Despite not having been released yet, Code Vein has been around for quite some time. During E3 2018, the game developed by Shift made its gameplay debut, impressing many with its mechanics that are very close to the those seen in the Dark Souls series, as well as with its brutally high difficulty level. Games like this don't really shine in a 20 minute demo, unfortunately, and so I was left pretty unimpressed by Code Vein after my hands-on session during E3 2019.
Describing Code Vein as anime Dark Souls is probably the only correct way to describe it. There are many similarities, such as different builds, weapon types, combat basics, and high challenge level, but I feel like the game is its own beast, for better or worse.
The E3 2019 demo threw players right into the action, without any sort of explanation about the story and many of its mechanics. In the starting area, which is set in a drab, grey and ruined city landscape, there were a couple of messages which taught some of the very basics. Discovering anything advanced was up to the players.
The Code Vein E3 2019 demo was filled with a lot of different fierce enemies that dealt a lot of damage, forcing players to approach each fight carefully. To take down enemies, players can use light and heavy attacks and a variety of skills related to the eight Gifts which determine the character type. Blocking, parrying and evading are the available defense maneuvers, and any who played any recent From Software game barring Sekiro Shadows Die Twice will feel right at home.
Unfortunately, it's once combat starts that problems begin. For starters, all weapons feel extremely heavy, which I felt limited my play style a lot. Secondly, many of the attack skills are extremely powerful, but they take too long to execute, which means that I got damaged a lot during fights. I eventually got used to this and started timing them better, but I still felt that the risk-reward scale for using them is tipped way too much in the enemies' favor. Even the constant presence of an AI controlled partner did little to mitigate this issue, as my companion mostly focused on other enemies while I focused on mine.
Code Vein also feels both cluttered with mechanics and simplified over Dark Souls at the same time. With the different Gifts and different skills associated with them, Code Vein has a distinct Japanese flavor which may be a bit excessive for a Dark Souls inspired game, in my opinion. On the other hand, leveling up is simplified, as using blood to level up at the Mistle increases stats automatically, relegating character customization to the Gifts. It may definitely work in the long run, as the system does feel well thought-out, but it didn't give me a very good impression. Additionally, I found the UI a tad confusing, especially the HP and Stamina bar indicators, which are located in the bottom left corner of the screen and not in the top left as pretty much all other games do. This made it difficult for me to keep track of Stamina, resulting in me dying stupid deaths because I could not block and dodge. It will probably won't be a problem after a while, but I couldn't help but notice how inconvenient this is.
At the end of the day, I really cannot say if I enjoyed my time with Code Vein at the E3 2019. The game does have potential, that's for sure, but it definitely cannot come out in a 20 minute demo, so I will reserve my final judgment after I will be able to spend more time on it and fully understand its mechanics.
Code Vein launches this September on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.