Code Vein: A More Flexible and Forgiving Take on Dark Souls - PreviewEvan Norris , posted on 20 October 2017 / 9,018 Views
Some fans see Code Vein and think "anime Dark Souls." While this is accurate in the broadest sense, it's also reductive. It doesn't account for the game's new mechanics, or its intentional focus on flexible character customization and AI-controlled companions. Whether Code Vein flourishes in an increasingly-crowded Souls-like market will depend greatly on these novelties.
Earlier this month I played a Code Vein demo in New York City, with Bandai Namco Brand Manager Stephen Akana walking me through the game's dark, dangerous dystopia. I was struck immediately by the demo's similarity to titles like Dark Souls and Bloodborne, but Akana was quick to reference two other games - Ninja Gaiden and God Eater.
With all these gaming influences at work, Code Vein is more iterative than it is game-changing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Deck13's Souls-like The Surge is a fine game, without reinventing the wheel. It adds enough novelties — namely a sci-fi setting and a dismemberment mechanic — to stand apart from the crowd, while embracing the fundamentals of the genre. Similarly, Code Vein doesn't stray far from Souls-like conventions. That said, its combat, customization, and partner AI systems make it unique enough to capture the attention of gamers.
As the demo began and my character stepped into a cavern filled with deadly creatures, I noticed two things almost immediately. The first was this: I wasn't alone. Throughout my adventure I was accompanied by an AI companion, perhaps Code Vein's most significant departure from the norm. My partner for the demo was named Mia, but Akana informed me that I could choose from many AI partners during the game, each with his or her own skill set. While the presence of a friend made the experience a little less scary and alienating, it certainly made the game more forgiving, especially during the demo's boss battle against Queen's Knight. More than once, Mia brought me back from the brink of death by donating half her health to me.
AI companions add to Code Vein both a gameplay wrinkle, unusual among Souls-likes, and a safety valve to a genre infamous for its steep difficulty. Said Akana, "[The developers] wanted to open up the genre to people who think 'this is too tough.'" Make no mistake, though: Code Vein is intensely challenging, especially for newcomers unfamiliar with games like Dark Souls.
The second thing I noticed during the demo was that combat in Code Vein lacked the heft and deliberate pacing of games like Dark Souls and its kind. My character was lighter on his feet and flashier in his movements. As Akana elaborated on my move set and combat potential, however, I realized that fighting in Code Vein is more mechanically diverse, tactical, and customizable than many of the Souls-likes that came before.
In addition to basic attacks, performed with the square and triangle button, I could drain enemies of blood. This did a massive amount of damage and increased my "Ichor" level. By pressing R2, I could use Ichor (basically mana) to activate up to eight "gifts" — essentially buffs. Before I approached Queen's Knight, Akana stopped me and encouraged me to activate my shield buff and lightning buff, as the knight was weak to electricity.
I learned that if I held down R1 I could perform a hit variant that sent enemies airborne. From there I could juggle them and even activate drains in mid-air. Moreover, by performing a perfect parry or perfect dodge, I filled a focus meter, which improved my character's response times and replenished his endurance faster. It was all a bit overwhelming at first, but signalled a fighting framework with a lot of room for experimentation.
Apart from its AI partner mechanic and nuanced combat, Code Vein sets itself apart with a surprisingly flexible class and character system. Traditionally, character classes are chosen at the beginning of an adventure and then locked in for the remainder of the game. Not so with Code Vein, according to Akana. "That was something that frustrated the developers when they played other games, so they wanted to make sure that in this one, rather than hitting a wall and creating a situation where you need to start over and play as a different character, you can change that out whenever you want to."
Overall, Code Vein shows a lot of potential. Yes, the game is, fundamentally, a conventional take on a tried-and-true formula. However, its creative combat, pliable character customization and, most of all, partner AI system help it achieve a unique identity among its peers. Whether all these pieces gel into a complete package is yet to be determined, but for now Souls-like enthusiasts should keep a watchful eye on Bandai Namco's stab at the genre.