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July 19, 2024

Valheim (Part 3)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

Still got a lot to cover, huh? Last time, we were about to fight...

The 'Mass

This beast looks like Swamp Thing and Slimer had a baby,
and then that baby grew addicted to crystal meth.
I vividly remember when I first fought Bonemass. I threw the Withered Bones into its altar, and that mass of goo and bone appeared. To their credit, the enemies and bosses of Valheim have logical weaknesses; fire and axes against the tree-like Abominations, as an example. Being a slime, Bonemass is weak to frost arrows, but unless you skipped steps, you shouldn’t have those; your other option is blunt damage. Still not sure how whacking a blob with a club can kill it, but whatever. Both times I took it down, I was equipped with the iron sledge, a two-handed weapon made using Ymir flesh, obtainable from Haldor. My second time was a lot easier, because I was better prepared.

Full disclaimer, at this point of the review/guide, I've gone
back to the Viking I beat the game with. If I want to do
these fights again for screenshots, I'll make it easier on
myself. My capture didn't involve a lot of enemies.
Bosses really are the final exam of their biome, and Bonemass is every annoying aspect of the swamps rolled into one bastard. Its area of effect causes nonstop rain, so you can never shake away the Wet debuff. It pukes poison gas regularly, so fighting it without poison resistance is stupid. It tosses its own matter, creating blobs and skeletons, so there’s always enemies to kill – and that’s before considering the other swamp residents who can butt in like unwanted neighbor visits on a day off. Draugr, we can deal, but... Abominations? In the middle of a Bonemass battle, they’re fun.

And of course, he's puking, too. What a classy gentleman.

Valheim is BRU-TAL.

This visual sign, accompanied by a "ding" that gets higher-
pitched as you get closer, is what you get when the
wishbone detects something underground.
When Bonemass is killed, it drops its trophy and a wishbone. Its Forsaken power massively increases your resistance to slash, blunt and pierce damages for five minutes. We’re reaching the point where your foods provide plenty of stamina, so your greater worry is surviving enemy attacks now. Eikthyr’s power was fine so far, but Bonemass’s power will save your Viking ass regularly. As for the wishbone, when equipped, it will beep close to stuff hidden underground. There are many Viking burial sites with jewels to plunder. Thanks to the wishbone, you can also find masses of muddy scrap piles hidden around a swamp, allowing you to farm iron without walking into a crypt. (It’s also possible to “prospect” by hammering the swamp ground with a two-handed mace to find these piles before beating Bonemass.) The wishbone is the main way to find silver nodes in...

The Mountain – “Moder”

In case you can't see it: The little floating red "1" is an HP
lost every tick. I am freezing to death right now.

I know parts of this game have felt like an uphill climb,
but it wasn't that literal before!
It’s only getting tougher from here. Resilient as they are, even Vikings cannot survive the cold of the mountains without help. Go too far into the white without any protection and the “freezing” effect is applied, slowly taking away your Viking's HP and slowing their stamina regen. You can freeze to death here. You’ll need frost resistance mead. I’d recommend always keeping a few in a chest, even once it no longer feels necessary. Imagine that you die on the mountain with all your frost resistance gear on – then how are you going to get it back without some protection?

Of course this cave is empty, I've already cleared it.
For a mountain base, it looks cozy.
The mountain is infamous for its difficult terrain, the trickiest yet. You’ll spend a lot of stamina scaling the cliffs. It’s gonna be tough, it’s gonna be annoying. Mountains can be of all sizes, and can be anywhere. I’ve seen some in the middle of Black Forests, I’ve seen some only reachable by crossing plains (, I’ve seen some surrounded by mistlands (...also joy). Sometimes they have frost caves, which hide poisonous bats, cultists, and ulv, four-legged werewolves of the “who’s a good boi?” variety. The frost caves are the only location of some crafting materials... mostly for cosmetic base decorations.

Like a lot of weaker enemies, drakes eventually become
little more than annoyances... if only there weren't so
damn many at times!

