It was always going to be difficult for Bandai Namco to follow up Dark Souls, and lord knows other imitators have tried and come short.
It’s even tougher to try to emulate the Souls formula when FromSoftware has managed to go one better and rip up the rulebook with the rhythmic swordplay of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice earlier this year.
For what it’s worth, Code Vein doesn’t just try to simply ape what’s gone before. That’s evident with a change of button layouts, albeit adding a whole host of other abilities that require holding down another button before you can access them – but the principles of stamina-based attacks, dodge rolls, and parrying are still its staple.
What also stands out with Code Vein is its anime aesthetic, which allows for some incredibly detailed character customisation, even if its own characters include some of the predictably busty variety.
However, the character creation was something I got to only try at a recent online beta, whereas the Gamescom demo dropped me in with a pretty generic character, which is mostly for showcasing the game’s combat, as well as its AI co-op.
Although you will be able to play the game in online co-op or solo, by default you have AI companions: Io, Mia and the newly announced Jack. As you might expect from a Souls-like game, having a companion eases up the combat considerably when your partner can bait the enemy or even use their health to revive you (you also have the ability to sacrifice some of your health to heal them). In the case of Code Vein though, you don’t have any control of their actions. I found my companions simply rushing headlong into a fight when I preferred to patiently creep up and backstab an enemy. Or, they’d mess with my concentration as I tried to work out how to time my parries. In the end, I turned my AI companions off to get a better lay of the land myself.
If you got into FromSoft games for their world-building and environmental storytelling, you’ll likely be disappointed by what Code Vein has to offer.
Granted, I’ve only played a relatively short demo of Code Vein, but so far I’ve yet to find any of the environments at all enticing. It’s post apocalypse at its most drab and generic; the cavernous areas are also on the narrow side, leaving little room for manoeuvre. That becomes annoying at times – coupled with a dodgy camera when enemies get up close, the tight areas led to my character hurtling over a cliff edge, naturally taking me back to the start.
Even as someone who relishes the challenge of a Souls-like, it’s ultimately difficult to appreciate one under the duress of a demo slot when time is short.
There’s certainly potential here if the characters are realised effectively in a decent story that I hope goes further places than what we’ve seen so far. And thankfully, the ability to freely change your Blood Code – the game’s class system – means it’s easy to reconfigure your stats and what weapons you can use, rather than locking you to one style of play for one playthrough.
So far however, Code Vein hasn’t left as strong an impression as I would have liked. Considering that the game had been delayed for almost a year, it’s going to take some serious convincing that it has been worth the wait.
Code Vein is releasing on 27 September on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.
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