For about ten years now, action-RPG titles have had a consistent subgenre thanks to FromSoftware and their Souls games. Whether it be Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Sekiro, or any of the other titles spawned from this genre, they all share a common theme: their difficulty. Bandai Namco takes pride in their ownership of the Dark Souls franchise, but their own internal studio decided to give the genre a shot. Enter Code Vein, a new action-RPG in an anime style that feels similar, but also fresh compared to Dark Souls. A couple weeks ago, GotGame was invited to try an updated build of the game.
While the genre is starting to get crowded with games like Nioh, The Surge, and more coming, Code Vein still sets itself apart. We actually covered a lot of this when we last saw the game early last year. Using an anime style mixed with a Gothic aesthetic, Code Vein definitely stands out among the rest. As a post apocalyptic world where people have transformed into demons known as the Lost, it’s up to Revenants to maintain survival. It’s a great premise for an action game and it’s definitely caught the eye of many gamers out there. While not much has changed visually, getting our hands on the game has taught us quite a bit about the title.
One of the best things about Code Vein is the ability to change classes on the fly. In the Dark Souls series, players will choose a class upon making their character and they’ll stick with it until they play a different profile. Code Vein aims to be different, allowing players to have freedom with their class. Going the extra mile, players can change their class and equipment to match from the pause screen itself. While the game doesn’t exactly pause, the ability to change from a Fighter to a Ranger mid-mission is a game changer. It’s almost like using Dante’s style change in Devil May Cry 5 while in the middle of combat. The main difference is that you’ll want to optimize your equipment and skills when you change.
Classes in the game are known as Blood Codes, and there are quite a few different ones in Code Vein. Players will start out the game with the Fighter, Ranger and Caster classes, but they’ll unlock more as they play. This is done through story progression mainly, but there’s potential to unlock more from fulfilling certain conditions. At least from one example, defeating a boss granted me a Vestige, a crystallized memory that becomes a Blood Code. Each Blood Code will have different stats, affecting attack power, defense, stamina, and your Ichor resource. Ichor works sort of like mana, building up during combat. Players also have the ability to drain Ichor from enemies, which can be performed directly or during combos. Each Blood Code will also have access to skills called Gifts, which differ from each class.
In my demo, I eventually had access to eight Blood Codes, though it seemed like there were definitely more. Aside from the three the player starts with, there were also the Berserker, Prometheus, Hunter , Mercury and Hermes Blood Codes. Players may want to experiment to find the classes that suit them best to develop their tactics. I fancied the traditional Fighter class myself, feeling it suited my play style well. As Blood Codes represent different classes, they all feel unique in their own way. Berserker for example allows the use of heavy armor, slowing down movement, but also increases strength. Meanwhile, the Mercury Blood Code is a well balanced class with plenty of stamina to work with for beginners. The Caster is your mage-like class, giving Gifts that provide a wealth of range attacks.
Moving away from the Blood Codes, players will also have access to a partner character. These partners will assist in battle, dealing damage and also just acting as another target for the Lost. This might make the game feel easier, and in a sense, you’d be right. In the case of players falling in battle, you get a few retries as your partner (assuming they’re alive) will revive you. If they are defeated in battle, players can also revive them by sacrificing their own health. Despite having the extra assistance, the game still maintains a high difficulty. Enemies are often faster, some of the more difficult ones with plenty of reach in their attacks. It’ll take pattern recognition and a lot of trial and error to master Code Vein.
In my session, I admit it took me a while to get the hang of things. Starting the demo, I was given a chance to create a character, though there were multiple presets available with plenty of unique appearances. For the more creative types, the tools to start from scratch have quite a lot of depth, reminding me of SoulCalibur VI’s Create-A-Soul. Once you have a character appearance and name, players move onto the tutorial with a mysterious female character named Cruz. It’s there that they are allowed to practice with the three aforementioned starting Blood Codes. Once the tutorial is complete, players move on to what is presumably the beginning of the story.
The player wakes up in front of another mysterious girl, this one more scantily clad and covered in bandages. We later find out her name is Io, and despite her lack of memories, she clearly knows more than she lets on. The player will stumble toward a spring, a white plant given life by blood. As they reach it, a cutscene starts and after a while, the player and Io are captured by other Revenants. Waking up in a prison, the guards decide to task you with finding blood beads. After putting on a mask (protecting characters from the infectious air) and climbing a ladder, players are taken into another cutscene to start their first mission.
Being separated from Io, the player is suddenly knocked into a tunnel with a character named Oliver. He acts as your first partner, and a valuable one at that. While Oliver comes equipped with a nice hammer, you start with a lead pipe and low quality armor. It doesn’t take long to come across your first Lost, using your weak weapon to slowly defeat them. As they progress through this dungeon, players will eventually pick up new equipment to become more fit for combat. Like other games in this genre, enemies aren’t the only danger, as there are plenty of hazards to watch out for. Bottomless pits to fall down, ambush attacks and more await you in the world.
