While there's no shortage of survival games on the market, the most popular involve pixelated worlds, zombie apocalypses, or prehistoric dinosaurs. Valheim stands apart from the crowd by dropping players into a backdrop based on the rich Norse mythology. But while the minions and monsters of this realm feel like they're pulled straight from ancient Viking fantasies, the player characters still feel grounded in a certain level of realism. Players can't rely on flashy magic spells to get themselves through battles, but instead must put in hard work to gather resources, craft armor and weapons, stock up on food to heal their wounds, and plan their trek to face each of the Forsaken bosses. It takes a lot of time and effort to advance the story, but in the tradition of Viking history, that only makes each hard-fought victory feel even more deserved and satisfying.
Truth be told, Valheim doesn't have the prettiest of presentations. Even with maxed-out settings, the visuals are more than a little rough around the edges. The user interface is also a bit clunky at times, particularly when you're first learning the building mechanics. But it more than makes up for this in the freedom it gives players to play the game the way they want. Players can take on Valheim solo or build a thriving community with up to 10 people in multiplayer servers. They can choose to dive right into the action, amassing arms and supplies to drive back the Forsaken in a calculated offensive push, or simply enjoy the almost calm of slowly expanding their shelter, exploring the surrounding lands and seas, and carving a true home out of the wilderness of their purgatory. Ask 10 different people to describe how to play Valheim, and you're likely to get 10 different responses, none of them being wrong. In fact, it's the flexibility to create a truly personal experience that makes the world of Valheim such a difficult place to leave.