Valheim’s Forgiving Systems Improve Upon The Worst Parts Of Survival Games

It took just a couple of short gameplay sessions for me to quickly fall in love with Iron Gate’s Valheim. Much to the dismay of my friends, I’m a bit of a survival game connoisseur. Every time there’s a new Early Access game that sports some variation of terrible hunger mechanics, hunting, and building shabby fortresses, I add it to my Steam library. Over the years, I’ve experienced plenty of neat little games this way, but most of the time, it’s just a painful exercise in convincing five other people to spend $20 with me and suffer for a week until I admit defeat and drop it.

That hasn’t been the case with Valheim, though. In Valheim, I’m quickly discovering that the typical survival game formula I’ve come to expect doesn’t need to be so harsh. I can enjoy a survival game with a little less of the “survival” part.

Instead of punishing you for perusing its world, Valheim offers incentives. Shortly after I was dropped into Valheim’s forests by a giant raven, it began to rain. There was a quick chorus of “ah, hell,” from myself and my friends because we knew we’d have to find shelter immediately or risk freezing to death. Except that never happened. Instead of shivering and dropping dead, my half-naked group of friends ran a little slower, and our health didn’t tick up as quickly after taking damage. If it bothered me, I could go stand by a fire and dry off, but I didn’t have to do that. There was no threat of death, only inconvenience, and I realized that’s what I hate about other survival games.

Sure, Valheim doesn’t let me go running naked through the snow. That one makes sense. But survival games often impose far harsher punishments in scenarios where they just don’t feel appropriate. Got a little wet? Lose half your health. Didn’t eat a seven-course steak dinner? Immediately die of starvation. Not drinking a gallon of water per minute? Dehydrated.

Actually, that entire obnoxious formula of needing to eat a mountain of berries and ten whole animals a day is gone it’s a huge relief. When I started roaming Valheim’s world, I immediately sprang into action to preserve my health from any hunger mechanics. My friends and I all frantically began planning who would go hunt and who would work on building a way to cook, only to soon realize we were racing to fight a penalty that didn’t exist.

In Valheim, you’re rewarded for eating three different types of food and keeping those buffs going. If I’m satisfied with my base health, I can ignore my rumbling belly and go cut trees instead. If I’m looking to fight a boss, it may pay to snack on a bit of deer, but either way, I’m not going to lose health to the slow drain of hunger pangs. Sure, it’s an unrealistic element in a game where you can kill a deer god, but so is being asked to eat 40 pigs and a field of berry bushes. Valheim gives me the freedom to choose the perks of engaging with its hunger system or just ignoring it, which means I can live out my Viking life building giant fortresses uninterrupted.

And the same goes for resting in Valheim, too. There is no sanity meter, no slowly decaying gauges for spending too long outside chasing goblins with a stick at 4 am. Instead, Valheim offers me buffs for neatly decorating my home with rugs, stools, benches, and beds. If I run home and hang out long enough to get Sheltered and Warm effects, I’ll trigger the Rested bonus. With that, I can regain both my health and my stamina 50% faster. If I don’t return, then I’m just a bit slower that’s fine, though. It doesn’t really bother my style of play.

I spend most of Valheim that way, too. I don’t usually have food buffs going, my character is often much slower than she could be, but I’m not even a tad bothered. None of it feels detrimental to my enjoyment of the game. I’m not spending all of my play time just trying to satiate the bottomless pit that’s my stomach, I’m not perpetually freezing, and there are no cumbersome sanity bars to manage.

I love games like Ark or Green Hell, but I’m always hungry, thirsty, too hot, too cold — too something to enjoy the rest of the game. I can’t explore the world without dying to it in seconds, and those games quickly overstay their welcome. In Valheim, I’m free to engage with and abandon most of its system as I please, and I realize that’s what I’ve always wanted from most of my survival game favorites.

Next: I’m Glad That Rockstar Wants To Stay Focused On Single-Player Games

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Andrea Shearon is a news editor at TheGamer who loves RPGs and anything horror related. Find her on Twitter via @Maajora.

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