Valheim: Teachable Moments

Would have been nice for this to be a river and not an isthmus…

The bounty of Valheim experiences continues fast and furious. So much so, that its hard to find time not playing in order to share anything. Ultimately, I take that as a good thing. Valheim does a great job of sucking you in deeper and deeper. Most tasks are very accessible but inevitably suck you into deeper and deeper game play.

Case in point, harvesting basic timber (Beech) with a simple took (stone or flint axe) will cause basic crafting recipes to unlock. In the next higher difficulty Black Forest biome, Fir and Pine trees appear which can also be harvested with basic tools but Pine trees drop core wood which unlocks more crafting recipes. Even the incurious will likely get sucked into the lure of the pursuit of new gear to harvest new materials to make new gear/items to harvest more new materials to make more new gear, etc.

Valheim will often tease you with the upgrade path before you know its there. As we all know too well, falling trees cause a lot of damage (and are responsible for much early stage comedy as well). Falling Beech trees will damage adjacent trees as they fall. Sometimes that will completely break a tree into lootable wood. Even trees that you wouldn’t have been able to harvest with a stone or flint axe like Birch or Oak. That’s how some fine wood dropped for me and voila, a host of new mostly aspirational recipes unlocked for me, teasing me with more goals… etc. Maddeningly addictive. Just five more minutes until, something else…

Lumber Support

The new long house. At least I don’t have to paint it…

As the primary early building material, Valheim requires timber as quite a lot of it. Soon enough with the immediate landscape denuded of trees, timber harvesting was requiring further and further excursions from base to collect wood. With your limited carrying capacity, a lot of wood means a lot of trips which takes a lot of time.

Enter the cart.

You should see us as a pantomime horse.

One lunch hour I found myself harvesting timber for the Charcoal Kiln. Yes, I usually find a few minutes to do something at lunch. WFH for the win. Of course, Wilhelm was on too… He’s gone mad for bronze (which is fine by me) so he needs coal for the smelter and coal means wood and a lot of it. He joined me and in no time, we had filled the cart with 1700+ pounds of wood (almost 6 times a character’s total carrying capacity) which I deftly but somewhat laboriously rolled back to camp.

The prospect of creating logging roads to and fro seemed daunting, so I looked into the prospect of reforesting the denuded treeless hellscape around our base. Another minigoal. Despite (gasp) some ambiguous or inaccurate information on the internet, planting trees is rather straightforward. A bronze cultivator is required (another minigoal), and then its as simple as using it with seeds that have fallen during timber harvesting to replant them. No cultivation of ground required. Just plant and go.

The one caveat is that they do need to be spaced out a bit from each other or obstacles (like rocks) or the saplings will fail.

It puts the sapling in the ground or it gets the cultivator again…

A little trial and error and our base was again on the edge of the woods in a few short game days. Timber collection was convenient once again.


Part of a Well Balanced Diet

Its like the Shire with this lot…

Food in Valheim is its own extended topic. Suffice it to say, you need at least three different types of food at any time to increase your health/stamina/regen to reasonable levels for your dangerous environment. Staples include meat from Necks, Boars and Deer which can be cooked over a fire or berries and mushrooms which are collected from the biomes. Carrots can also be farmed, but that’s a whole separate story as well as bee husbandry to harvest honey.

The gathering of mushrooms and berries is the early pain point. You have to roam and they don’t provide that much of a boost, but with three unique slots, you will inevitably want/need something in those slots to ensure you maintain viable health. These are consumed over time, and when they are about to expire, you’ll see the message above.

Fortune favors the prepared in Valheim, or put another way, the ill-prepared are paid with the wages of misfortune… So whenever one goes exploring, its wise to ensure you have adequate supplies of multiple food types. You may not be able to find what you need in new/hostile areas or have enough resources/time to set up a quick minibase to hunt and cook, assuming there are things to hunt and cook where you are. You let your health drop at your peril in hostile environs.

Which leads me to my next point…In Valheim, the shortest distance between you and midnight is a simple straightforward task that is just over there

You Can’t Get There From Here

As one explores, most of Valheim seems composed of modest sized islands separated by small to largish bodies of water. With rafts available early on, and the Karve real boat becoming available with bronze, the world seems like its your oyster. But even hoofing it doesn’t look too bad usually.

In the middle of most islands, there seems to usually be a large mountain zone which is snow covered and freezing. So much so that you take damage without winter gear which isn’t available in bronze as far as I can tell. No go zone for now.

Sometimes, a walk up the coast finds itself pinched between steep wooded hillsides, a narrow beach and inevitably, camps of grey dwarves and/or trolls, making surviving and escaping from these traps difficult and deadly.

Such was the case when Crowbar (aka Moronae from the instance group) and I went to just clear out a burial mound Sunday evening to gather a few surtling cores to make another portal so we could establish a new remote base. The burial mound was situated in precisely the circumstances I just described.

When Crowbar and I arrived, our bags were at least half full with things we had no business carrying around outside of camp– ore, bronze bars, some nails, core wood, etc., far too little food and valuable noncombat tools like the bronze cultivator. Thinking this would be a quick five minute jobs, we got ganked by the greys, in the course of running away from them, we aggroed a troll which forced us back toward the grey camp.

