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Valheim felt like a typical survival game until I summoned an angry heavy metal stag from Valhalla

Conquer Viking purgatory with these Valheim guides

Valheim Stagbreaker war hammer

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

Valheim boss: Summon and defeat them all
Valheim workbench: How to build and upgrade it
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

An hour into co-op Viking survival game Valheim I made a pretty major mistake, and wound up running for my life and losing just about everything I'd collected and crafted.

But I learned something important: If a talking crow offers you a bit of advice, listen to him.

In Valheim, which released on Steam Early Access today, I'm a Viking warrior who was slain in combat, and my soul has been deposited in a sort of Norse purgatory where I'm meant to remain until I've destroyed Odin's enemies. Despite the fantastical setup (I'm dropped into the world by a giant bird the size of a small airplane) it's a pretty standard survival experience. At first.

Odin didn't bother to provide me with even a second-hand horned helmet or rusty sword, so I run around picking up sticks and rocks to craft a stone axe, which I use to chop down trees and bushes for more wood. (I'm playing solo, but you can play Valheim with up to 10 co-op players.) I build a crafting bench and a bed to use as a respawn point, which both need to have a roof above them to use, so I run around gathering tons more wood to build a tiny, boxy home. I gather berries for food, craft a wooden club and shield, and batter some boars to death for meat and leather. Night falls and a few offputting, spindly creatures called greylings shamble out of the woods, their eyes glowing. In between killing them, I gather more wood, and finally get a little sleep in my bed.

Guidance comes from a large, talking crow who appears at times with little tips, and it leads me to an altar in the woods where I'm supposed to place... something. The crow doesn't say what I'm supposed to place there, it only warns me that the correct object will summon one of the Forsaken, some sort of powerful beast I'll need to defeat. A nearby shrine looks like a deer, so I assume I need to kill one to activate the altar, and after a few attempts with my club I realize I'll need to craft a bow and arrows first. That takes more leather than I've got, so I kill a dozen or so more boars. Again, very standard survival stuff.

After finally taking down a few deer, I've got a object to place on the altar. The crow warned me I should be well-equipped and wearing quality armor before summoning the Forsaken, and I'm dressed in rags with basic wooden weapons. But I've honestly had enough tree-chopping and boar-bashing that I just want to do something different. I go ahead and summon it.

I should have listened to the crow.

Valheim suddenly gets utterly and gloriously metal. The activated altar summons Eikthyr, a massive, shadowy stag with glowing red eyes and chains wrapped around its mighty, jagged antlers. Naturally, there's some epic metal music, too (you can hear it in the gif above if you click the speaker icon).

It's awesome! And kinda scary. I'm so startled I run directly through my campfire, which sets me ablaze, not the best way to begin a boss fight. But it doesn't really matter. The heavy metal staglord beats the absolute shit out of me. As the crow warned me, I needed to be ready, and I definitely wasn't. Eikthyr (I assume based on Eikþyrnir, a stag from Valhalla in Norse mythology) crashes into me with its antlers, sends me reeling with massive electrical bursts, and only takes tiny slivers of damage from my arrows and club.

I try to hide in my crappy hut and cheese the fight, firing arrows at Eikthyr through a gap in the walls while standing on my bed. It's not like it's gonna come into my house, right?

Wrong. The mighty stag isn't shy and obliterates 50 percent of my hut with one toss of its head. Then it turns around, clops away, and returns a moment later to bring the rest of my roof down. I die pretty quickly, spawning back at my original starting point since my bed's been destroyed along with my house.

I run back and gather my gear, which is about 10 feet from the rampaging Eikthyr, and we battle some more before I'm killed yet again. I run back, grab my stuff, and flee, hoping to have time to rebuild and prepare more. No dice. The stag follows me across the map, killing me twice more. Finally, I manage to shave enough HP off him to win the fight. At the end of the battle, my home is wrecked and all my weapons have been degraded so much they're unusable. I wound up defeating him with my woodsman's axe because my club and bow were completely broken.

With that shaky victory under my belt, I repair my gear, vow to not summon any more rampaging monsters from Valhalla until I'm properly equipped, and carefully stray a bit further into the procedurally generated world. The map is huge, and another hour of exploration only shows me a small slice of it. 

It's also quite beautiful—Valheim has an interesting lo-fi look. Characters, creatures, and animations are a bit retro, a bit PS2, but there are some lovely visual and lighting effects that give it a modern feel at the same time.

I run into more of those weird spindly creatures near a crumbling tower, and after defeating them I discover I can actually take over the tower by placing a crafting bench inside it. I can make it my new home or disassemble it for resources. In fact, I find a lot of little ruined huts and structures in the world, meaning I don't always need to build my homes from scratch.

Further on I battle a few skeletons outside a cave, and venture into some narrow passages to look for new resources. I'm still using a wooden club and wearing rags, and I'm keen to start smelting metal and making proper weapons. The skeletons are tough for me, though, and I wind up barely escaping with my life and not much metal ore to show for it.

One of the biggest challenges in Valheim is managing my stamina, because the meter is small and sprinting, using weapons, and even walking in a crouch for stealth drains it quickly. That makes it tough to sneak and fight effectively—by the time I've snuck up on an enemy I'm too tired to draw back my bow, and sprinting during a fight leaves me too tired to even lift my club. Defeating Eikthyr gave me a special power I can activate, though, that buffs my stamina while running and jumping, but even using it I still feel decidedly weak.

I eventually reach the shimmering sea, though dreams of crafting a Viking longboat and sailing the mysterious waters are cut short when I'm killed by a mob of those weird creatures a few moments later. My spawn point is way back in the tower I took over, meaning I've got a long run back to the coast to gather my gear. I think I might just have to start over from scratch again, or maybe recruit some friends to help me.

Valheim entered Early Access today, where it's expected to spend about a year, according to developer Iron Gate. In the meantime, there are five (of a planned nine) different biomes to discover, and in two hours of play I'd barely made my way through a portion of one of them. And while initially I felt a bit bored by the standard survival game activities, the more I played Valheim the more I began to enjoy it. I'm interested in discovering more of what's hidden in the world, building myself a proper Viking home, and maybe, when I'm definitely more prepared, summoning another terrifying metal Norse monster.

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 stories in RPGs so he can make up his own.