Disclosure ‐ The review copy of this game was kindly provided to us by the developers, Daedalic Entertainment.
Will you rise and reach Valhalla?
Valhalla Hills, made by Daedalic Entertainment, is a real time strategy game in the style of the settlers. Fundamentally unique from strategy games like Age of Empires, Valhalla Hills harks instead to the more passive game, The Settlers. The latest game in that franchise was a great game that was sadly hamstrung by Ubisofts DRM. So, how well does this game compare to such a titan in the RTS scene…
For those who have not experienced this kind of game before, Valhalla Hills only allows for indirect control of units. You are unable to select characters and dictate their movements. Instead all the interaction you have with the game is done via your buildings. If you tell your chaps to build a Woodcutters, then an unemployed unit will go off, gather the resources and then build it.
As you may guess, this style of game is quite heavily focused on managing resources. Building a robust supply chain is the name of the game. For example, many buildings require planks to be built, to get planks you need a Woodcutter to chop down trees, then a Sawmill to finish them off. Trees as a renewable resource don’t grow back unless someone plants them, but who works faster, the Forester planing trees or the Woodcutter cutting trees? (It is the Forester, generally you can have two or three Woodcutters per Forester.)
Of course, all these peeps then require feeding. Something which, as you can see, I am not very good at. Setting up a successful food chain which then supports your other buildings is just another element which requires balancing.
This inability to control precise movement of your dudes fundamentally adjusts the way you are forced to construct your village. While players can place down Woodcutters, they are unable to dictate which trees they chop. They will normally chop the trees located nearest to their workshop. However, if you want an area cleared so that you can expand your village into it, then you must build a Woodchopper and place paths to through the trees you want removed.
This lack of direct control is what actually makes this style of game so nice. As a player, you are able to issue commands and then just sit back and watch them roll out.
Therein lies also lies the key point of risk. As you cannot control your Vikings you are entirely reliant on the villagers AI being top notch. Unfortunately, for me at least, it does seem a little weak in places. I have played many games where I have been needing food so I build a Fishing Lodge and end up waiting a long time for not only the lodge to build, but for the tools to be made. I have seen my villagers on the opposite side of the town, wandering, instead of working where they should be. They would walk the length of the town for food, only to be hungry by the time they return to their work places. Even though I had couriers set up to distribute my food further into the village, the worker there wouldn’t work because he too was hungry.
While I understand that many of these issues were caused by my own inability to make a solid food chain (see above), I cannot help but feel that the AI exasperated a bad situation into a much worse one.
Valhalla Hills boasts that the developers are the same as those who worked on The Settlers II and Cultures. These are two games which helped define the genre. I am pleased to say that the game is of a quality at least equal to these two games.
There are many places where you can see how the developers have built upon their prior experience. They have added the function to numerous buildings called carriers. This is of awesome importance for places like the Bakery. To produce bread, players much grow wheat, grind it to flour at the mill, combine that with wood at the bakery to then cook the bread. This chain means that the Bakery needs two resources to function, wood and flour. If the baker did all the walking to collect the resources themselves then nothing would ever get made.
By adding carriers to a building you give more time for the baker to make their bread without having to leave the Bakery. The carrier will go off and get the raw resources so the baker can just make their bread. This means that often there will not only be a single person working at each building.
Some values for supplies also seems strange. A fish has a nutrition value of 5, bread is worth 8 and a fish sandwich is worth… 10?! I do not understand this. It would be more effective for me to feed people fish and bread, rather than a fish sandwich.
There are some problems that this causes. To use the bread chain as an example again; There will be one peep working at the wheat farm, two at the mill, two at the bakery. This is 4 people to make three bread. One loaf of bread reduces a persons hunger by 8. A Fishing lodge on the other hand… uses 1 person to catch fish which is worth 5 nutrition.
Maybe my mills, bakers and farmers were not working efficiently enough (even though they were all right next to each other with roads) but the result was that they were not able to produce enough food to feed themselves, let alone the rest of the village.
Additionally, for a game that is based around creating solid supply chains I do have an information problem. The tutorial is good, but there is a lot of detail that is missing. At no point did I notice anything that indicated that a bakery turns one bag of flour and one wood into 3 loaves of bread.This is super important stuff when you are trying to smooth out issues in your village. I understand that it is not the kind of stuff you want to put right at the front, but it should be available somewhere. I cannot find a help section anywhere.
Controls on the whole are ok and they are mostly about the camera. You can rotate, zoom and pan quite easily using combinations of right click, scroll and middle mouse button. I have experieced problems when scrolling that the zoom in and out do not seem to happen at the same rate, and when zooming in, rather than zooming in on the camera position, instead it zooms to the mouse. I hate this. It is a shame since, as you can see from all the screenshots thought this article, it is a very pretty game.
So, how do I feel about Valhalla Hills? It is really quite hard to say.
My main reservations are centred on the manner in which players are taught how to play. The initial levels are used as a way to ease the player into the game and this works well. However, there is also a lot of detail missing, and it is this detail which is critical to creating the perfect village. I also think that the AI tweaked here and there to make recovering from a poor position much less time consuming.
That said, while Daedelic have created a game which addresses quite a niche audience. They have made it very well. It is a beautiful feeling when you can sit back and just watch your village go. It is very relaxing to just watch your little Vikings going about their daily lives.
Overall I have enjoyed my time playing this game, even though sometimes I have just found it hard to keep on playing. I will be watching updates as they come through and I fully expect to jump back in again in the future. For people who have not played a game like this before, this is a great place to start.