From Software’s Dark Souls has left a significant mark on the games industry. The masterful RPG’s beautifully precise combat and expansive open world left us spellbound, so it was only a matter of time until imitators began to surface. In this new genre lies Code Vein, an equally challenging experience from the minds behind God Eater. Combining bleak exploration with a sharp anime aesthetic, it could well be one of 2018’s sleeper hits.
Set in a post-apocalyptic dystopia occupied by formidable creatures, you play as a member of The Revenant Society. Afflicted with amnesia, our customisable hero is also thirsty for blood and capable of performing devastating powers known as ‘Gifts’. My brief 20-minute demo only showcased a handful of these abilities, but there is plenty of potential for depth here through unique combinations. Specific mixtures will prove beneficial in different situations, especially if an enemy is vulnerable to a certain element.
Code Vein is oozing with style, managing to look beautifully resonant with its fluorescent character models and gnarly, over-the-top enemies. The demo showcased a claustrophobic area before launching me into a challenging boss battle. While not my personal favourite locales, they appeared to be well designed, with opposition waiting eagerly to ambush me. My reflexes were consistently tested, a quality many titles in the Souls ilk fail to capitalise upon.
If you’ve played Dark Souls or Bloodborne, the fundamentals of Code Vein will be immediately familiar. Attacking and blocking are performed with the shoulder buttons, while a roll can be enacted with a quick press of the circle button. It’s all about precision – timing attacks and dodges so the enemy is vulnerable and you’re out of harm’s way. Code Vein manages this balancing act relatively well, although in certain parts it felt like attacks I dodged were still hitting me. This is something I hope is improved in the full release.
One substantial difference in Code Vein’s approach is the addition of an AI companion. Mia – wearing a fabulous hat and wielding a rifle – is always around to provide combat support and revive you in a tough spot. At first, her presence is jarring, and her comments regarding upcoming foes and procurable items feel almost intrusive. But I grew to love her, especially after downing myself for the hundredth time and being in dire need of some help.
Mia is a helpful distraction in battle too. While monsters focus on tearing her to pieces, you’re free to flank them or quickly heal. This dynamic proved very useful in the boss battle, particularly when it came to Mia absorbing damage while I performed a few precious hits of my own. Sadly, she can also be an unpredictable nuisance at times. Mia was prone to approaching enemies without my knowledge, making it impossible to be stealthy all of the time.
Sign up for the newsletter
Get news, competitions and special offers direct to your inbox
This proved frustrating, and it was unclear whether or not companion actions could be changed or mapped to fit my playstyle. With any luck, this will become a fully-fledged feature, as it would also add a significant amount of depth to an RPG already bursting with potential. Whether or not Code Vein will feature multiple party members is also unconfirmed, although I imagine more than two allies at once would make combat far too muddy to feel enjoyable.
Code Vein’s environments can be tackled in a variety of ways. You can descend into the caverns in search of treasure, or skulk up to enemies from behind and take them by surprise. It’s all about trying different techniques until finding the one that clicks. Trial and error is a key element of Code Vein’s design, and it seems to be executed quite well.
This provided me with reasons to traverse through the same places over and over, falling victim to the blades of monsters as I tried to overcome them. However, it never felt frustrating. It was always my own fault, and adapting my strategy was the key to victory. Much like Bloodborne, I settled into a fast and frantic style, sliding in for a quick slash before darting away before any damage was taken.
The Gifts I decided to utilise also reflected my unpredictable combat strategy. A bit of extra speed proved essential when paired with extra damage and lightning-imbued weapons – a combo that would eventually vanquish Queen’s Knight, Code Vein’s debut boss encounter. She was a cruel mistress, annihilating me multiple times until I finally emerged triumphant. Code Vein does a fantastic job of filling you with adrenaline during its finer moments, so much so that I dropped my controller out of excitement as the Queen’s Knight fell. It felt fantastic, and I really hope it has more tricks like this lying in wait.
My primary concern with Code Vein is how well its character-driven narrative will pan out within the Souls template. Events will be driven by what I assume is a fully-voiced cast of personalities, guiding us through their post-apocalyptic world.
Part of me hopes it leans into its anime melodrama, providing us with a dark yet epic tale that isn’t afraid to amp up the atmospheric tension.
Code Vein is shaping up to be a competent RPG that builds upon the formula it clearly takes inspiration from. Its tense, accurate combat and fascinatingly bleak setting combine to create an anime-centric experience I’m incredibly eager to dive into next year.