Yes, it’s kind of like Dark Souls. Now that the editorial faux pas is out of the way, let’s talk about Bandai Namco Studios’ newest IP, Code Vein. This dark and challenging world is full of grotesque enemies, bloody attacks, scantily-clad women, and lots of dying. Join me as we dive into what I experienced during my hour-long hands-on of Code Vein at E3 2018.
While I wasn’t treated to a lot of cinematics, the world of Code Vein is evident through a glance at the surrounding area; it’s a post-apocalyptic environment where cities lie in ruin, giant spikes and cables spew from the ground, and demon-like creatures roam free.
I took on the role of a steam-punk-looking vampire-like protagonist who uses blood-specific abilities to dispatch enemies. Everything has a gothic aesthetic which is accentuated by every character wearing a black leather coat with a face mask, unless of course they’re female, in which case there is a lot of skin being shown, including the mobs and the bosses.
A Similar Feel…
The first thing players will likely notice about Code Vein is that it feels similar to the Soulsborne series. Controlling health and stamina is essential to walking away from encounters with more Haze to spend on leveling (Code Vein’s currency, treated the same as Souls or Blood Echoes), as is knowing how a given weapon handles and the best time to dodge. The character screen shows off dozens of stats, all of which can be improved through equipping different gear and items. Even the boss fights are gruelling, requiring memorizing attack patterns and putting everything you’ve learned into practice.
After exploring the level for a few minutes, I stumbled across a little shrub called a mistle, which ended up being the Code Vein equivalent of an Archstone, Bonfire, or Lamp. Upon resting at it enemies respawn and healing items refill. For the purposes of the demo, I was able to use the mistle to immediately travel to outside the boss room.
However, there was a mistle located right before the boss, nullifying the need to use this demo-only mechanic as I was able to move through the level with relative ease, especially with how liberally the mistles were placed.
The level itself offered all the trappings players have come to love: alternate paths, hidden back allies, ledges to drop down to, items tucked away, and large enemies waiting around corners to ambush you.
…But Slightly Different
Though the similarities to Soulsborne are quite common, there are numerous differences that work in Code Vein’s favour. For starters, the combat system feels more like trying to pull off combos in a fighting game than a stamina management problem. Land enough hits and you can press R1 + X to perform a “mid-combo drain”, an ability that sees the playable character plunge their clawed-gauntlet into the enemy, gaining something called ichor, Code Vein’s equivalent of mana.
Ichor is the resource used to cast gifts, abilities that buff weapons, apply defences, heal allies, and deal damage to enemy units. Ichor can also be gained by attacking, guarding, and using any ability that features a “drain” effect. A successful backstab will proc the drain effect, as will a successful parry. All of these will help replenish the ichor you spend using gifts, and increase the maximum amount of ichor you can hold. In this way, the combat becomes a juggle of using gifts, attacking, using a drain ability to refill ichor, and managing the stamina usage. It feels a lot more fast-paced than Dark Souls, perhaps even more so than Bloodborne, if only because there are more abilities happening in quick succession. The combat really clicked for me when I managed to link all these various moves and abilities together.
There’s an additional mechanic called Focus, which acts as a means of staying alive after taking damage. The focus gauge fills whenever you take damage, and once filled, you enter a focused state that fortifies you against attacks. While this state is active, pressing R1 + Triangle activates a launch attack, sending the targeted enemy into the air and auto-performing a drain.
Blood Codes offer an additional difference to how you can play. In the demo I played, only one Blood Code could be equipped, but the idea is that by applying a different code, different weapons and gifts can be used. The demo referenced three Blood Codes: Fighter, excelling at delivering single powerful attacks with heavy weapons; Assassin, exceling at combination attacks and performing quick evasions; and Caster, which excels at casting powerful attack-type gifts.
Interestingly, according to some of the tutorials listed in the demo, your proficiency with certain gifts can be increased by defeating powerful enemies, and once a gift has been maxed, it can be equipped and used without requiring its specific Blood Code to be equipped.
There are a lot of intricate mechanics at play in Code Vein, and that’s before taking into account things like changing the character’s cloak to increase different stats, equipping passives (basically rings) that increase stamina or damage output, the various consumables that can be equipped and used, and even the numerous weapon types (blade, greatsword, halberd, maul, bayonet).
While Dark Souls and Bloodborne allowed summoning of allies at specific parts, the demo gave me an ally for the entire duration of the experience. Louis was his name, and he made himself exceptionally useful. Whenever I died, Louis would use one of his own gifts to resurrect me on the spot, restoring a small portion of my health at the cost of his own – though I had to do the same when Louis succumbed to the boss. Speaking of which…
I referenced fanfare in the strapline as well as female characters showing a lot of skin, and the same held true for the boss at the end of the level. This giant humanoid female wielded a spear-like lance and used it with devastating effect to not only knock me to the ground, but zip around the tight arena, all while clad in a revealing bikini/undergarment. Furthermore, one of her attacks saw her slam the tip of the lance into the ground, jump up onto it, and spin around it while firing out globules of water. It made it feel like I was fighting a demon stripper rather than some high fantasy creature.
Ignoring the overt sexual nature of the boss, the fight itself was delightfully challenging. I had to attempt it numerous times during my playthrough, constantly getting slightly better at the encounter until I finally managed to quell the beast. What it came down to was learning her attack patterns, knowing when I could run in for a few scarce hits, and ensuring my dodges were timed correctly to avoid her attacks.
The game itself was difficult. Between figuring out the gift abilities, learning the timing of parries and other moves, and being under the pump to get in as much playtime and collect as much information as possible, Code Vein came across as a challenging experience. Furthermore, Code Vein manages to add an additional layer of gameplay and mechanics to a genre with which I’ve grown intimately familiar. Fans of the Soulsborne series would do well to check out Code Vein when it launches September 27, on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows.
If you want more Code Vein information, be sure to check out Blake’s thoughts on Code Vein as of an early January build.