Code Vein E3 Impression 2

My first real meaty experience at E3 was extended hands-on time with the upcoming action RPG Code Vein. In the most succinct terms possible, the game is anime Dark Souls. People wondering what Bandai Namco would do now that the Dark Souls games have been put to rest have an answer, though it may not be the most satisfying one. Code Vein is a difficult game to place and the time I spent with it alleviated some concerns while adding new ones to the pile.

Code Vein put me in a rocky, grey post-apocalypse littered with glowing bits as a weird, vampire-like character who wielded blood-based abilities and weapons with names like Regicide Blade. The action started right away with a winding, branching path that was sporadically populated with enemies, each as punishing as one would expect from a game reminiscent of Dark Souls. Some of the path’s branches were shortcuts, while others offered equipment. The sheer number of tools available sets Code Vein apart from its contemporaries.

A character in Code Vein begins with a fairly standard attack loadout: dodges, parries, light attacks, and heavy attacks that, when charged, unleash an even more powerful strike. The parries do have a weird start up timing that I often forgot about in the heat of the fight. Parries never came out as fast as I would have liked it. However, once I started playing around, I noticed just how much more there was to combat. The “X” button, normally ignored in games of this ilk, could be charged for a fearsome claw attack that was described by the game as “draining”. It was unclear what function it performed beyond more damage. Holding R1 makes the character run, which enables new attacks. Holding R2 changes the face buttons to equippable Gifts, unique abilities that cost ichor, a third meter to keep track of in addition to health and stamina. The effects of these gifts were many and varied and could offer some serious customization.

On top of all of these systems, the game provided me with a constant companion. There were three partners available in the demo and they could be switched out at bonfires Mistles. Each offered a variety of support spells and, at least in the demo, could hold their own at least enough to keep an enemy distracted while I worked on killing someone else. The game will still offer some sort of multiplayer, but the partners will also play in to the story. The developers want players to build camaraderie with them. Many of the other elements of the core gameplay felt very familiar, like the set amount of healing resources that reset at every Mistle and recovering souls blood echoes Haze from the location where I died.

Fortunately for me, the demo offered the option to skip straight to the boss fight. The Invading Executioner, as she was called, was a scythe-wielding woman over twice as tall as my character. Outside of some questionable design elements — one of her attacks can really only be described as a pole-dance — she was a fairly standard, two-phase boss. To my shame, I was unable to finish her off but in my defense I got really close. Many of her attacks had an odd delay between subsequent hits that I couldn’t quite get used to which, combined with my inexperience with the timing on attacking and dodging, led to some pretty avoidable deaths. Even with my short amount of time with the game, I could already feel myself getting into the flow.

What wasn’t apparent during the demo was how a lot of its elements functioned. I pulled up the menu once to take a look at my character’s stats and was immediately overwhelmed by the numbers. This problem is likely exclusive to the demo, but I can confirm that there will likely be a lot of stat-crunching to satisfy those who seek it out. To top off the visual confusion, the game is not particularly good-looking. Individual elements have inspired moments, but character models, friend and foe alike, are not visually appealing and their anime look clashes with the more realistic-looking environments they inhabit. I’m not quite ready to call Code Vein a success just yet, but there is an audience for a game like this and the game may deliver where it counts. Code Vein releases on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC on September 28, 2018.

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