Let’s not beat around the bush on this one: Valkyrie Elysium is not a good game. Outside of one specific enemy design, there isn’t a single thing I like about it. Not the characters, not the graphics, not the story, not the level design, not the world-building, and no, not even the combat. From top to bottom, this is about as mediocre of an action RPG title that you’re going to find on the market, one that would arguably be passable if it were rushed out the door to meet the launch date of the PS3 rather than one releasing nearly two years into the life-cycle of the PS5.
Valkyrie Elysium is not a game I enjoyed playing, and it’s one I’m even less enthusiastic about writing about.
Story spoilers ahead
So what exactly is wrong with it? Well, a lot. Let’s start with the story, which puts you in the shoes of a Valkyrie who’s sent to cleanse the world of souls before Ragnarok. While she initially swears her allegiance to her creator, the All-Father Odin, she soon comes to understand that things are not exactly as they seem. And as she begins to uncover the truth behind her mission, you’ll likely come to terms with the truth that you’ve seen this hackneyed story a dozen times before. Valkyrie Elysium has an instantly forgettable narrative, one with all the emotional depth of an episode of NCIS: Los Angeles.
Valkyrie herself is part of the problem. She isn’t a very compelling protagonist, made all the less interesting by the paint-by-numbers character arc she’s stuck in. The rest of the cast doesn't fare much better. Her recruitable allies known as Einherjar don’t really bring much to the table, and the All-Father Odin might as well have a big, neon sign over his Viserys Targaryen-looking ass that reads “Evil.”
Of course, it takes a while for that revelation to play out. In the meantime, you’ll be down in Midgard to smacking around some baddies across a frustratingly small number of levels. If you have played the demo, which covers the first chapter, know that you have essentially played the second chapter as well. That’s because Valkyrie Elysium reuses levels rather than giving each of the game’s nine chapters a unique setting. And it doesn’t reuse the levels later in the game. It reuses them right away. Chapters 1 and 2 are both set on the same map, as are chapters 3 and 4, 6 and 7, and 8 and 9.
Sure, there are slight differences between visits, but it doesn’t help with the sense of déjà vu. It would be one thing if I returned to a previously visited area much later in my adventure, but to go right back after I just finished an hour-long trek through the stage really blurs the lines between chapters, making them feel as though they’re much longer than they actually are. And that is to say nothing of how many times you’ll revisit parts of these stages for each individual side-quest you unlock.
It would probably be better if any of these levels were fascinating places to be in. But they’re not. They’re just big, linear, mostly brown and gray paths that lead you from one enemy encounter to the next. There is no dramatic architecture to admire or hidden paths that help tell the story of this dying world. It’s pretty much just funneling you from fight to fight with a bare minimum amount of exploration needed to find chests and the Hollow Blossoms that give you the slightest of glimpses into the lives of those who have passed into the afterlife.
You give me butterflies, but I don't really need them
In fact, these levels are so basic in their concept and layout, they actually negate the purpose of one of the game’s mechanics. Depending on which chapter you’re playing, you’ll be tasked with finding some keepsakes for each of the Einherjar you unlock. Holding down the R3 and L3 buttons will summon little butterflies that guide you toward the next keepsake you need. On the first map, with its awkward layout of a small town area where all the buildings look the same, this is necessary because it's so easy to get lost. But because of how linear the rest of the stages are, there is no need to use this feature beyond chapter 2. Every keepsake you need for the other three Einherjar is easily found along the only path you’re allowed to take through each level. It’s hard not to wonder if the butterflies were only added because playtesters kept getting stuck looking for all of Einherjar Eygon’s junk.
That wouldn’t be an issue if the art direction for this game allowed for a more distinct-looking world. Admittedly, there is an interesting clash of art styles that makes Valkyrie Elysium stand out in the current gaming landscape. But just because it's unique doesn't mean it's good, and many areas you'll venture through are pretty underwhelming when their vast vistas are masked by the haze in the distance.
This is my fight song
Finally, let’s look at combat. I’ve seen people online saying it is the saving grace of this game. On the surface, the combat in Valkyrie Elysium looks like it could be one of those complicated, easy-to-learn-difficult-to-master types of setups. But when I actually dug into the game and unlocked more of Valkyrie’s arsenal, I found it really doesn’t evolve beyond a simple two-button hack ’n’ slash despite everything being thrown into the mix.
For most of the game, you’ll have a few basic attacks at your disposal. Valkyrie can equip two weapons at any time, up to four "Divine Arts" (magic) attacks, and her four Einherjar. The typical enemy encounter will see you using all three in tandem. As all enemies have an elemental weakness that is clearly displayed when you lock onto them, the most efficient way through each battle is to use Arts or an Einherjar to attack a foe with whatever element they’re weak against until they enter the crushed phase where you be able to quickly whittle down their health bar with your melee weapon. No matter what kind of combat situation you’re in, that will always be the best strategy for getting through it.
In theory, that sounds like it could be a deep and rewarding system to learn. But in practice, the fights you have in chapter nine don’t differ that much from the ones you have in chapter two. Despite new enemy types being introduced and a wide array of elemental weaknesses to consider, Valkyrie Elysium’s combat is far too basic to be that engaging. The two-button combo formula just didn’t do it for me here. Even when considering the Soul Chain mechanic, which lets Valkyrie zip across the battlefield to attack foes and keep her combo growing, there wasn’t a single moment in this game where I thought I was having any fun with it. Combat is more routine than anything else, even when I was finding new moves and Arts for my hero to use in battle.
Valkyrie has three skill trees you’ll unlock using gems collected in every stage. As you work your way down each tree, she’ll unlock a number of ways to automatically summon her Einherjar during combat that picks away at whatever little difficulty there. The Einherjar grow in strength each time they are summoned, and I found my team was vastly overpowered for whatever grunts I was fighting by the time I reached the final two chapters of the game. I breezed through most of my battles, only ever stopping my constant onslaught to go into the menu so I could change up Divine Arts. There are a lot of elemental weaknesses to keep track of here, and I spent far more time than I would have liked to swapping out Arts on the pause screen.
There is a lot more I could harp on with this game, but I honestly don’t have it in me to be this negative anymore. Despite the cliche of the angry video game reviewer who “doesn’t even like video games,” it’s not that fun tearing down the work of people who haven’t done anything catastrophically wrong. Because there is nothing about Valkyrie Elysium that is outright bad or broken. It’s just the experience as a whole is so dreadfully dull.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]