Why yes, I WILL mine one to death.
Not that the outside is any safer. Moder is the mother of all Drakes, flying dragon-like creatures who attack with blasts of their frost breath. Fire arrows will be useful again. The “big” enemy here is the stone golem, which loves to jumpscare by coming together into a walking pile of rocks that attacks with as much power as a walking pile of rocks could. They resist arrows and are only weak to blunt damage. Oh, and pickaxes too, if you’re crazy enough to mine one to death. At night, you’ll encounter the prowling Fenring, two-legged werewolves of the “Bad dog!” variety. And, of course, wolves. Lots of wolves. They’re fast, they attack in packs, and just like boars, both their fur and meat can be used. Oh, that’s gonna be fun if they pop up while fighting Moder.

Stop beeping, I found it!
The metal here is silver, and its veins are hidden underground, requiring the use of the wishbone. (Or maybe you get lucky mining the entire mountain away. Or maybe you spotted a tiny bit of silver protruding from a cliff. Who knows.) Veins won’t appear beneath a certain altitude, so you must look for them high up. It’s heavier than iron, so it’s a pain to carry. Combine it to wolf pelts and a wolf trophy for a cape that grants resistance to frost. Doesn’t matter if you’re in your birthday suit underneath the cape, you’re now protected. Video game physics! You’ll want a full set of the new equipment tier, the Wolf Armor, since it’s got better stats. You can also find obsidian, a teleportable metal that can be used for a strong arrow type.

Like the silver deposits, Moder’s altar is located high up. One tricky part of the fight is to not fall down the mountain. However, its summoning condition is intense: You must sacrifice three dragon eggs. Every dragon egg has a weight of 200, meaning that even with a Megingjord, you can probably carry just one at a time. Dragon eggs are taken from Drake nests.

Ooh, I want an omelette.

You are being hunted

Oh Odin, that's a lot of goblins. Er, fulings.
(I couldn't get a raid to trigger during capture, so I'm
taking pictures from Jade PG's video. Check it out!)
One aspect I've barely mentioned is the raids. Although you can now tinker with the options to change their frequency (or remove them entirely), there was a time where you had no say on how often they happened. Originally, at certain intervals of real life time (the wiki says 46 minutes), a random event has a 20% chance to trigger. They can happen as early as before you even beat the first boss; and every time you beat a boss, new raids unlock in which your base can be assaulted by enemies from the latest biome. Bonemass is on your hit list? Expect Draugr knocking at your door to deliver the good news of the swamp. Before Yagluth bites the dust, you’ll get visits from the local fuling gang. If you killed the Elder and trolls before, you might see trolls laying waste to your barricades.

Far from home? If you killed wolves before, you can get the ominous message at the top of this section, and be attacked by an entire pack. (It’s funny if you get this while venturing the plains; watch canids murder fulings and lox left and right. They do your job for you!)

The entire pack? Nice, I was running out of pelts. (This
screenshot is taken from Embr's video on the same topic.)

These raids keep you on your toes, so you must always be prepared. Only issue is that, when you’re not ready (if, say, the raid begins while you’re low on food, or you’ve barely explored the new biome and you aren’t equipped against its threats)... you’re in for a fun time.

Valheim can be brutal.

Ugh, more of those blue brutes. My one tamed boar got
killed during a troll raid. I hate them.
(Screenshot also from Jade PG's video.)
I distinctly remember, in my first game, the Draugr event hitting while I was at home, while I had barely visited the swamp yet, and getting badly outmatched. Killed. My house’s door was left open in the chaos. Respawn at bed. The Draugr were waiting for me. Not exactly a face I feel like waking up next to. I don’t know how many times I got killed in the next few minutes, sometimes getting back to my body barely in time to equip my gear and fight back. Usually, it took too long, and I would die again. I think I eventually got lucky and killed the last ones, or they got bored and left (which can happen when the event ends). I’ve also had my fair share of troll surprises.

I made my second solo playthrough so that the odds of raids were a lot lower, but not completely gone; if you want to build in peace, you can turn raids off. As for me, playing with fewer raids has been great.

