I'm glad Valheim has PvP, but thank god it isn't the focus

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)
Conquer Viking purgatory with these Valheim guides

Valheim Stagbreaker war hammer

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

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Valheim dedicated server: How to get one working
Valheim copper: How to get it
Valheim map: The best world seeds
Valheim seeds: How to plant them
Valheim iron: How to get it
Valheim Elder: Summon and beat the second boss
Valheim boar: How to tame one
Valheim armor: The best sets
Valheim commands: Handy cheat codes

In Valheim, avoiding PvP takes a simple, single mouse click. You don't have to search through a long list for PvE-only servers. You don't need to add a filter to the browser for the word "friendly" (plus friendly servers, in other games, often wind up not being very friendly at all). You don't need to post in the subreddit for a desperate recommendation of servers where people won't kill you on sight the second you spawn in.

To avoid PvP in Valheim you just click an icon in your menu to turn PvP damage off, and then blissfully play for hours without a target painted on your back. And thank god for that. The focus in Valheim is on cooperative play, and that's a large part of what makes such a refreshing survival game.

I'm not saying I haven't enjoyed PvP in multiplayer survival games. DayZ is one of my favorite games ever, and most of that was due to the PvP—or at least the tension of encountering other players and wondering if PvP was about to happen. I've liked fighting other players in Rust, Ark, Conan: Exiles, and other multiplayer survival games which thrive, in large part, because of their focus on PvP.

But in survival games where PvP is the main focus, it can sometimes feel like it's the only focus. Over time, DayZ evolved into a place where PvP was all but guaranteed. If you met someone in the world, that someone was definitely going to shoot you instead of just probably going to shoot you. The tension I enjoyed so much when encountering another player was gone because everyone just started killing each other on sight, not willing to take the risk of talking to someone.

Early on in Rust I often met helpful (or at least indifferent) strangers, but the past few times I played I was just attacked immediately even though it was clear I had no worthwhile loot. It's the natural course of playing survival games with PvP that people eventually get burned once too often by being friendly, and just starting shooting first.

Above: Rust players square off (Image credit: Facepunch Studios)

The lack of a PvP focus just makes things simpler for everyone, devs and players alike. Even when players are into PvP, that doesn't mean they agree on when it's acceptable and when it isn't. Just look at the recent drama in Rust, when scores of streamers all started playing together on the same server. Some felt (not wrongly) that killing each other was always fair game. Others thought (again, not wrongly) that constant PvP got in the way of roleplaying. Several streamers stopped playing on the server after just a few days because it didn't support their particular style.

When Fallout 76 arrived in 2018, it supported PvP, but not without problems. Bethesda tried to avoid griefing by making sure players had to "agree" to a fight with another player by fighting back—otherwise the attacking player did no damage. Which, oddly enough, led to situations where there was more griefing over the mic to goad reluctant players into fighting.

Bethesda also didn't want players to lose too much loot after a fight, so people only dropped junk after being killed rather than weapons or gear... which meant PvP wasn't even worth the bother. Bethesda eventually created special survival servers with no PvP restrictions, but ultimately came away surprised players were far more interested in playing cooperatively. It was a lot of work and headaches for a community that largely didn't want to spend time killing each other. They wanted to work together, like you do in Valheim.

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

Not that you can't still grief other players in Valheim, even with PvP off. Lead a angry troll to someone's base and watch it collapse from a few swings from its pine tree club. Edit a portal tag so instead of transporting someone to their home base it sends them falling off a sheer cliff. If they don't have a protective ward stone placed at their base I imagine you can deconstruct someone's fort or raid their loot or throw their belongings into the sea. You don't need PvP enabled to mess with someone.

But I'm glad PvP in Valheim is an option, because there are plenty of great uses for it. Building a fighting pit where players can go at it in tournaments or to settle disputes is a fun idea. For hardcore players, keeping PvP damage on acts as friendly fire so they need to be more careful when fighting PvE enemies in a group.

And I can definitely see the appeal of sharing a PvP-focused server with a hostile clan of Viking players. Raiding another group's settlement at dawn in longboats sounds awesome. Fighting over a portion of the map, competing for resources, turning on one another, that can all be part of healthy roleplaying on a server.

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

I wouldn't be surprised if PvP gains some more features during Valheim's stint in Early Access, and I'm sure a lot of players would enjoy that.

But for me, it's perfect how it is right now. Completely optional. Simple to turn on and off. It's a part of Valheim, but it's not the point of Valheim, and it's easy to ignore completely if it's not your thing. Maybe someday I'll engage in it a bit more, but for now my friends and I only kill each other when we all agree, like when we're playing tree chicken. I'm happy PvP exists in Valheim, but I'm even happier it's not the focus.

Christopher Livingston
Staff Writer

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.