Game of the Year 2021: Valheim

PC

Here it is: PC Gamer’s Game of the Year for 2021. To see the full awards, head over to our GOTY 2021 hub.

Lauren Morton, Associate Editor: The week Valheim launched, I scoffed. “Do we really need another early access crafting survival game?” Whether or not we needed one, the appetite that my friends and I developed for scarfing down over 100 hours of Viking survival time within a month suggested we very much wanted one.

Valheim looks like any other crafting-survival game. You begin by picking up rocks and sticks, slapping together a crude stone ax, and then chopping down every tree in sight. In practice, it’s full of twists. The building system, with supports and structural integrity, challenged me to finally think about base building as a technical puzzle instead of just an aesthetic one. The food system that required me to think about boosting my health and stamina convinced me that I should spare a thought for cooking after I couldn’t be bothered to do so in any other game. Small touches, like needing to touch a resource before discovering what I could craft with it, made for a bit of extra delight. 

Ultimately, that all my friends wanted to spend countless late nights together planning some grand longboat expedition across a sea we’d yet to cross or into the swamps is what I love about Valheim. Millions of people spending two months absorbed in an Early Access game made by a tiny studio is the kind of magic I adore about PC gaming. I’d easily call this the high point of our year.

Christopher Livingston, Features Producer: It says something about the size and scope of Valheim that I played for probably 20 hours before I realized: Oh, I’m on an island, not a continent. I’m on a little tiny tutorial island, and there’s a massive world out there full of other stuff I haven’t even seen yet. 

And the day I left my island, bringing everything I could carry onto my shabby little wooden raft and setting off across a vast ocean, headed toward the unknown, was a thrilling adventure. Absolutely nothing happened on the voyage, by the way. Night fell, it rained a bit, and I reached the coast of another island in one piece. But I spent the entire trip peering into the gloom, my heart in my throat, feeling like a tiny vulnerable Viking in a big, dark world stuck with me. And every trip I make into the unknown in Valheim, whether it’s a quick one to gather supplies or a major one to explore a new biome or battle a boss, feels like a bold adventure with that same awe and wonder I felt on my first shaky voyage.

Every trip I make into the unknown in Valheim, whether it’s a quick one to gather supplies or a major one to explore a new biome or battle a boss, feels like a bold adventure

Jacob Ridley, Senior Hardware Editor: Like Lauren, I was done with survival games when Valheim rolled around. Well, I thought I was. Tune in a month or so later, and I’ve played over 100 hours of Valheim and counting. There was just something so wonderfully accessible about the look and feel of Valheim’s world, that there’s always something to keep you occupied, be that building or exploration.

I spent tens of hours building a beautiful manor on top of a precariously placed rock in one of the most inhospitable biomes in Valheim—racing to have the highest tower against a friend who set up on the next rock over. I sailed across the ocean to find the best sources of ore to smelt to build up towns and villages spanning islands. I set up trade routes with friends in other areas of the world, and we attempted to create bridges and canals, partially changing the face of the landscape where I’d only wandered into as a freshly dead warrior weeks before.

It’s truly the most fun I’ve had in a game all year, and it offered a great opportunity to share that enjoyment with my friends as we explored and shaped our shared server together.

(Image credit: Iron Gate Studios)

Sarah James, Guides writer: I didn’t expect to devote hundreds of hours to Valheim when I first picked it up. I went into it with fairly low expectations, but I can honestly say that I haven’t been that excited to get back to playing a game since World of Warcraft first got its hooks into me years ago. I swear the game has some kind of time-warping capabilities—I’d load up my Valheim world at say, 8 p.m., intending to play for a couple of hours, then look up to discover that it was well into the early hours of the morning.

I seemed to spend most of my time planning to do one specific thing, then I’d get distracted by something else—for literal hours—before remembering the original thing I was planning to do. That you don’t have to worry about starving—or any other brutal survival mechanic—really makes the game for me. You can take it at your own pace and play however you want. This clearly worked for me, as I ended up racking up just over 300 hours before even attempting the third boss. I just had far too much fun building bases, exploring, and taming wolves.

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