Completing Hildir’s bonus quests adds special raids to the rotation, so you can end up encountering the mini-bosses from those dungeons. Also, each time you kill a boss, their associated raid is replaced by the next boss’s, but the enemy spawns in early-game biomes increase in strength – after killing Yagluth, you can find fulings in the meadows at night. Speaking of...

The Plains – “Yagluth”

Come down here you coward! Ah, there we go.

Moder is a very tough boss as the fight will constantly be interrupted by smaller Drakes. She will fly, meaning your best mode of attack is arrows. That, or take advantage of the moments she lands to sneak in some chops with a sword or axe. Being an ice creature, she hates fire.

Furnaces, windmills... We're getting technological here!
Her defeat grants dragon tears, necessary in the construction of an artisan table, which must be around while you build the next important pieces of machinery:
  • Blast furnaces melting Black Metal scraps into ingots;
  • Spinning wheels, which turn flax into linen thread;
  • Windmills, which turn barley into flour for recipes;
  • And stone ovens, for recipes made in the cauldron that still need to be cooked afterwards, like bread or pies.
You also get Moder’s trophy which, once taken to its altar, unlocks the power to control the wind so it blows your ship forward for 5 minutes while sailing. Would have been nice to have that earlier, if you ask me; every time I sought Moder, I had to sail. (And yes, that's when I met the Mistlands two biomes early. The Seeker Surprise fucking sucked.)

It's not big, but it can hurt. Time for some bug killer spray.
Onwards! If you’ve ever come close to the plains before, you’ve already met the local fauna. By which I mean, big ass fucking Deathsquitos that will attack on sight and drain a significant portion of your HP unless you’re protected. These mosquitos like to stick around the edges of plains and attack on sight, even if you’re not on their biome. Thankfully, these things can be sniped from a distance (if you know they’re around) and, at 10 HP, are guaranteed one-hit kills. They always drop needles, which make powerful arrows.

The troll-level threat here is the semi-peaceful wild lox. They will attack if you come too close, but you can easily walk past. Their tough skin, high HP, and strong attacks makes them very dangerous, and you can have more than one mad at you at a time. Their pelts aren’t great unless you’re bored of your wolf cape, but their meat is useful for pies.

Lox meat mixed in dough with cloudberries... yum yum.

Just three or four? That's not so bad. When you raid a
village, you're attacked by, like, twenty of these guys.
Goblins are normally early-game fodder, but Valheim's Fulings will kick your ass. They can carry clubs, swords, spears, and torches, meaning you must account for their different combat tactics. Their tougher cousins, the berserkers, are slow but still hit hard. To top it off, they have shamans, who love to cast fireballs your way, and can also cast a spell that both shields and heals nearby fuling units. If you attack a village, expect dozens of these little shits swarming you.

Nothing to see here, just a bunch of Growths taking down
a Lox. I should run, 'cause I'm the next target.
Oh, there’s also tar pits. If you fall in one, doesn't matter the level of death penalty you've picked; you cannot retrieve that body, you lose everything on it. Forever. Even worse, they spawn Growths, even deadlier than the Blobs and Oozers. They spit a stream of tar, which slows and poisons you. If a few attack you at once, you’re fucked. I don’t use that word lightly in Valheim. On the plus side, they always spawn from tar pits, so you can set up workbenches around a pit to stop that, as workbenches and other player base builds (campfires, portals, forges, etc.) will stop enemy spawns in a 20 meter area aroud them. Enemies from the same biome tend to not attack each other, but fulings and lox hate the Growths and will fight them. That hatred saved me more than once.

Got my flax planted, got my barley planted...
That should be enough, right? Ha! Nope.
Fulings drop black metal when defeated; it’s the only way to obtain it. It’s necessary for new tools, weapons, crafting stations and upgrades. You raid fuling villages to steal their totems, since you must sacrifice five to summon Yagluth. However, when exploring a village, you can find flax and barley. These two can only be planted and harvested in the plains, so when I did my second playthrough, after I cleared a village, I placed workbenches everywhere, then turned the place into a farm, planting more of both so I would never run out. (Barley, especially; flour is useful everywhere.)

Alright, so let’s say we have our five totems, and we also found a Vegvisir indicating where the fifth boss is located. Well? Let’s go! ...In Part 4.