One of us went down, then the other and our bind point was half way across the island. A naked corpse run back into dangerous territory was risky, but would make recovery quicker– if you are naked and have no item, you can quickly click the “take all” button on your corpse marker allowing you to grab and run, put your regular gear on and flea or take up the fight again. If you were heavily loaded before and you grabbed some survival gear for your run back, you may get stuck with having to access your corpse marked and then grabbing various items that you want one by one to recover.

Often this causes a deadly delay. Running back naked without any food of course, means you not only have no armor, but you only have your base health (and it takes a while to replenish when you do eat) leading inevitably to a repeat failure cascade cycle. I’m sure there’s a gambler’s fallacy in there somewhere that compels one to attempt naked what they couldn’t achieve fully geared and well fed with the expectation that this time will be different.

Two hours and many corpse runs later, Crowbar and Fergorin managed to recover their gear, take out the grey dwarf spawner, kill the troll and finally clean out the burial mound for the sought after cores.

During this slow motion disaster as discussion on Discord became saltier and saltier as the universe sought to enforce entropy upon us, Unna, who had be quietly minding her own business working on our soon-to-be farmstead had discovered a cache of surtling cores squirrelled away in a random chest in our main base and had built the two portals needed while Crowbar and I were giving the greys etiquette lessons…

Boat journeys are no picnic either. Inevitably, the wind is in your face which ever direction you want to sail requiring you to paddle slowly to make way. Thinking about taking the short cut across the big water? Think again, sea serpents may have something to say about that.

I was accosted during a night sail, far from shore with a headwind and the leviathan was taking chunks out of my boat. I was certain I was doomed. I spun the boat down wind, raised sail and raced for the shore with the worm nipping on my heals. I beached the boat and jumped out hoping to at least avoid being lost at sea. A few bow shots taught me two things– even a halfway decent bow can inflict decent damage on them. A concerted effort by one or a few could take them out, but they do significant damage to boats, so its a fight best taken on or near shore.

Serpent gone, boat repaired, I decided to continue my journey to just see what might be “over there” on the off chance we still might locate the as yet elusive trader. After the long southerly sojourn, I returned northwards only to be enticed to the east by what looked promising. Looking at the time and looking at the map, it was obvious that the quickest way to base was to the north around an island I hadn’t explored but it had to provide a passage back, it was an island

Short story long, the best I could find was an isthmus. Long short on food and having almost no building materials in hostile territory, I was left with the desperate option of having to disembark, destroy my boat, cross the isthmus, build a workbench and rebuild the boat to escape before anyone (like the glowing purple dwarf camp within sight) noticed me.

In hindsight, it wasn’t that big of a deal, but having read so many accounts of historically ill fated early explorers, the idea of destroying your only means of escape is about as emotionally drastic as it can get. The last thing I wanted was to leave my corpse (along with too many nice things that had no business leaving the base) in the far east ass end of the known world. Valheim gives you lessons whether you want to learn them or not.

Still, with all that, its been a glorious ride so far. Risks can be taken, risks can be mitigated, one can be bold, one can be incremental but the game so far seems to accommodate all of those styles even handedly which is keeping me playing far past my bedtime these days.

2 thoughts on “Valheim: Teachable Moments”

  1. I find quite a lot of the gameplay in Valheim counter-intuitive. Take those nests and being swarmed for example. At first I did as you describe and backed off, assuming if I took them on they’d overwhelm me. After a few encounters I decided that was exactly the wrong approach. Instead, the way to deal with them was to charge full speed straight at the nest, ignoring all the greys already piling in to attack. The nests have next to no hit points so two or three good blows with an axe destroys them. That puts a stop to what otherwise would be an endless stream of reinforcements.

    At that point I’d either try to kill whatever was attacking me or sprint away to lose them then come back and finish them off. That tactic worked every time, even when I was in leathers and using a flint axe. In full bronze it becomes trivial. I’d already decided even before I saw my first nest that running away from greys was a bad idea. The way I dealt with them at first was to immediately drag out a flaming torch and go at them with that in one hand and my axe in the other. They are absolutely terrified of fire and run around like scalded cats. The main problem is getting them to come close enough to kill. Similarly, the shamans with their poison go down very fast if rushed. The only exception I found was the brute, which occasionally needs a little kiting to wear down because of the high hit points.

    As for deat and corpse recovery that’s so very different from other games I’ve played it took me a while to see that death turns you into a super hero. The only real negative from dying is skill loss and it’s a big one. Once you’ve taken that hit, though, you’re immune for something like ten or fifteen minutes. And that immunity refreshes every time you die while it’s running. That means if you have a difficult location that needs clearing out, you can build a quick shelter nearby and bind to your bed there, then charge in. With luck you won’t die but if it turns out you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, you can be assured you can only lose skill points on the first death. Stash some berries and a weapon in a chest in the hut (or actually just drop them on the ground – they’ll stay there forever) and just grab them when you respawn and rush back into the fray.

    Valheim is full of non-traditional ploys and tricks, mostly I think because the core gameplay is really quite strange, at least compared to the kind of games I usually play. Takes a bit of getting used to.

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