A survival fan with thousands of hours on survival games and still a desire to chop trees.
Leveling in Valheim
Progression in Valheim is fairly simple. There is a skill for each major activity you can do, and when doing that activity, you will earn experience toward leveling up in that skill. Improving your skill level will enhance the activity's effectiveness. For example, dealing damage to enemies with a sword will level up your sword skill, making you do a little bit more damage.
Experience is granted most often on hitting or damage dealt. Most non-combat skills are granted effectively while spending stamina on the action. This includes run, swim, and sneak. However, sneak grants minimal experience unless you are sneaking within range of an enemy that has not detected you. For farming skills, it's a bit unique. Pickaxing will level up as long as you do damage hitting something. It does not need to be a node. Wood cutting will only level up if the axe is hitting a tree, otherwise the axe skill will level up.
Impact of Leveling
When a skill is leveled up, that specific activity is improved. You can see specifically how it is improved by highlighting the skill. It won't tell you by how much, just what element is improved. For example, increasing your run level increases your speed and decreases your stamina drain while running. The impact is fairly minimal over a single level, but it becomes substantial over time. For example, at level 1, your jump skill allows you to jump 3 meters high. At level 60, this is up to 4 meters. It's a minor difference in percent, but it's a fairly meaningful difference in terms of how effectively you can jump around hills or structures.
For a quick rundown of what each skill affects, refer to the table below. However, do note that the below tables reflects what the game shows, but several things are left out. For example, skills with weapons increase damage, but they also reduce stamina usage. Leveling up with bows also decreases the charge time.
Speed and stamina drain while running
Damage when unarmed
Damage with clubs
Damage abosrbed when blocking with a weapon or shield
Damage with axes
Axe damage when hitting trees
Damage with bows
Stamina drain and stealthiness when sneaking
Stamina drain when swimming
Damage with knives
Damage with spears
Damage with pickaxes
Damage with swords
Damage with polearms
Bow Charge Rate
Sneaky Ways to Level
While you'll end up leveling by just playing the game, and for the most part that is completely sufficient, you can give yourself a boost. Given how the game functions, there are a few sneaky ways to level up rapidly.
Combat experience is granted with damage inflicted. Let's say you want to use that shiny new blackmetal sword but haven't put any time into leveling swords. You can simply slash your own structures over and over again to accrue skill ups. Then simply repair that structure for free and be on your way. Similarly, you can do this with PvP and a partner can level up blocking while you level up whatever weapon you choose.
Unfortunately, hitting multiple trees at once does not increase your leveling rate. However, to gather wood faster and level up faster you should plant a bunch of trees closely together so you spend your stamina swinging an axe and not running around. Furthermore, the trees will fall over and damage each other, doing some of the work for you.
Ultimately, leveling in Valheim is a function of spending stamina. So for this and many more reasons it's wise to invest in the right food to maintain your stamina. I personally prefer making a lot of bread as it grants 70 max stamina and 40 max health for 1800 seconds. Long enough to do many activities. Bread is crafted with barley flour which comes from the plains, so I recommend building a farm in the plains to cultivate. Additionally, be sure to stack comfort buffs to maximize stamina regeneration!
When a player dies in Valheim, they lose 5% of their total levels for each skill. This is harsh, and particularly harsh if you're higher level. Be mindful of your food and health as it can be quite easy to die for silly reasons when you're out of food simply running around the base. Fortunately, after dying you receive the "No skill drain" buff, preventing this experience drain from happening again for 10 minutes. This allows you to go try to claim your body with less fear of consequences. After claiming your body, you will receive the corpse run buff, decreasing your stamina usage and increasing your resistances so you can fight or get away from a dangerous situation without immediately dying again.
The Valheim leveling system doesn't leave much room for creative or strategic play, however it doesn't really have to. Simply play the game the way you wish to play it and you will slowly get better at it. No necessary grinding, nor any huge impact from doing so. Additionally, nothing is gated on level so you can largely ignore the system. For the vibe of the game, this generally feels appropriate but may leave a more systems preferred player a bit bored.