Originally scheduled for September 2018, Bandai Namco delayed Code Vein to “ensure that the final product delivers on the expectations set amongst media and fans.” After playing through a gameplay demo at a preview event, we asked Code Vein producer Keita Iizuka what Bandai Namco has spent the past few months changing to deliver on these expectations ahead of the game’s new scheduled release in 2019.
“After the dev team really came together and discussed–we felt that the appeal of Code Vein and what was really good about Code Vein was just not there, not enough,” Iizuka said. “So we really wanted to brush up those elements so that the users can really get immersed and really feel what’s so good and unique about the aspects of Code Vein a lot deeper, a lot stronger. So that’s why we took some extra time to deliver.”
In Code Vein, you play as a Revenant, a chosen undead born into a world defined by blood. Revenants defend themselves from the Lost, the husk-like remnants of Revenants who lost sight of who they were and succumbed to their bloodlust. In order to survive, you arm yourself with powerful weapons and supernatural Gifts–the latter of which allows you to harness the blood you take from enemies to perform spell-like attacks. Combat is entirely stamina-focused, limiting how often you can attack, defend, parry, and dodge.
Code Vein is–both thematically and mechanically–very similar to From Software’s Soulsborne games. Where Code Vein aims to differentiate itself is in its Blood Codes and buddy system.
Blood Codes are items that change the stats of your character, allowing you to more easily wield specific weapons and equip certain Gifts. The melee-focused Fighter Blood Code, for example, raises your strength and dexterity stats–allowing you to more easily wield massive two-handed swords and axes. As a Fighter, you’re able to equip Gifts that unlock slow, but devastating close-range attacks, and also buff your overall damage output. If brute force isn’t working, you can switch to the spell casting-focused Caster Blood Code, parry-focused Prometheus Blood Code, or long-range Hunter Blood Code before jumping back into the fray. There are eight Blood Codes in total in Code Vein, and each allows you to equip up to eight Gifts at once for a variety of playstyles.
“This aspect of being able to freely create your playstyle and the flexibility of playstyles–this is something that was already in the works since the initial stages, but we wanted to focus on that aspect–to enhance it and brush it up a lot–so that the player can have more freedom and flexibility in how they play the game,” Iizuka said.
“We really wanted to expand the Gift variations and how you develop [your Revenant],” he continued. “[For example], there’s a Gift called Phantom Assault where you can vanish and instantly appear right where the enemy is and dish out your attack. So that’s one aspect of it, and we have other Gifts that you can sort of build around that as well. And so, I think that’s one of the ways we sort of added to the game to make it more [complete].”
Being able to completely respec your character into a brand-new class within seconds–as opposed to travelling to a certain location and paying an NPC to do it like in Dark Souls–is an intriguing concept, but it was difficult to discern how such a strategy works in practice based on Code Vein’s opening hour. We started out with three Blood Codes (Fighter, Ranger, and Caster) and a few of their respective Gifts unlocked, but there weren’t enough different enemy types to fight or weapons to find to take full advantage of what makes each Code unique. The opening area hides mostly swords and axes–implying melee builds are the way to go–so there doesn’t seem to be any point in investing in the Ranger and Caster Blood Codes early on. Perhaps later areas offer more reason to switch to bayonet rifles and blood magic, though it remains to be seen.
Code Vein’s other major feature, its buddy system, hasn’t seen much change since the game’s delay. In Code Vein, you meet other Revenants who each have their own questlines and stories. You can choose who joins you in combat, and they’ll help you fight and revive you if you happen to fall in the midst of a challenging battle. Bandai Namco designed the buddy system in order to make Code Vein’s difficult Souls-like combat more accessible for players new to these types of games.
“So the core concept of [Code Vein] is all about dying and trying again, kind of like [Dark Souls] and [Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice],” Iizuka said. “With that sort of difficulty level set, you have that sense of achievement, that sense of accomplishment when you finally beat that stage or beat that level. So that’s something we do value in this game, and that’s why we set the difficulty at where it is. However, the development staff really focused on how to motivate the player once they’ve failed, whether on a boss or stage. So, maybe you die once, and then we want the player to think ‘Maybe if I did this again, I could do it better next time around.’ So that’s where we put the most effort and focus in development, and one of the ways that we motivate the player to [immediately] retry a stage is the buddy system.”
One other player can join you and your NPC partner as well, though Code Vein is an entirely supportive experience. There are no PvP aspects “at this time,” Iizuka said.
Code Vein’s buddy system certainly makes things easier, but never to the point where the game felt actually easy. The game’s opening area is comprised of large open rooms connected by winding hallways and staircases, most of which have blind corners. So it was nice to have someone walk with you who points out hidden items you missed, warns of potential ambushes, and can take some of the heat off you when you need to heal. Being able to sacrifice your own health for each other is also a fun risk vs. reward mechanic, especially when you both can choose to lose almost all your health to bring the other one back to life. It’s easier to explore and try out new weapons knowing that one of you dying doesn’t necessarily mean the end and getting kicked back to the last checkpoint. Through the buddy system, death changes from a punishment into a learning experience.
In terms of a new release date, Code Vein’s fate is still a bit up in the air. However, the game remains scheduled for this year. “We are focusing on development for PS4, Steam, and Xbox One,” Iizuka said. “But as far as the possibility of porting to Switch or [the Epic Games Store], there might be a possibility down the line. We can’t really say for sure at this point.”