Valhalla Knights: Eldar Saga
The downfall of mankind began with a meteor shower. Those little space rocks were a bad omen; not long after they fell, legions of monsters swarmed across the countryside. Millions were slaughtered, society collapsed, and the few remaining survivors of the various races banded together to save what was left. It took them a while, but they managed to drive back the hordes and lived happily ever after. Their descendants, on the other hand, weren’t so lucky. Evil has returned to the land of Eldar, and it’s making up for lost time. With the centuries-old alliances long forgotten, the forces of good are at their weakest. It’s up to you to crusade through Eldar and reunite everyone before the world slips into another age of chaos…
No, seriously. The plot is that generic.
The characters are even worse. The only remotely interesting person in the game is your benefactor, a wheelchair-bound child hailing from a lineage of mages. It’s a creative design, but the writing kills any appeal. The lines are delivered with a boring, simple style devoid of any emotion. Same goes with most of the NPCs; your love interest emits a little “tee hee” before blandly wishing you a safe trip as you head off on yet another potentially suicidal mission. The blacksmiths, the guys at the tavern, the drunken priest, and everyone else you’ll ever encounter have no personality whatsoever. The protagonist isn‘t much better, either. He (or she, when you play the second chapter) is not only silent, but lacks basic facial expressions. The most you’ll ever get out of your character is a shrug, hand motion, or the occasional grunt. Needless to say, this isn’t the most compelling story ever conceived.
But if the half-assed story isn’t enough of a turnoff, the gameplay will send you reeling. Valhalla Knights takes the conventional approach by having you start off in a small hub town, sign up for repetitive missions, and spend the rest of your time hacking and slashing your way through the surrounding wilderness. That would have been fine, if not unoriginal. The problem is that nearly every aspect of your crusade is utterly flawed. You’ll realize it long before you even make it out of town, let alone to the obligatory tutorial dungeon. As your character starts walking, you’ll hear a clip-bang-clop-bang sound effect. You might look around in confusion, thinking that the local blacksmith is busy working or a horse got loose. But it’s neither. It’s you. Your character’s footsteps sound like someone hammering a nail. Of all the things that are wrong with this game, that’s easily the most obvious and annoying aspect of all.
Even if you can deal with those headache-inducing footfalls, you won’t get far before running into another problem. The realm of Eldar is a vast expanse of open fields, rocky terrain, and mountainous passageways. It’d be almost beautiful, if you could actually make any of it out. The majority of the land is made up the same grainy textures and drab colors. It’s bad enough that you can’t discern some structures and trails without consulting a map, but the atmospheric effects make it ridiculous. Thanks to some poorly rendered lighting and shadows, you’ll end up hammer-walking into corners and obstacles because you can’t see where you’re going. You have to press a button to climb up or down ledges, but actually finding such obstacles is a chore in itself. You might not even notice some of the stores or NPCs in town because they’re too obscured. It’s especially bad when you’re stuck in the middle of a fogbank or a rainstorm, which reduces your already crappy field of vision to only a few feet. Your randomly-spawning enemies are also drawn with a similar colors and blurred textures, which means you probably won’t see them until they’re already trying to rip your throat open.
It’s not like seeing them coming would make a difference, anyway. The combat system is horrendously unbalanced. It operates in real time, but there’s no strategy or thought behind it. It’s impossible to block or dodge, which forces you mindlessly button mash your way to victory. You just lock onto your foe (reducing your character’s mobility to a crawl) and attack, praying that you can slaughter your target before it tears too much out of your life bar. Unfortunately, even the lowliest of lackeys – giant jackrabbits and evil mushrooms – have impossibly high evasion stats; you might swing your sword five times and only connect once. That’s assuming, of course, that your character actually follows your commands. The controls are laggy (at least the game designers didn’t try using the gimmicky motion controls), which makes your attacks utterly unreliable. The game tries to make up for it by letting you string weak and strong attacks into combos, but the stiff and sluggish movements make it an exercise in futility. The best you can do is run into battle with your weapon swinging and hope for the best. If you’re hurt, you can always just stand somewhere safe and let your health regenerate. But since it takes an ungodly amount of time to heal, you’ll probably get bored and push your luck with the next battle. You’ll endure plenty of cheap deaths (and lose money and items), which means you’ll have to begin the tedious process anew.
Instead, you’ll probably rely on the mercenaries to get the job done. The game encourages you to stop by the tavern and find a backup/decoy to assist in your quest. Thanks to the shoddy AI, however, your hired help is more of a hindrance. While they might be able to see nearby enemies and save you from a surprise attack, they’ll also run merrily into the thick of battle and get themselves slaughtered. There’s nothing quite as boring as watching two poorly animated figures slash each other into submission. If you’re desperate for something more engaging, you can try getting onto WiFi and team up with anyone else that was unlucky enough to pick this up. Thanks to the already terrible framerate and control issues (not to mention the fact that you can only communicate via emoticons), the online multiplayer is just as much of a mess as the regular gameplay.
But if you prefer to suffer alone, there are plenty of ways to develop and design your character. You’ll start off with the simple stuff, like their hairstyle, strength and intelligence stats, etc. Depending on how you play, you’ll be able to unlock dwarves, elves, and other races of playable heroes, each with their own stat bonuses. You’ll also get to choose from a decent variety of generic fantasy jobs, like the combat-centric warrior or the wimpy bard. While the jobs themselves don’t matter, it’s what you learn that makes the difference. Whenever you level up, you can use the experience points to level up skills specific to your class. It could be the strength of your close-range attacks, the kinds of magic spells you can perform, and other stuff you can mix and match to craft an unstoppable killing machine. The mechanics are not as in-depth or intricate as those of most console RPGs, but it’s the only thing keeping Valhalla Knights from being a complete failure.
But it’s not enough to save this game. Nowhere near enough. Almost every aspect of Valhalla Knights is ridiculously flawed and utterly uninspired. The generic story and bland characters are barely worth mentioning. The gameplay is shallow, laggy, tedious, and annoying. There’s nothing entertaining about a generic adventurer sluggishly swinging his sword and getting his ass kicked by an oversized rabbit. The muddy graphics, poor animation, and horrendous lighting effects make the game a chore to explore; since you can barely see where you’re going, you’ll spend a lot of the time running into walls or dead ends. Not even an online multiplayer and a team of NPC mercenaries make up for it. The hammer-walking is the worst, though; you’d think they would’ve at least gotten that right, but it would probably be too much to hope for. Valhalla Knights only excels at one thing: no other game can grate on your nerves quite like this.