'Valheim' Is the Elder Scrolls Game Bethesda Wishes It Could Still Make

Set in the tenth purgatory world of Norse mythology, Valheim is a third-person survival game with a massive procedural map to explore, dungeons to crawl, and seas to sail. Vanquishing a series of “Forsaken” bosses rewards players with new abilities and tools. With more than four million downloads, the game has an impressive amount of polish for being in early access.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/pkd9wy/valheim-is-the-elder-scrolls-game-bethesda-wishes-it-could-still-make
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No, it really isn’t.

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I was just about to say. I’m not too familiar with Valheim outside of podcast discussions on the Giant Bombcast and Waypoint Radio, but it feels closer to Minecraft or Ark than Elder Scrolls. I suppose you could point to the Nordic themed open world as a comparison to Skyrim, but what appealed to me in that game is the buttload of dialogue and interactions you can have with folks that were separate from the combat and crafting verb vocabulary. Valheim does not have those elements to any significant degree as far as I’m aware, although perhaps I missed that aspect of the game.

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I think Bethesda is perfectly happy with Skyrim’s success.

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Yeah, Valheim reads like another Rust or Minecraft. I come to The Elder Scrolls games (smack in the middle of my third trip through Skyrim right now, as a matter of fact) for the more artisanal nature of its world and storytelling. Someone wrote those stories and crated that world - not an algorithm.

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There’s been a recent shift in how Skyrim is remembered, and it’s baffling to me! I played Skyrim again last year, and even though there’s no way to recapture a lot of what I loved about my first playthrough, it holds up extremely well! The jank is there, but I think it is exaggerated how much it actually affects the experience. It’s just a really well realized world with a lot of interesting places and little stories to discover.

I think part of this change in the collective opinion has to do with Fallout 4 being somewhat disappointing. But, even then, I think that has more to do with the setting. Watching the Ranged Touch series Too Much Future has made it so clear to me that (at least in my opinion) the Fallout world never really was that interesting, and never really had that much to say. I liked Fallout 4 fine, but Skyrim just feels more like a place I’d like to spend my time.

Maybe this is my “old person yelling at cloud” moment (I’m not even that old, I’m still in my 20s!) but all the Skyrim hate really bums me out!

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I think this is definitely a case of the headline being needlessly combative, and miscommunicating what the article is (that’s just headlines though). The article does make good points in how by having just that little bit more direction than in many survival games, it ends up recreating some of the feelings I felt in the later Elder Scrolls games.

Yes, Elder Scrolls games have much more involved stories - and if I were only allowed to compare it to one game I’d have to say “Minecraft” - but Valheim certainly captures parts of at least Oblivion and Skyrim in some of its broader systems and how it feels to inhabit the world.

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Yeah, there’s a generalised and widespread anti-Bethesda backlash that is, I think, emblematic of everything wrong with how people talk about games these days. I mean, the No Mutants Allowed guys have been out for their blood since it was announced that they got the Fallout license 15 years ago, but the real backlash started when they tried to add Steam Workshop support to Skyrim and somehow people decided that Valve’s unmoderated shitshow was Bethesda’s fault? And then that just opened the floodgates and turned them into an Acceptable Target.

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Nicole’s thesis statement applies particularly well to TES: Daggerfall. Daggerfall had this huge empty map that was filled with procedurally generated towns, dungeons and terrain. It was deeply interested in fantasy medieval simulation rather than cinematic presentation.

The dungeons were beyond weird, twisted messes of 3 dimensional tunnels, occasionally hiding vaults that you needed to solve a riddle to open, but more often just contained bad geometry that would send you into the abyss. You equipped your armour in something like 14 pieces (left and right pauldrons). There were pcg houses to rob (that often felt nothing like an actual house. Just huge empty spaces 30 feet high.

I still haven’t played Valheim, but it sounds like it shares a lot of creative genetics with Daggerfall.

With Daggerfall, though, the whole thing was a million miles wide, but not particularly deep. And I think it was that sense that drove them to make Morrowind what it was: a hand crafted weird as hell fantasy empire. If Daggerfall could have conjured up the feeling of place with procedural content that Valheim has, I’m not sure Morrowind, Oblivion or Skyrim would have been what they are.