July 15, 2024

Valheim (Part 2)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

Ready to continue this quest?

Setting Up Camp

This thing is huge! Well, I can take it down like any other
forest tree: Axes and fire. Boom.
When we left off, we were ready to face the Elder, a creature made of wood said to be the King of Greydwarves. Eikthyr was weak all around; starting with the second boss, you learn to try various strategies and stick to what works best. (Or use the wikis if you can’t figure it out.) In this case, melee with an axe is viable, but dangerous. Fire arrows are the way to go if you play safe. I did it that way every time, but I recall my first battle against this thing took forever. Then again, at the time I still hadn’t set up a portal for quick travel from camp to the altar, so every time I died... which was a lot... I had to do the whole trek back, retrieve my body and equipment, and then resume the fight – with my enemy having regained health. Oh yeah, when you’re learning Valheim, it’s brutal.

Remember how I said that I made a new character while
playing on the world where I've beaten the Mistlands?
Yeah, all these chests are from the other game.
Which is why it’s so important to set up a living space. Your base, preferably near the water (as you will need to sail to reach future Forsaken), needs a lot of space and amenities. Your bed, of course, but some place to keep all your treasure chests. You’ll gather so much crap, you’ll spend nearly as much time sorting it all out as you’ll spend out on the field. And since almost everything has a use, Vikings become hoarders, reticent to throw anything away.

(mention somewhere that workbenches can also prevent spawns)

Those rings? Yep, all portals.
There's 10 more you're not seeing here.

No need for coal, I have lots already.
Can always do with more copper and tin, though.
You’ll need a space for your portals, since this adventure will bring you all over the procedurally-generated map, and you’ll have to make a lot of ‘em. A recommended strategy is to always keep one just labeled “portal”, carry the materials to create another wherever you are, and create more at points of interest. You’ll need a space for metal refinery – that means an area for charcoal kilns, in which you put wood to make coal, and smelters (and later, blast furnaces) to refine your ores. The more the better. And of course, an area with all your crafting stuff – workbench, forge, cauldron, fermenter, etc. You can build yourself a house, and if you’re good at it, you can create homes that are literal works of art. Take a stroll down the ValheimBuilds subreddit and you’ll see just what marvels avid builders have come up with.

...I favored practicality over design. I won’t make it look good; I’ll make it just big enough to have everything I need.

My first and second homes. No third yet.

In the Black Forest, you’ll find carrot seeds and you’ll need to set up a garden for that, too. A big one, preferably, as you'll also plant turnips and onions there. Finally, add a nice, long barrier all around your property, to save it from the occasional raids.

Where was I? Oh, right. When the Elder is beaten, it drops two things. First its trophy, which when set to the sacrificial stone, unlocks a skill that only makes cutting wood faster (I never use it), and second is the Swamp Key, for the third biome.


I'm tempted to see what the maps for other Pokémon names
would be now. 
But first, a sideline. I’m doing a lot of those. Arguably, the death of the Elder opens the gates to the rest of the world; with copper equipment and the Black Forest conquered, the Tenth Realm can now be your playground. Play safely, but explore. The advantage of procedurally-generated worlds is that you can never truly know what awaits ahead. ...well, Valheim map generators exist online if you want to play with spoilers. You can only generate random seeds that are, allegedly, playable to the end, though difficulty can vary wildly, depending on whether the randomness deities choose to play nice! You can ignore map generators if you want the proper experience. You can also create seeds out of basic words. My second solo playthrough was made by inputting a word into the generator. And because I’m an unrepentant gamer, the word I chose was... Bulbasaur. Roast me!

The result wasn’t the easiest seed ever, but it did allow for an easy path towards the first five bosses of the game. Eikthyr and the Elder on the first continent, the next three two islands away at most. I was also lucky because the Traders are relatively close by. ...Oh right!

