Thanks to a few different games inspired by the FromSoftware games, the term souls-like is becoming increasingly common.
Code Vein is one of those souls-likes, and it aims to differentiate itself from the rest of the pack by leaning heavily into an anime aesthetic. It also aims to add a few new things to its core gameplay loop.
Although I’ve had some time with the game before, Code Vein‘s recent network test allowed me more time with the upcoming ARPG.
The specific section of the game available in the network test has you running through the opening mission before being unceremoniously flung into a late-game dungeon. It’s the same section that I had played previously at a preview event, though it felt a little smoother than it did last time.
The bulk of my time was spent in the dungeon rather than that opening mission, just by the nature of how things were laid out.
The Depths, as the dungeon is called, had a total of four boss encounters, two of which were double boss fights. Even the basic enemies, however, were far above my level upon entering.
To give perspective on just how vast the difference in levels was, killing even a single enemy was enough to net me a couple of level ups, to begin with. It feels like a good representation of what the game could do, even if it definitely could do with some improvement.
Sparkling In The Moonlight
Let’s start with the good.
Code Vein‘s customization is obscene. Not only could you easily lose a day to just the character creator, but the way the class system works in Code Vein means you could create unique builds that nobody else has thought of.
Another nice touch is that you can switch Blood Codes (classes) at any time. However, if you do so, then you lose access to the abilities that come with it unless you’ve mastered them by using them enough times or fulfilling other special criteria.
If you’ve mastered the abilities, then you can use them no matter which Blood Code you have equipped. This means you can use a Caster’s magic spells while playing as a Fighter if you need to back off. It effectively allows you to create your own class, opening up combat and gameplay possibilities.
This applies to the weapons, too. The weapons in the demo are somewhat limited, but you can still have any two equipped at a time. This means you can switch between them on the fly. These range from basic swords and gigantic hammers to more nuanced things like bayonets. You also have access to a Blood Veil, which changes a few different things, too.
Your Blood Veil can affect your parry timing, your range, and even your combo potential. While you have things items claws, you can also have more spectacular attacks like a patch of spikes you can control remotely. The diversity found within the game adds another layer onto the already rather complicated cake.
There is a lot of depth to the stats in Code Vein, as well, which is probably why you don’t get to choose what to upgrade when you level up. You Blood Code, Blood Veil, and even your weapons have countless effects, all contributing to how your character will perform. It makes for a somewhat hands-off feeling despite the amount of customization that is available.
Combat is perhaps the most mixed bag in the game. It doesn’t feel very challenging unless you’re running around like an idiot. It’s also a bit slow and clunky. Attempting to parry can lead to frustration, too. That’s because the Blood Veils seem to change the exact timing of the button press — sometimes you need to hit the parry button just before an attack lands, other times, you need to expect a one-second delay.
Then there is the AI. While your partner is actually fairly reliable, the enemy AI is less so. Bosses are where this shows itself most blatantly.
It seems that the bosses are programmed to come after the main character, which means that you can actually beat a few of the bosses by simply staying just out of range. They never seem to be too annoyed by the other players or the AI hacking away at them from behind. It leads to these strange fights where you want to throw yourself into the mix, but there isn’t really much point.
The AI companion is pretty much always with you, and while you’re within The Depths, you can switch between three different companions, each of which has different strengths and weaknesses. The AI isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either.
Assuming this all gets sorted before the main game comes out, then it’s no issue. Although, this kind of thing could really hamper anyone’s enjoyment of a game. The fine line between difficulty and unfairness is a tricky one to manage, and it isn’t quite there yet in this instance.
A Nervous Stutter
There are moments where the game’s performance drops through the floor. This is pretty much lethal in a game like Code Vein, simply losing a few frames is enough to get you killed. It especially rears its head in multiplayer, which makes me thankful that there doesn’t appear to be PvP as of yet.
You can summon other players by putting out a distress call, which feels similar to the systems found in Bloodborne and Dark Souls. Whenever someone entered my game I would lose around 10 frames before I regained any sense of what was going on. A similar thing happened whenever boxes were broken: the frame rate would plummet faster than the splintered remains of the box itself.
It’s no good at all when you need the game to run perfectly; one hit can kill you off. Again, the whole point of this was to test the network, so hopefully, it gets fixed. If not, you can expect people to fall off of the game faster than a vampire makes their way home as the sun rises.
Do Vampires Even Read Conclusions?
Code Vein is fun, but it is flawed, at least at the moment. Obviously, the game still has no firm release date. The network test also wasn’t indicative of the final product, so any complaints here are about the version I played, not the final game.
Assuming the performance issues and strange AI can be ironed out, then it could be a lot of fun. After all, what souls-like wouldn’t want a vampiric ARPG capable of frenetic co-op?