I'm not usually a big fan of survival games, but Valheim, the Viking-themed survival game from Iron Gate Studio, has proven to be an exception. Ever since it released in early access in February, it's pretty much the only thing I've wanted to play save for the occasional hour or two of Destiny 2. Everything from the game's robust base building system to its progression and crafting mechanics has won me over, but what I ultimately love about Valheim the most is its open world. Here's a look at what makes it special.
Distinctly unique lands to discover
One of my favorite things about Valheim's open world is how distinct and varied its different biomes feel. You start off in the Meadows, which is a bright, peaceful biome filled with rolling hills, calm rivers, and beech, birch, and oak trees aplenty — all of which sway to and fro as steady breezes blow through their branches. You can even find Viking burial sites and abandoned villages here, most of which feature fenced-off raspberry bushes with fruit ripe for the picking.
Next is the Black Forest, which looks exactly like a real-world Swedish forest and features soft golden lighting, glowing blue thistle plants, and pine trees that seem to touch the sky. Then there's the Swamp, which is a dark and wicked place filled with dead trees, undead enemies, and murky, marshy wetlands.
High above Meadows and Black Forests lie the Mountains, which are characterized by dangerously low temperatures and a dangerously high frequency of snowstorms. Players can only hope to survive here with frost resistance mead (check out my guide to all mead recipes and how to make them for details) or clothing made from the pelts of the wolves that ruthlessly hunt in the night. Finally, there's the Plains, a biome in which the sunny clear skies and fields of dry grass are juxtaposed by the wooden and stone fortifications of the location's hostile inhabitants.
Each biome being unique helps make the experience of living in the game world remain fresh and interesting even after you spend dozens of hours building, battling, and crafting your way to success. The distinct environments give off entirely unique atmospheres, and since you're encouraged to travel back to each biome for its unique resources on a consistent basis, you'll naturally rotate between these atmospheres as you play. This ensures you'll never feel like you have to be tied down to one place.
Excellent lighting and other effects
The fact that Valheim's biomes are so unique is fantastic, but the thing that makes the game's overall presentation excellent is its superb visual effects. The lighting, in particular, is simply stunning. Every time I play, I often stand still in the game and admire how beautifully the sunlight beams through tree branches or reflects off of snow-covered terrain. When night falls, campfires and torches emit a cozy and warm atmosphere amidst the evening dark.
It's not just lighting, though — Valheim's wind effects are some of the best I've seen in all of gaming, and watching as the wind rolls through the game's many different types of foliage is incredibly relaxing. The water effects are awesome, too, with structures glistening with a visible sheen during thunderstorms, and the ocean's tides rising and falling realistically depending on the weather and time of day.
Even though things like this may seem simple, they go a long way in terms of making Valheim's world feel appealing and enjoyable to spend time in. It's more interesting and detailed than many other survival game worlds, and to me, worlds that are interesting and detailed are the ones that are the most fun to have adventures in.
Finally, I love the fact that Valheim's world is heavily inspired by Norse mythology. Words can't describe how big the smile on my face was when I realized that the trunk and branches of Yggdrasil, the central tree that holds the cosmos together in Norse myth, is visible in the game's skybox.
The game's Nordic inspiration becomes even clearer as you progress through each biome — to name some examples, the Greydwarves resemble a form of evil skogvættir forest spirits, the Draugr that roam the Swamp originate from Scandinavian folklore, and werewolf-like creatures called Fenring that appear to be descendants of the monstrous wolf Fenrir can be found in the Mountains when the moon rises. Players can even be attacked by a giant sea serpent while sailing, which instantly calls the World Serpent Jörmungandr to mind (don't miss my Valheim sailing guide if you need some tips on taking down the beast).
The undeniable "Norseness" of Valheim might not matter to you much if you don't care for mythology, but as someone who thoroughly enjoyed studying it at my university, it makes exploring the world and seeing what it has in store for me even more fun. Norse mythology has inspired aspects of games before, of course, but the way that Valheim uses mythology as a core foundation for its world and the creatures that inhabit it is a unique treat. Unlike a lot of other games where the mythology is only loosely referenced or is used superficially, Valheim puts Norse myth at the heart of almost everything in the game.
A beauty that stands out
While there are plenty of survival games that offer one or two of the things I've mentioned, Valheim offers all three — and that, I think, is why I'm so smitten. It's true that most games these days are pretty, and survival games often are, too. However, some survival games lack varied locations, and most of them are set in gritty and grim settings like the zombie apocalypse or harsh wastelands.
Valheim, on the other hand, features a fantastical, otherworldly setting filled with interesting and detailed places to explore, complete with enemies, weapons, armors, foodstuffs, and pieces of lore that all draw very heavily on Norse mythology and Scandinavian culture for inspiration. Pair these things with awesome lighting and other visual effects, and you've got a beautiful survival game that offers a wholly unique experience compared to other titles in the genre.
What do you think? Are you as big of a fan of Valheim's world as I am? If so, do you enjoy it for the same reasons? Let me know in the comments.
Valheim is available for $20 on Steam through Early Access. If you haven't gotten the game yet, you absolutely should. It's easily one of the best survival games for PC out there right now. If you decide to pick it up, check out our beginner's guide to your first days and beyond in Valheim.