Code Vein: A More Flexible and Forgiving Take on Dark Souls

Code Vein: A More Flexible and Forgiving Take on Dark Souls - Preview

by Evan Norris, posted on 20 October 2017 / 4,065 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.

Code Vein character

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.

Code Vein partner

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.

Code Vein combat

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.

Code Vein demo

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.


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5 Comments

shikamaru317 (on 20 October 2017)

This is going to be my first Souls-like, the anime designs and companion system won me over.


Bandorr (on 20 October 2017)

Agreed. I've been on the edge deciding if I wanted to play one or not. Bloodborne almost got me there.

That said I rather start with a more "forgiving' one and go from there.


  • +4
shikamaru317 (on 20 October 2017)

For me Nioh came the closest because I like Feudal Japan, but I heard it was even harder than Souls which scared me off. Code Vein definitely seems like the best starting point, the companion system and ability to respec classes at any time should make it a good deal easier than other Souls-likes. If I end up liking it I may go back and play Nioh later.


  • +4
BraLoD (on 20 October 2017)

Go play Nioh you guys!


  • +1
COKTOE (on 20 October 2017)

Code.....Vein....eh? I was totally in the dark about this one. I'll def look into it more. Looks good.


Xen (on 20 October 2017)

Sounds a like an interesting twist on the classic formula, charges and all where ones' ripostes used to be... I just hope it isn't too big a difficulty dip compared to the Souls games.


Ggordon (on 20 October 2017)

LOOKS nice but i dont think it ll be as good as bloodborne


Liquid_faction (on 20 October 2017)

Well, to be fair, not a lot of RPGs are as good as Bloodborne. Even the Regular Souls Trilogy (Imo) is underwhelming compared to Bloodborne.


  • +1
Ggordon (on 20 October 2017)

True i never enjoyed ds and becauz of that passed on bloodborne but all my friends(even those who dont have a ps4) recommended it to me and so i did and i fell in love with it.I really dont like people comparing it to ds.It honestly feels like a different game to me which is fantastic.


  • 0
Mystro-Sama (on 21 October 2017)

Probably not. Bloodborne is a masterpiece and while this looks good it doesn't look nearly as refined as BB or any other Souls game.


  • 0
Kanemaru (on 22 October 2017)

Today you just have to say that a game is a Souls like and lots of people say they'll buy it for that... Ridiculous. Code Vein looks like thousands of basic action games that have been released since always. Seems quite correct but way too old school.