I have seen Dwarves before. In caves, not out in the
woods selling stuff to passersby.
Haldor is a Dverg (dwarf) trader you can accidentally stumble upon while exploring the Black Forest. He and his sister Hildir appear at a certain distance from the spawn point. He will trade your jewelry for gold coins, and sell you some items you cannot find anywhere else, none of which are mandatory for progression; but some can help a lot. His most important item is the Megingjord, which when equipped adds 150 to the maximum weight a player can carry. Going from 300 to 450 is a godsend, with the heavy weight of most metals. Also important are the Ymir flesh and thunder stone, both necessary for some crafts. Then there’s a few hats with limited purposes and a fishing rod.

There are different fish around each biome, but you'll need
upgraded bait for all of those.
In my opinion, fishing is a very undercooked mechanic. You can use it to catch fish using bait, turn that fish into edible food, and upgrade your bait to get better fish; but you can also easily play the entire game without ever owning a rod or fishing, and not be the least bit penalized for it. It’s a bonus, but the returns don’t feel worth the effort put into it. For completionists, there's an entire side-quest that involves catching one of every species of fish - 12 total. You can craft a hat out of this.

Hildir, on the other hand, only sells cosmetic equipment – however, finding her in the meadows will unlock side-quests where you’ll brave three different types of dungeons and return to her with special treasure chests. The reward? More cosmetics... and new random raids, making your life harder. Enjoy!

Currently standing in meadows, with swamps on one side,
and plains on another side.
I love whenever this game gives us sights like this.
Since worlds are created by the pseudorandom number generator, you can see anything next to anything else. Meadows leading directly into a swamp, or to the plains? Sure. One of the most vivid memories I have of my first playthrough involved having to cross a massive area of plains to get to the mountain where Moder resided. I had just left the swamp, so I was a whole armor class beneath the recommended equipment to go through the desert. It was fun! (painful smile, /s) God forbid if your sailing forces you to encounter the Mistlands, and all their deadly surprises, long before you’re ready to! Happened to me while I was headed for Moder. Surprise Seeker during the trip, 0/10, do not recommend.

The Ocean

That fog over there? Yep, that's the Mistlands.
Speaking of sailing, all it takes is a boat. You can craft a raft as early as the Meadows, with the Karve available once you’ve got copper nails, and the Longboat requiring swamp items. The advantages are boat health, speed, and inventory space; lots in a longboat, none in a raft. The second advantage is how well it can survive a long trip at sea. If your boat is destroyed in the middle of the ocean, there is no way for you to survive. Thankfully, your gravestone floats, so you can sail back to it and grab your stuff.

Okay, that character name (Noobnomore) is ironic considering
what just happened (sniped by a Deathsquito), but that
gravestone will be easy to get back to.
Oh, right – death in this game. Unless you’re a masochist playing hardcore, when you die, you’ll respawn at your last bed. Death in Valheim involves loss of inventory, as well as a loss of levels in the many skills you can train, forcing you to retrain those skills. With World Modifiers, you can choose how punishing death is, from:
  • Keeping on anything that was equipped to your body, but having to retrieve everything else, left on your gravestone, and only losing a bit of your skills (easiest);
  • Respawning at camp without any items in your inventory, but it can all be retrieved, and losing more levels in your skills (normal);
  • All the way to losing absolutely everything on you when you died, meaning you cannot ever get those items back, and must re-craft them, no take-backsies. Oh, and all of your skill levels are back to 0 (hardcore – why would you inflict this on yourself).
Grabbing your old inventory isn't always simple, seeing
as you will likely not have enough room to get everything.
Taking everything back from your gravestone grants a temporary “Corpse Run” effect where, for 50 seconds, your stamina usage is greatly reduced, you gain resistances to several forms of damage, and your weight carry is increased by 150. You got your stuff, time to run.

As for skills: The higher level a skill is, the more you’ll feel an improvement on how well you use it. Some examples: The higher your level is with a bow, the more damage your arrows will do. Even your basic jump height increases the more you jump. The more you go out to swim, the longer it’ll take for you to lose stamina in the water, etc.