I also strongly disagree with the Skyrim hate. I think it’s a case of “familiarity breeds contempt”. It’s a very good game that still provides a sense of exploration and adventure to people who have yet to play it, or one of its thousand inheritors. There’s a reason why Bethesda would be happy to port it to a toaster, if a toaster could run it: it’d still sell.

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That was more about people realizing that what used to be free and expected was possibly about to become paid content. I would say both Valve and Bethesda messed that up when it came to moderation in determining who made and was owed what on the legal end which I think they honestly could have gotten right if given some time and a small dedicated team.

The outrage though was people pretending to have modders interests at heart saying the modders didn’t want this that they’re already getting paid through donations when really they just didn’t want future free toys taken away from them.

I am still upset about a bunch of gamers killing off what was genuinely IMO a decent idea for getting people paid for their work.

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Got me with the headline too! I understand the feeling Nicole is invoking but as interesting as Valheim sounds I don’t think it quite ticks the Elders Scrolls boxes for me.

It does make me wonder why after the huge success of Skyrim other developers haven’t tried to copy the formula. You can definitely see Skyrim’s influence in games like the Witcher 3 or even Breath of the Wild but there’s not really any direct copies. Too expensive and too big a risk to take maybe.

You need an astonishing amount of development resources to put together something on the scale of Skyrim, which is why you only ever really see Bethesda or Ubisoft go after it. And you’d have to find an IP that could support something like that.

I think people are being a tad harsh on the premise. I agree with Nicole’s premise as it applies to certain elements, the elements that spark that nostalgia and familiarity of what Elder Scrolls games USED to be instead of what they currently are.

To some extent, I do believe Bethesda wishes or thinks there games are what Valheim provides, huge blank canvases of immersive space that feels like an actual world you’re naturally discovering. As time has gone on, Bethesda games have lost the feeling. I don’t care that NPC’s go to bed or whatnot, to me the entirety of Skyrim felt like walking around through Disney World. That shit might LOOK like the Eiffel Tower, but it’s 20 feet tall and on top of the roof of something else. Their weird clockwork automatons offer some vague resemblance of a world but it falls apart after the slightest nudge. After a while exploration feels boring because you know what’s going to inside every cave or behind every locked door, just more of the same crap you’ve seen before.

Valheim feels like a new and interesting world I’m actually exploring. Part of it is the novelty, part of it is the wildness of it, and part of it is the genuine feel of a massive world going about it’s business regardless of my presence and often annoyed by it. Now yes, once I’m 100 hours in and I’ve seen every biome that will fade, but I don’t feel that overly artificial hand at every moment like I do in modern Elder Scrolls games. Every bit of Skyrim feels like it was made for me to find it, Valheim feels like I’m constantly stumbling on weird interactions and procedural generation gone wild.

Given the way Bethesda makes games they could never make that work as their story requires a certain amount of tailoring, but I do genuinely believe that they want walking through the wilderness to feel like exploring in Valheim instead of stretches of nothing pockmarked with capital C Content with a big arrow pointing towards it.

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How you describe Skyrim is precisely how I’d describe both Oblivion and Morrowind. Morrowind might be a bit quirkier and have a more fleshed out story due to being text based but the world is even more static than Skyrim. I can boot up Morrowind today, get off the boat in Seyda Neen and see the wizard fall from the sky just like I did 19 years ago.

That’s not to knock the games. A large static world that I can interact with in my own way is exactly what I come to Elder Scrolls games for. And not what I’ll find in a procedurally generated game like Valheim.

Nicole is writing about how Morrowind used to make her feel, playing it as a 10 year old. I don’t think anyone is invalidating that feeling. Having played it at 17 it’s not the feeling the game invoked in me. I have similar fond memories of playing Daggerfall at 12. The constant mystery, not knowing if the next dungeon will hold a high level Lich who will one shot me or an impassable bit of level geometry that makes completing a quest impossible! Fun memories but definitely not what I want in TES VI.

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