If you should get hurt, players will have access to a limited number of Regeneration items. These get recharged at checkpoints known as Mistles, which also map out the area. While I initially died a few times in the beginning (once from falling off, and a few times getting overwhelmed by enemies), I eventually got the hang of things. Going through the beginning a second time, I managed to get through without dying a single time. Enemies are pretty easy to aggro, as they don’t need to be far to join the fight. This could make it easy to get outnumbered quickly, though Oliver is a big help here.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the story elements, so from here, I’ll focus on the combat and the level design. Enemies can be targeted by pushing the right analog stick, using the different directions to switch between foes. The camera works with this pretty well and it makes it easy to gauge your distance. Dodging is essential to avoid attacks, especially when overwhelmed by multiple enemies. This of course takes stamina, so it can’t easily be spammed against enemies. There are two attack buttons, one for weak attacks and another for strong attacks. If combined with the right shoulder button, you can also use special attacks as well. Holding down the right trigger and pressing a corresponding face button also allows players to use their Gifts. Finally, there is the drain button, which works like an attack, but drains Ichor from enemies.
The first dungeon is an underground disaster area, full of rubble and remnants from a world long forgotten. Lost will often be inactive until the player gets close enough, though there are some that are actually dead. This area is less Gothic than some of the later areas, but it works almost like an urban cavern. Items are represented as small glowing objects to pick up, often being marked on the minimap. This first area has branching paths to follow and they often lead to the same destination. It’s merely up to the player on how they want move forward.
Players won’t level up like a traditional RPG, as they will instead collect haze from fallen enemies. Haze works just like souls in Dark Souls, acting as the games currency. Not only will you use this to buy items and upgrade equipment, but you’ll also use it to level up your character. Using Mistles, players can increase their strength or even learn new Gifts to use in combat. Resting at a Mistle does reset enemies, so always be aware of this before using one. Should you fall in battle and not be revived by your partner, you’ll end up losing Haze. If you manage to reach where you died, you can recover your Haze and continue on.
Upon reaching a certain point, there’s a partner change, helping you make your way to the end of the dungeon. It’s here that we face our first boss, a Revenant that’s become infected by the air around him, becoming a Lost. This boss is significantly stronger than all the previous enemies, and not only deals immense damage, but also takes a lot too. Most enemies before could be taken down in a handful of attacks, but this boss takes quite a while to whittle down. He starts out in a human-like form, but then eventually transforms into a more beastly creature. If I didn’t have my partner, I probably wouldn’t have been able to beat this boss.
Finishing up the mission, there are more cutscenes, and even a moment where you experience the Vestige. Players will move through the memories of the boss character and eventually come out with their Blood Code. It’s sort of like a darker take of Mega Man. Upon collecting the Blood Code, the mission officially ends and the player is taken to their base. Players will be introduced to new characters, learning more about the story, and even more about their powers. I have to admit, it’s a little weird that players have to talk to a character multiple times to progress the objective. I often found myself checking the mission board for it to just tell me to talk to the same person again and again.
There’s a couple shops in the base, one that upgrades equipment and gear, and the other for items. Players can also change their character appearance here by using the mirror. There’s a practice dummy players can interact with, closing off a small area to use combos until you decide to exit. The base overall seems like a fun environment, full of colorful characters and decorations. Upon finishing the objective, the demo story ends and I unlock content after the demo.
Unlocking a mission in the depths, the Town of Sacrifice is meant to be a real challenge. We were told that this map was more for level 40 players, and yet I went in at about level 18. Being dropped in the middle of the map, there are four directions to travel along. Each direction would hold a different key, needed to open a door in the middle of all the paths. The enemies here are much stronger, and no matter how many times I changed my strategy, I would eventually fall. I would get further down a path each time, learning from failure. It gave me a lot of experience with different Blood Codes, weapons, and even partners. As a new IP, Code Vein should have a lot of potential for fans of the Soulsborne genre.
Overall, I’m excited to see more of Code Vein. The game has plenty of other areas, some incredibly beautiful like the Cathedral of Sacred Blood. It also seems to offer more weapon types and Gifts to eventually play with, even with online co-op. Code Vein was originally slated to release last year, but it was delayed to this year, this preview being the first notable update in almost a year. It’s good to see the game is still on track for release, and we’ll be getting more information of the game soon. Code Vein will release for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC sometime later this year. Feel free to check out our interview with Stephen Akana about the game. If you have any specific questions you’d like us to answer, feel free to ask us in the comments below!