At a recent Nintendo press event, I played a demo for Bayonetta 3, in which I tore through a procession of demonic enemies with monstrous clubs, incisive swords, and a collection of tri-barreled handguns. I also summoned friendly demons to fight by my side, and at one point, rode on the back of a demon ally who was, in turn, using a pair of train cars to water-ski through the narrow confines of a Tokyo canal. Having not played a Bayonetta game before, I left the event feeling both foolish and elated: Why have I not touched this series before? I thought. That absolutely ruled. I was now officially excited for the game’s Oct. 28 release.
Fast-forward to me, that evening, dabbling in my video game backlog, only to find them all lacking a certain panache. Assassin’s Creed Origins was a known quantity. Total War: Warhammer 3 would require too much thought. Even Vampire Survivors, which I count among my favorite games of the year, felt staid. For about an hour, I was sure Bayonetta 3 had ruined my existing library of games — until I tried Valkyrie Elysium.
In the most recent entry in Square Enix’s experimental slate of 2022 releases, you play the part of the titular Valkyrie, a proxy warrior sent by Odin to do damage control during the mythical apocalypse Ragnarok. As opposed to its more tactical predecessors in the Valkyrie series, Elysium plays out in action-focused, third-person combat — combo chains, elemental attacks, weapon swapping and all. The battle system unfurls slowly, pitting your character against homogenous enemy mobs while providing a limited move set. But by the third discrete level, I was grapple-hooking onto distant archers, targeting flankers’ elemental weaknesses, and juggling flying enemies before they even had a chance to fight.
The moments between combat are a mixture of exploration, platforming, and light puzzle-solving. Occasionally I’ll find camps where I can upgrade my weapons and tweak my loadout. Although I prefer the balanced approach of a broadsword, it can be easier to counter some enemies with the speed and ferocity of a rapier.
Furthermore (in keeping with a series motif), the protagonist also gradually builds a party of Einherjar — ethereal entities she can summon to fight by her side and enhance her weapons with elemental properties. They’re mainly useful as distractions, and they can’t touch the sheer spectacle of Bayonetta 3’s demons — but they’re an integral part of Elysium regardless. Even in early areas, combat is a satisfying loop between aerial combos, acrobatic attacks, and amplified elemental assaults.
I’m about six hours in, and while none of it has matched the excitement I found in 20 minutes’ worth of Bayonetta 3, it’s still a potent display of craft. Square Enix’s glut of fall 2022 releases has already accounted for one of my recent obsessions, and Valkyrie Elysium improves with every passing chapter. And so far, it’s tiding me over while I wait for Oct. 28.