Pictured here: A Leviathan sinking after we mined
its abyssal barnacles.
The Ocean is the emptiest biome. It has its own enemy, the Serpent, waiting at night or in storms to attack your ship; and because this game is cruel, if you kill one, its drops (other than meat) sink into the ocean before you can grab them. There are living islands known as leviathans; you can mine chitin out of the abyssal barnacles on their backs. Players have gotten clever with the Abyssal Harpoon you make out of chitin, but I didn’t see much of a use for it.

Oh, and sailing means dealing with the wind, which may blow in the direction you’re going; but it can be fickle and blow the opposite way, too. When I played on a streamer’s multiplayer server, that streamer admitted to hating sailing, so they’d try to avoid it as much as possible. It doesn’t help that the only Forsaken power that aids sailing is owned by Moder, so you’re quite a way in by the time you get it.

The swamp – “Bonemass”

Hope you're not afraid of the dark. The swamps always
look like this, no matter the time of day.
Oh God, finally. You found a swamp? Welcome to Hell. The swamp is the first difficulty spike in Valheim, and is a biome which very few people enjoy from the start. You can eventually be comfortable in it, but it’ll take a while. The area is covered in swampy water, and when your Viking is wet, their health and stamina regenerates more slowly. There are leeches in the water, and we’re not talking the tiny things from the real world – more like, 5ft fucking snakes! The Draugr are the main monster type here, and you can find these zombie swordsmen and archers roaming, with Elites met in some circumstances.

The mega monster here is the Abomination. Like trolls, you never forget the first time you meet one, especially if it wasn’t already roaming the land, its heavy footsteps audible before graphics allow you to see it in the distance, and you instead see it pull itself out of the ground for a surprise attack. They’re dangerous, but since they’re three-legged wood creatures, fire arrows and axes work well. You can also lure one to a fire geyser, a rare type of swamp area that spawns the fire spirit Surtlings, and let it kill itself with fire.

There are skeletons here as well, and some areas include spawners of skeletons and Draugr. At night, the ghostly Wraiths spawn, and those will strike when you least expect them. Finally, Blobs and Oozers inflict poison to your character and are therefore extra dangerous.

The green mist always means poison. Be careful!

The swamp is the point where you learn to use potions, which must be crafted into cauldrons and then put into a fermenter. There are potions for increased health and stamina gain/regeneration, but the ones you’re more likely to make are the poison and frost resistance ones. Once you’re two biomes ahead, the swamp’s poison becomes laughable, but on your first trip, it can spell death real fast.

Your main source of food? Hopefully you’re not eating as I reveal the recipe: Sausages made of thistle and boar meat, wrapped into entrails, an item always dropped by Draugr – which are zombie Vikings. Yikes.

So much muddy scrap to break apart... You can tell the
cleaning lady hasn't done her job lately.
But I’m skipping a step. How can we find Bonemass if we want to kick its ass? Well, its Vegvisirs are in the swamp’s sunken crypts. Those are locked by gates you can open with the Swamp Key obtained from the Elder. In them: Lots of enemies to kill. Lots of Withered Bones; you sacrifice ten of those at Bonemass’s altar. Most importantly, lots of “muddy scrap piles” blocking doorways and dead ends, which you can mine with a pickaxe to receive bones and leather, but also scrap iron, the new metal, and through which you can build the next level of armor and weaponry. Iron is the most useful metal in the entire game, necessary for crafts into the final biomes. Jokes and memes abound on the Valheim subreddit about “having enough iron”, accompanied by a screenshot showing an inventory of thousands and thousands of ingots; nope, not enough.

I threw the skeletons out, then remade the place.
Where I live, we call that a "Reno-viction".
I need to provide examples from my playthrough. The first time I checked a swamp with crypts (as small swamps may not have any), the area was overseen by a peninsula of Black Forest with a clifftop tower inhabited by skeletons. After ridding it of its tenants, I stole it and gentrified; I built a secondary base there that would let me transform scrap into ingots, then into equipment right there. This was before the update where you could opt to teleport ores and ingots, and it was simpler (and way fucking quicker) than trekking across the island, back to the boat, then through another island to get home with my loot. I went from terrified of the swamp (my first actual experience of it was on the multiplayer server) to semi-confident in it. However, that was NOT the swamp containing Bonemass, and it took another trip to find that one.

