian Wu, Staff Writer


I generally distrust early access titles, especially when it comes to indie titles. But at the behest of one of my college friends, I decided to spend the $20 dollars to purchase Valheim. Released on February 2nd by IronGate Studio as their first game, Valheim did not hold high expectations. Too many times have there been early access titles that were simply unfinished on a fundamental level, lacking the core features to constitute a competent video game. To many developers, early access simply provides  more money to fund development, as opposed to the opportunity to release a rough draft of the game and continue to improve based upon player feedback. Valheim, as I was pleasantly surprised to find out, falls into the latter category: on the surface it is a simple, voxel-based survival viking game, but the frighteningly deep mechanics ensured that the entire experience was as charming as it was memorable. 

Graphics and Sound

One of the biggest criticisms I have heard from those who play Valheim is related to the game’s art style, which I believe is somewhat justified. Valheim has a gorgeous skybox, beyond anything I had ever anticipated. The lighting and shaders the game employs are spectacular and give the game a sense of beauty. Volumetric fog is something that not many people understand well in video games, but IronGate does so perfectly, obscuring the view but allowing god rays to pass through, creating silhouettes of the surrounding area. Criticism arises when looking at the player models and the mesh-constructed environment. A good comparison would be graphics reminiscent of the early Playstation 2 days: definitely low-poly, with pixelated textures overtop. I can certainly understand why some may find it an unnecessary break from the realistic lighting and post processing the game has, but I believe that it was a purposeful choice to make the art style as such. The line between artistically inspired and outdated graphics is more of a grey area than many would think, but I believe that the former applies to Valheim more fittingly. 

The sound design of the game is similarly beautiful. The sound track features long and somber strings and drums that sound ancient and haunting. The moment-to-moment sound design is also great. Every enemy has their own sounds, so it can be identified by the surroundings which is near.. A troll will audibly shake the earth with its footsteps long before it appears visually. Though there are some music queueing issues, I believe those are more-so bugs rather than bad design. 

Though not as demanding as Cyberpunk or other games I have reviewed, Valheim still has a few performance caveats: one of the biggest being the existence of memory artifacts. One of Valheim’s most impressive features is voxel-based land editing and modular house building, both of which create memory artifacts with each action taken. These will slowly build up and start to heavily affect performance unless the software is restarted. This may prove annoying to some players.


There is no plot in Valheim, just like there is no real plot in other sandbox survival games. You are given a general direction: kill 7 bosses to get into Valhalla. That is enough for a game like Valheim, since how you accomplish this task is completely up to you. The survival elements of Valheim are unique, as you don’t starve or get thirsty. Instead, food is used to increase your max health and max stamina. But you can only eat one piece of any particular food item at once, so having at least 3 types of food on you at anytime is a good idea. Immediately after spawning, you can see the hidden depth of the game. Instead of exploding into collectible wood immediately, trees in Valheim will become interactable physics objects and actually fall as a real tree might. As you would expect, getting hit by a falling tree is extremely detrimental to your survival. What’s more, falling trees can actually knock over other falling trees and begin a chain reaction. It is mechanics like these that give Valheim its charm. Combat, though slightly basic on the moment to moment combat, requires a lot of thought. Most enemies hit harder than one might think, and the bigger enemies can usually kill a player in two hits. Blocking, a clear mind, and keeping an eye on your stamina will be the key to victory. As mentioned above, Valheim features terrain editing and house building, both of which are integral to the progression of the game, as you cannot use forges or workbenches without a roof over it. Similarly to cutting down trees, there is more to the mechanics than meets the eye. Structures need to have ample supports or else they will break from stress on their parts. Rain damages these structures and need to be repaired, and upgrading workbenches means placing down auxiliary tools rather than a static upgrade. This is just a teaser of the mechanics to come, as IronGate promises a slew of content upgrades in the coming months, and I cannot wait to have more to play. 


It is no surprise that Valheim has jumped to the top of the Steam charts in only a few days. Its beautiful graphics coupled with the innovative gameplay tells me that if IronGate can keep it up with the quality of releases, they are a studio that should be respected and admired. Valheim is a golden standard of survival games already, and proves that early access still has hope. I give the game a solid 9.5/10. 

Cover photo credit: Brian Wu