Recently I got to spend some time with the Code Vein Demo. First announced back in April of 2017, it’s been in development for a long time. Code Vein is a “souls-like” or “souls-clone” in the vein, (wink wink, nudge nudge) of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. While it may copy most elements from its source of inspiration, it doesn’t execute nearly as well.
Code Vein has all the trappings of a Souls game you’d expect. Your character slays enemies who drop souls, in this game they are known as Haze. If you die, you have to make your way back to the Haze or they will be lost. The Mistle, is a small plant that takes the place of bonfires. Here you can save, level-up, heal, and acquire/upgrade your skills. Resting at it, as expected, will respawn all enemies on the map. Pretty standard fair. The only real difference I noticed was that you don’t get to choose attributes to assign points to when leveling up. It just levels you and your attributes automatically.
As with any game these days, people love a good character creator. The Code Vein demo does a good job of showing off how creative you can get with the look of your character. Initially, you choose the basic appearance of your character, and then you have a plethora of options available to you to make it more personalized and your own. I’ve never been overly invested in character creators. I generally pick one of the many pre-designed choices. Code Vein offers a great deal of variety with little time spent in the editor menu.
A Lot To Take In
The demo starts off in a rushed, overwhelming barrage of tutorial style information, in stark contrast to souls-like games, where you are introduced to new elements, both story and gameplay, in small digestible doses. I realize it’s a demo and some liberties have to be taken, but the way it was done, it left me a bit shell-shocked and soured on the experience. Apparently, you are a Revenant, always in need of blood so as not to turn into “the lost.” You are quickly introduced to the notion of Blood Codes, which in effect, act as your character type; Fighter, Ranger, Caster, Berserker, etc. In addition to that, Code Vein over-eagerly presents “gifts” or skills, and “ichor” or mana to use those skills, on top of the previously mentioned, all within the first 5 minutes and accompanied by a rather dull user menu.
Beyond that, the intro continues with the usual initiation routine;
left analog stick moves the character, right moves the camera, R3 locks on, square
and triangle for weak and strong attacks, circle dodges, and L1 guards. The
tutorial gives you a taste of the three basic Blood Code types; Fighter, Ranger
and Caster, each with their own playstyle and pros/cons. Code Vein also has the
traditional parry and backstab mechanics that Souls enthusiasts will be well
We’re Not In The Matrix
As if that wasn’t enough to absorb at one time, the tutorial dives even deeper, going into gifts and unlocking their latent potential which is accomplished by gaining proficiency with the gift. All exciting, valuable mechanics, but is now really the time to touch on that? I would have liked to see this element introduced after gaining proficiency with a skill during the normal course of the demo. Presented the way it was, it added to the chaotic introduction of your first few minutes with this new IP. Complexity is welcomed, but I’m not Neo from the Matrix learning Kung Fu.
Now on to the actual game portion of the demo, which is where it should have started in the first place. Nevertheless, you meet “Girl in White” who gives you some backstory about your vampiric needs as a revenant and how not taking care of those needs results in you becoming one of the lost. It’s around this point that you meet Oliver, your now AI companion to fight alongside you. For those familiar with Souls games, you know that combat is meant to be difficult, and bosses are intended to be taxing, all of which can be alleviated by playing co-op with another player. But that’s an optional choice in Souls games. In Code Vein, it’s mandatory.
Is It Better Together?
I suppose the less initiated to the genre, may enjoy and
even prefer the AI companion’s assistance throughout. During my time with the Code
Vein demo, I found his presence cheapening to the difficulty of the game. What
used to feel like a heroic decent into the lair of the boss, now feels like a
menial trudge through endless corridors. That’s not to say there’s no fun to be
had, as I did loosen-up and relax my stance on this element throughout my playtime.
Initially though, I was put off by the change. I mean, the first boss we
encountered I beat on the first try…that’s not supposed to happen in souls-like
After beating the boss, you are treated to some additional lore, in the way of a shadow memory-like experience. Beyond that, you and your new friends explore your base, or hub zone. It’s here that you can take on missions, buy and enhance equipment, practice your skills and fighting styles against a training dummy, and more.
“Thanks For Playing,” is the next screen I’m staring at, indicating my time with the demo has come to an end. And yet, after moving through the on-screen pre-order now prompts, I’m greeted with another dialogue box stating that I’ve completed the main story of the trial version, and to please enjoy some exclusive content to this version. This exclusive content allowed me to; switch partners at the Mistle, try out more versions of various Blood Codes, and gain access to High-Difficulty “Depths Map.”
These “Depths” maps, are an EXACT rip-off of the Chalice
Dungeon in Bloodborne. Self-contained dungeons with higher difficulty, and
chances for better loot. I was even invaded by The Lost while in the Depths.
The sad part is, the depths didn’t even feel overly difficult. It actually felt
like what I expected the regular levels difficulty to be. The bosses I encountered
gave me some much-needed push back, and with a few solid attempts, was able to achieve
There’s nothing wrong with taking a predecessor’s good idea and running with it, but there’s just so much in the Code Vein demo that feels like a blatant copy, and a poorly executed one at that. What makes the Souls-type games so engaging, is the difficult combat and sense of exploration and progression. I don’t get that feeling with Code Vein. It feels like a first-timer-friendly, anime inspired, co-op adventure. Again, this wouldn’t be a bad thing if the game mechanics weren’t so evocative of a tough-as-nails genre similarity. Decide what you want to be Code Vein!
The Code Vein demo left me about where I started before
playing it, intrigued by an anime-style souls-clone, that’s in serious need of
balance and tightening up. I didn’t dislike by time with Code Vein, it just
didn’t stand out enough to wow me. The core gameplay is fun, and the visual design
choice is a nice change of pace. However, if this is a sample of the finished
product, I’m left to wonder why it feels so unrefined. Here’s hoping the combat
will deepen as you venture through the full retail version of the game.
Code Vein is being developed by Bandai Namco and is set to launch on September 27, 2019 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows.
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