It’s become a running joke in the industry that games that implement even a slight curve of difficulty and challenge will inevitably be compared to Dark Souls. Well, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the gaming commentariat, Code Vein is Dark Souls – just not as good. During the 20-minute session I had with the game, I often felt as if I was playing a fairly well-done amateur re-skin of Dark Souls. The key concepts are all there: brutal, blisteringly-tough enemies, a looping environment that twists and turns as far as the eye can see, and slightly archaic, plodding combat reminiscent of early Souls. It’s a pale shadow of the master supreme; an apprentice that is barely fit to hold the Estus Flasks of its esteemed rival.
That’s not to say Code Vein is a complete blowout. There are flickers of inspiration. Gifts, of which there are 8 held at any one time, serve as buffs and also unleash powerful abilities that can be used after only a brief cooldown period. That and the three-class system of Blood Codes are suitably interesting should you want to dip your toe into the waters.
Code Vein Preview: Man’s Gotta Have a Code
By shifting between the Blood Codes of Fighter, Assassin and Caster respectively, you are able to immediately change your game style on-the-fly. The different Blood Codes, too, come with different weapons and Gifts. It may seem peculiar to want to change your build midway through a sprawling area, but it might just do enough to set it apart from Dark Souls, despite the fact it so proudly wears those inspirations on its sleeve.
The graphic style, too, at least tries to mix things up a bit. Disregard the pallid browns and bland greys shown in recent demos, the enemies that are trying to downright murder you offer up the most personality. Beasts scuttle towards you as if it were an anime come to life, their color-filled attacks as vivid as they are vicious. You’ll often stop to look at the various unique enemy designs, which can’t always be said for the cookie-cutter style of Souls and beyond.
There’s even an AI partner – you can, again, choose one of three – to tag along with you. Despite the persistent feeling that the developers want to stick to the formula that Dark Souls has so lovingly crafted for them, and this may be paradoxical to even state, but the AI partner can feel like a step and change too far. You’re often getting in the way of your brother-in-arms or, worse still, they’re dying on a whim. Though that doesn’t affect your progress, it’s hard enough in these styles of games to focus on your own survival, let alone babysit another.
Code Vein Preview: Just another Souls-like?
But that’s Code Vein in a nutshell. Some games have identity crises – this one knows exactly what it wants to be. It’s Dark Souls, to the letter – but executed without the precision and patience of its forebears. Those who haven’t played the Souls games could do well to pick this up first, just to compare the two and notice the stark swing in quality from one to the other.
Did I enjoy Code Vein? Yes and no. It’s clearly competent, if a little too paint-by-numbers, but it’s a specter of the masterful Dark Souls. Where From Software’s series of classics chew away at your free time, Code Vein is likely to chew away at your patience, and have you desperately reaching out for the likes of Bloodborne.
There came a moment, though, as the seconds ticked away and I was just about to leave my seat, a column of sun came bursting through a crack in the mountain on-screen. I wanted to go there, yet I couldn’t. What lied beyond? Maybe the itch hadn’t quite been scratched, maybe the game was drawing me back in. But, for now, it’s going to have to go a long to way to break off the shackles of a Souls-like that isn’t shy about showing its true colors.