Second playthrough? The swamp containing Bonemass also had something like 25 goddamned crypts, so I won’t worry about running out of iron anytime soon, right? ...Nope, not enough.

Closing Part 2 and still no Bonemass? I’ll get there in Part 3, I guess...

July 12, 2024

Valheim (Part 1)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5

Anniversary review time! And as usual, I’m doing a big one.

If I had a nickel for every video game about Vikings stuck in purgatory trying to earn their place into Valhalla... well, I’m pretty sure I’d have more than just two nickels. More like four or five, easy. “But it’s weird that it happened twice, right?”

Hey, somebody has to cultivate the veggies, and I don't
see anybody else around here.
When it comes to survival games, the story is rarely a plot with beats and more of a suggestion – you can have a gaming experience of dozens of hours without ever thinking about whatever story justifies the setting. You may have a goal... or not. You may choose to focus on anything else if you want. Games like this are ginormous sandboxes for adventurous and/or creative players to do whatever they want. You feel like braving dangerous lands today? You want to chill at the base and spend five hours sorting your item chests? Build and protect your land? Farm? Fish? Go. For. It.

Valheim, developed by Iron Gate AB, published by Coffee Stain Publishing, and “released” on February 2nd, 2021, is still in Early Access, but has already made a name for itself in the genre. Like many survival games, this experience can be done on your own, or with friends; up to 10 players can join the same multiplayer server.

Hey! Careful there with those talons! I was struck by an
arrow at that exact spot in my back before I died!

Full disclaimer, for the needs of screenshots for this 5-part
article, I created a new character, but I dropped him in the
world I had played in up to finishing the Mistlands.
Makes it easier to take pictures and retrace my steps.
This game’s "story" begins after character creation – you can play as a male or female Viking, no difference in gameplay. Your character is dropped in the middle of a circle of sacrificial stones, with nothing but rags on your back. You died ingloriously in battle, and to earn your way into Viking Heaven, you must prove yourself to Odin. Hugin, a helpful crow, explains the quest to the player character: Hunt down the six Forsaken, massive monsters residing in the various biomes of this “tenth realm”, take their trophies and bring them back to these rocks. The defeated Forsaken grant abilities that will come in handy for whatever comes next.

I’ve accumulated over 350 hours on this game since I began, and I’ve been determined to see it to the end. I’ve played alone and with friends, so I’ve got a pretty good understanding of how the game works. It would make sense to cover the game in much the same way that one would discover it. My point of view on this game comes from three different playthroughs: My first, where I learned the game as I went; one I played joining a Quebec streamer’s multiplayer server, contributing as much as my stupid n00b ass could; and my third one, taking full advantage of the knowledge gained and the World Modifiers, which at the time had been freshly added. As a result, while this series is a review, it’s also an excellent guide for a newcomer to Valheim. Alright, on with the article.

July 1, 2024

Quick Review: Gladiator Trainer

Back to the well of games made on RPG Maker, and... this one’s peculiar. I’ll always approve of those who do something with the program that’s a step beyond a cookie-cutter RPG, and today is an example.

I trust this big tough guy to be good at fighting.
...The Heck? He lost!
Developed by Pilgrim Adventures, published by Senpai Studios (which publishes a lot of RPG Maker games) and released on November 25th, 2016, Gladiator Trainer brings you into a very dark world where slave owners send their property to battle other slaves for the pleasure of the masses. You start the game with two slaves, which are randomly generated, and then put them in low-rank tournaments to start. They gain experience and levels, learn new attacks, and can fight in better tournaments, where the enemies are also stronger. The goal? To beat the highest tournament.

Our land. Where we prepare people so that
they'll fight each other. Yikes.
So, since it’s a game made on a software tailored to RPGs, then we can expect that, right? Well... Not quite. The greater focus is on the management simulator aspect. You manage your slaves by training them in combat, buy them weapons and armor. Hire a personal trainer, a cook and a doctor. You can even hire non-fighting “pleasure slaves” (yikes) of both genders for, ahem, morale boosts, and dance training for HP and agility boosts. Get a scribe who’ll look over your collection of books, which provide passive bonuses. If you don’t manage your money well and cannot pay your employees, they’ll quit, one at a time. And if your slaves have low morale, they’ll run away. If your slaves sustain long-term injuries in a battle, they cannot fight in tournaments while they recover. Oh, and as a final element: Fighting slaves earn their freedom upon winning 75 battles.

