The stamina system in Valheim is often noted as frustrating and intrusive; here is a simple but unintuitive fix for it.
I was talking with a fellow game designer and friend Scott Danielson about our experiences. He compared it to the stamina system of Dark Souls, which works well. The stamina system in Valheim is similar, but why is it so frustrating?
The stamina system in Valheim governs movement (running), gathering mechanics (mining, cutting trees), and combat (swinging weapons). With combat in both Valheim and Dark Souls, managing stamina allows you to win fights. When you have stamina, you can act offensively in combat; when you run out of stamina, you shift to defensive mode to avoid attacks, and you are still engaging in the combat.
The problem of the way stamina works in Valheim for movement and gathering is that when you are lacking stamina, this ends engagement with the game. This is particularly noticeable in the gathering mechanics, where when running out of stamina during mining, you simply stand and wait for it to recharge. Furthermore, this feels like an interruption because these systems interfere with each other. Running out of stamina means your character does nothing while you as a player are desperately mashing buttons. This shows a heightened interruption of the flow state, which Valheim otherwise cultivates well (especially with its sound design).
Before I discuss the easy fix, I asked what was the purpose of stamina depletion during resource gathering. Scott stated that it makes players vulnerable, which heightens the survival aspect. It serves a role here in the genre of the game, and should be kept.
The easy fix is to make it so that gathering can continue even when stamina is depleted, so players can continue to mine even when their stamina bar is empty. However, combat functions normally, with attacks only being effective while players have stamina. This still makes players vulnerable to attack, but allows them to continue to play the game when their stamina is out.
That solves the problem that arises in resource gathering, but I don’t love the way stamina works for running, either. My tweak: base movement speed is a little bit faster, and sprinting is much faster, but depletes stamina much more quickly as well. Think of sprinting in Skyrim.
This is because a common problem in games is that the sprinting/running speed versus the default movement speed is merely a way to get players to where they want to go faster, and therefore get to experience more of the game sooner. The stamina bar that usually accompanies sprinting/running is an arbitrary developer-made limit on how much the player can accelerate the experience of the game. There is a place for this limitation in certain genres, but often, a sprinting/stamina system is simply added without considering its purpose.
Because faster movement speed usually leads to arriving at more game content sooner, players will always want to move faster. So why not just allow players to arrive to that content faster by increasing the base movement speed? Distances in Valheim are large. With existing mechanics like hunting and gathering, there is still a space and purpose for slow, careful movements, which sneaking allows.
Making sprinting faster but deplete the stamina meter deplete rapidly as well would make the sprinting something that is useful in specific applications like combat and avoiding hazards, but not generally used. That way, when stamina is depleted from sprinting, it feels earned: you used a skill that led to a cooldown, rather than feeling that the stamina bar running is stopping you from experiencing the game.
What do you think about these tweaks to Valheim’s stamina system? Is there anything you’d change, or any suggestions I made that you’d do differently?