Hands on: Code Vein Review

Having disappeared for several months following a delay from its planned 2018 release, Code Vein is back with a bang, improving upon things to create a grim adventure with potential.

First Impressions

Code Vein is shaping up nicely. The over-the-top anime aesthetic is definitely an acquired taste, with outfits proving ridiculous and monsters decorated with an absurd number of spikey appendages. But, push past that, and there’s an enjoyable action romp at the centre.

Key Specifications

  • Review Price: £49.99
  • Release Date: 2019
  • Developer: Bandai Namco
  • Genre: Action RPG

Co-operative play has always been at the bloody, beating heart of FromSoftware’s Dark Souls formula, a template that has gone on to define a generation of wildly different action RPG experiences. The act of summoning a friend to help you triumph over a seemingly impossible encounter will always feel amazing, even if you’re foregoing the sense of a solo victory to see the story to its conclusion.

Amidst a broken world filled with unspeakable horrors you were never truly alone, and that philosophy has persisted through dozens of experiences, whether its Deck 13’s The Surge or Team Ninja’s Nioh. Code Vein takes this long-lasting idea and hurls it out the window. No longer are your party members faceless heroes, but lively personalities core to the unfolding narrative.

Having disappeared for several months following a delay from its planned 2018 release, Bandai Namco’s upcoming RPG is back with a bang, improving upon things to create a grim adventure filled with potential. It stumbles, with some parts in desperate need of tightening, but that doesn’t distract from what could be.

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Code Vein Preview

At a recent event I spent a handful of hours with Code Vein, diving into the opening moments to create a character and take my hesitant first steps into a post-apocalyptic world. Before we get into the meat of mechanics, I need to mention the stellar avatar creator. It feels like The Sims fell into a cauldron of gothic anime archetypes and you’re free to toy with the results.

I ended up with a tall, overly buff anime lady with a Captain Marvel-esque hairstyle and glowing red-eyes. In other words, you don’t want to mess with me. After deciding on my appearance I awoke in a dimly lit cave, resting upon the lap of a mysterious white-haired girl. I soon find out that, like me, she belongs to a class of people known as The Revenants. To put it simply, they’re vampires trying to survive across the ruined city.

Unfortunately, we’re immediately taken prisoner and forced by our captors to venture into the wilderness in search of precious items known as Blood Beads. It’s suggested that this journey is a fruitless one, with countless pawns being thrown to their death for a greater cause. But I was determined to survive, cautiously pushing through the opening area with oversized sword in hand.

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Within seconds, the mechanical innards of Code Vein come alive and it’s clear that Bandai Namco has pushed this formula to exciting new places. Combat is defined by distinct classes known as ‘Blood Codes’ that include generic occupations like Warrior, Mage and Scout, although they’re given otherworldly names that are confusing at first, but easy to grow accustomed to.

‘Gifts’ are your abilities, found inside specific Blood Codes that can be customised to your liking. At first, you’re restricted to certain skills, but upon reaching maximum affinity they can be mix-and-matched to create a custom loadout that perfectly fits your playstyle. Not being confined to strict blueprints separates Code Vein from the competition in some delightful ways, making it easy to experiment outside of my comfort zone.

Of course, everything I’ve just mentioned falls apart if the core combat isn’t any good, and Code Vein delivers a competent spin on Bloodborne’s fast, ferocious encounters. Aggression is incentivised as I performed a mixture of light and heavy attacks, finding out what made each ungodly creature tick. I don’t really know what I’m fighting, but it’s abundantly clear they want me dead.

Base attacks feel excellent, providing a palpable sense of feedback whether you’re using lightweight katanas or ridiculous sledgehammers that you could never hope to lift in reality. They can be combined to create strings of combos that can down adversaries in seconds, all of which are relatively easy to learn. However, weapons are restricted by class, so you can’t go in slicing fools up as a mage without consequence.

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Code Vein Preview

Things fall apart somewhat once you start using Gifts. The animation of melee-specific special attacks require a window of time that leaves you vulnerable, meaning it’s easy for monsters to murder you before connecting. This feels ill-conceived and almost unfair in some instances as you’re completely defenseless and incapable of performing certain skills, leading to many frustrating deaths out of my control.

Dying isn’t the problem, it’s the inability to use powers that are meant to be a core part of Code Vein’s identity. Standing back and firing the same spells over and over until I win is boring, as is sticking to nothing but generic attacks. This is a nuisance that could easily be remedied, and I desperately hope it is. When these skills work right, they’re genuinely awesome.

Other Gifts will provide you with buffs or sacrifice your health in exchange for a temporary attack boost. Say you’re in the last throes of a boss battle with no healing items left. You can sacrifice your life energy in exchange for one last desperate sprint to victory. It’s a gamble that makes encounters more exciting, especially if you’re willing to regularly take the plunge.

I’m keen to see how Blood Codes and Gifts shape out in the full release, and I’ve been told that you’ll be able to venture into optional areas filled with harder boss battles. Return unscathed and you’ll be rewarded with oodles of loot and experience, making the grind trivial if you hit a wall in the main story.

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Code Vein Preview

The placement of enemies right now can feel erratic, and I found myself surrounded multiple times with no reasonable means of escape. I’d much rather do combat with more powerful, singular foes that test my mettle instead of countless lemmings that barrage me with little thought. Boss battles inside the aforementioned harder areas also throw multiple figures at you simultaneously, and these conflicts simply aren’t that fun.

Outside of the explorable world you can return to a hub area filled with merchants, amenities and characters who will advance the story. It’s a vast area and even has a bar if you fancy getting tipsy away from all the demonic hordes. I was rushed through this area so didn’t have time to properly explore, but having a home filled with familiar faces to relax in is right up my street.

Latest Impressions

Code Vein is shaping up nicely. The over-the-top anime aesthetic is definitely an acquired taste, with outfits proving ridiculous and monsters decorated with an absurd number of spikey appendages. But, push past that, and there’s an enjoyable action romp at the centre.

There’s some obvious niggles that I want to see addressed, but the foundation established by the creators of God Eater is something worth keeping an eye on.

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