LOS ANGELES – The Souls series has been on the market for almost a decade, so perhaps it's not surprising that the beloved, ultra-difficult action/RPG franchise has inspired a few developers.
At the Xbox Media Showcase at E3 2018, I noticed its influence in two different games: Code Vein and Ashen. While the two games couldn't be more different — an over-the-top anime adventure and a minimalist multiplayer simulation — gamers who crave difficult, precise, unforgiving gameplay will have a lot to like over the next few months.
Code Vein, which will be out on September 24 on Xbox, PS4 and PC, has been making the rounds at various conventions for a few months now, but E3 represents the first time we've gone hands-on with it. The premise should sound familiar to any Dark Souls fan: Create a character (called a Revenant), then meticulously work your way from save point to save point (here called Mistle), doing battle with enemies that can destroy you in just a few hits as you go.
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As in Dark Souls, you'll collect experience points, which you lose upon death, and get one chance to reclaim if you can reach the spot where you died. Unlike Dark Souls, however, leveling up is a pretty straightforward affair. Offer up enough XP at a Mistle location, and you can increase all of your stats, not just one. The gameplay itself is also a bit faster-paced and more colorful, with a palette full of reds, greens and blues. Attacks are a bit faster and more fluid, befitting Code Vein's anime inspiration.
One key difference between Code Vein and the Souls series, though, is the presence of a persistent party member. During the demo, a character named Louis followed me around, offering his help in battle, as well as running commentary on the story. It helped the game feel like a much less lonely place, and gave the plot a much more certain sense of direction. If you always wished Dark Souls had a more easily digestible story, Code Vein could be a good place to start.
If party members are a big draw, however, you could also consider Ashen, a Windows and Xbox exclusive due out later this year. In spite of its angular, purposely plain graphics (characters don't have faces, just hair and beards), the game looks a lot like Dark Souls at first blush. You play as a lone adventurer setting off into a harsh, gray world. Even the controls are the same as in Dark Souls, down to right trigger for attacking and left trigger to hold up a shield.
However, unlike From Software's signature series, Ashen is not a mostly empty world where you can play for hours without encountering another human character. Living humans are everywhere in Ashen, from bandit camps to fully inhabited towns. And these towns aren't just an assortment of computer-generated characters.
The game's asynchronous multiplayer means that AI-controlled versions of real characters that other players make will constantly appear in your game. You can then recruit them to go on adventures with you. As such, it's to everyone's benefit to explore the world, improve your equipment and constantly make your character stronger. You never know who might want your avatar in his or her party.
Now that the Dark Souls series is over, both games seem like good options to scratch the "die, learn, repeat" itch that's become so popular over the last few years. Then again, From Software's next project, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, also looks pretty cool.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.