If the ‘Prepare to Dine’ promotional tagline wasn’t enough to clue you in already, Code Vein is an action RPG with elements that are clearly inspired by From Software’s Soulsborne games. From my short time with the game at this year’s Tokyo Game Show, it was obvious from the get-go.
The demo started me off in a dark cave with nothing but a long sword and a two-handed blade. My character was also accompanied by Mia, the blonde fur hat-wearing girl we’ve seen in the game’s released footage and images. From the vague tutorial messages left on the ground near the starting point to the crystalized ‘bonfire’ right next to me, along with a somewhat familiar control scheme, it was easy for me to feel right at home in Code Vein.
The offensive moves are bound to the square and triangle buttons, but if you press either of them together with R1, your character can initiate a special move. R1 and square lets you lunge forward with a straight jab, while R1 and triangle lets you perform a launch attack that literally launches your enemy into the air. Here’s where the similarities between Code Vein and Souls come to an end, at least on the combat front. The launch attack works on most enemies, and it opens them up for potential juggle combos during the brief time they spend in the air. You can’t juggle them infinitely because you have a stamina meter, but it does open up a lot of possibilities as you experiment with the different weapon types and the move sets they offer.
Combat felt pretty satisfying, but it’s also very punishing towards players who enjoy spamming square or triangle. Stamina regeneration is especially slow compared to your typical Souls game, which means that button-mashing will be severely punished. Code Vein’s enemies are brutally aggressive, and Mia constantly aggroing every enemy you come by before you’re ready certainly doesn’t help matters. Seriously, though. While this option wasn’t available in the demo, I sincerely hope there’s an option to toggle AI behavior so that your companions don’t mindlessly shoot every enemy in sight and pull them to you before you’ve got a chance to heal up.
That said, Mia proved to be a really helpful distraction in most battles as the enemies tended to focus their attention on her (because she aggroed them like a dummy). This allowed me to focus on one enemy at a time, easing up the combat difficulty a little. It’s worth noting that healing items will work on both the player character and companion, which is nice, considering that they don’t have that much health and can really take a beating.
Though the demo area was pretty short, I did get a nice glimpse of Code Vein’s neat level design. From the starting point, there was a clear, linear path to follow, which would eventually lead you to an area with two ranged enemies on a ledge and two melee enemies on the ground. This particular encounter was frustrating, primarily because of the ranged foes, and that forced me to head up to the ledge while leaving Mia to die to the ground foes. However, after further exploration, I found that there was actually an alternate path from the starting point that would take me straight to the ledge where I could ambush them. This path was a little more dangerous as there was a larger monster in my path, but Code Vein does seem to reward exploration if you try to go off the beaten track.
I was also able to make my way to the second checkpoint, which felt like a breath of fresh air after running into an insane gauntlet of enemies. Leveling your character up can only be done at checkpoints (and of course, dying twice without retrieving your experience points means you lose everything), though the leveling system seemed pretty limited in the demo. I could only increase the character’s level, and was unable to determine which stats I wanted to put my points into. At the moment, it’s not clear whether this system will be carried over to the final game, or if players will be able to build their character from the ground up and decide which attributes to invest in. The latter seems more likely.
And finally, I also managed to challenge the demo boss, named the Queen’s Knight. The Knight was a towering monstrosity who wielded a large greatsword, and could easily take down the character with a simple three-hit combo and a follow-up attack if you didn’t roll away in time. The boss did also have a predictable battle pattern, however, and I was eventually able to down him after about four or five tries. This was mostly thanks to a resurrect mechanic in the game, where your character is able to come back to life with half health after being struck to death. This only works once, but it does give you an invaluable second crack at the fight, and was the main factor for my victory against the Queen’s Knight.
Overall, Code Vein is a fun action RPG. There are some things I don’t really like, such as the annoying AI behavior, and the fact that your invincibility frames from rolling feels far too lenient at the moment. There’s still quite a bit of time before the game’s launch, though, so it’s entirely possible that these issues could be addressed before then. All complaints aside, Code Vein still boasts a rather solid combat system that could prove to be very interesting once we get deeper into it, and Souls fans who are considering jumping into this should find it to be a pretty satisfying experience.