Ah, the battling. Of course there would be some.
...Wait, I don't control the character?

Well, I'm still broke, so I can't help. Sorry.
True to the form of management sims, there’s a variety of random events that can happen, and it’s up to you to figure out the best course of action, all based on your finances and status. The game is divided into weeks, with a tournament being the “last” thing you do in a week, as upon return from the tournament (no matter the result), you move on to the next week. You can also opt to skip a week, if the tournament available that week sounds too difficult, or if you feel your characters aren’t ready. You gain reputation as you beat tournaments, and there are additional ways to earn (or lose) more. 

They don't exactly start out great, so it's
your job to make sure they're ready and
can survive.

And, occasionally, we battle
big freaking feral animals.
Where’s the RPG part? The tournament battles, of course. The first tournaments are set against three opponents – two enemies and a “boss” – and I expect these to grow with more opponents over time. Your slaves learn new attacks the higher their level is, and the further in we go, the more often we fight opponents who can inflict status effects. Slaves regain HP between battles, 20% at first, but the amount can be increased up to 50%.

What’s the catch? Your involvement stops at picking the slave that will fight. You do NOT control them in battle. You let the fight play out, and then deal with the results. A victorious slave with high morale will earn you extra money with theatrics, while a loss instantly ends the tournament. You better hope your slave’s AI makes the right decisions. Nor has a streak of bad luck where it keeps missing the opponent. That’s cost me victory often, and there's no way to improve accuracy. In short, victories are down to luck.

For a while, Elison was my go-to fighter. Then, she had some
bad luck, so Sela got to fight and earn experience in her
place. But they're both close to 75 victories, so...

Oh no, Basewin, my worst fighter...
Well, cure him anyway! Just in case he
finally gets good! He's got a freedom to earn!
Oh, and the characters in-game are all portrayed with 3D models... If the anime girl in the header on the game’s Steam page is what brought you to buy it, sorry, you fell prey to false advertisement. There’s also some weird issue with the cursor, where if you move out of the game’s screen, you must go back to a smaller version of the game hidden behind the enlarged screen to go back to interacting with things in mouse mode. Also annoying is that the game frequently springs dialogue options in the middle of conversations. Imagine you're skipping the text, an option box pops up, and in your hurry, you auto-select the first option, and it's the one you don't want. Yep, happened a lot to me. Some way to prevent that would have been nice.

Yeah, we ain't winning that one.
Freaking heal yourself! Dammit, she never does.
I take moral issue with the core concept of the story, but it's not all dark as there's multiple ways to "free" the slaves. Either way, gonna let suspension of disbelief deal with that one. The character models are merely okay; 3D assets repurposed for this game, but at least it’s a change from the usual anime-styled RPG Maker assets. The management simulation is overall fine; it gets more complex as you go up the ranks, but luck can screw you over. The game's balancing is terrible at the beginning, as your opening options are very limited and any misstep means your slaves are unprepared for even the most basic battles; in fact, your odds are much too low unless you know exactly what to do. Guides say, don’t upgrade any of your facilities until after you’ve won a tournament or two, and focus your early cash on equipment. Even then, battles remain completely steered by the characters’ AI, so you can very easily get fucked over by a streak of bad luck, like your slave not healing themselves when they need to, constantly missing the opponent, or being wounded for weeks after a fight. Not to mention it ultimately becomes repetitive once we reach the upper echelons of the competition.

Interesting combo of genres, I appreciate the novelty, but the game is only okay at best in my opinion. At least it’s not expensive if you do want to check it out.

Gladiator Trainer is available on Steam for 0.55$ USD.

Also note that I won’t be posting next Friday, as I’ll be on a trip. However, I’m going to resume posting the Friday after that.... and it will be the start of that long-promised 11th anniversary review!