With MCM London Comic Con taking place last weekend we had the chance to sit down and play a full demo of Code Vein: an upcoming action RPG from Bandai Namco that filled the Bloodborne 2 shaped void left behind after Sony’s E3 press conference earlier this year.
Code Vein is a post-apocalyptic action game whose Gothic setting and tough combat has seen it dubbed ‘Anime Dark Souls’, but while the term ‘Souls-like’ is handed out all too easily these days Code Vein truly does live up to the comparison as well as bringing new elements on board. You play as a Revenant: a bloodthirsty vampire stalking the ruins of a world once filled with skyscrapers and apartment blocks, now torn to the ground by the arrival of mysterious yellow spires called the Thorns of Judgment. Whatever catastrophe destroyed this world, its people are now beset with a hunger for blood, and those that succumb to its power join the ranks of the Lost as twisted, mindless monstrosities. Yet one hidden group of Revenants are fighting back, and in the heart of Vein one final group must sacrifice their memories, and perhaps even their humanity, for powerful Gifts that might finally free them from the living nightmare their world has become.
As a vampiric Revenant, you can fully customize your own character and play alongside a cast of allies who act like permanent Dark Souls phantoms, aiding you in combat. Each character has their own special abilities and preferred weapons but can be swapped out or removed entirely if you’re determined to face down the bosses on your own. Yet far from Dark Souls’ atmosphere of silent isolation it’s clear that Code Vein wants to surround you with characters with their own backstories and arcs to follow, from Mia Karnstein, a girl who wields a blood-charged bayonet and is determined to protect her younger brother, to Louis, a young man hunting the source of the Blood Beads so that no more human blood will need to be spilled.
With glowing red eyes and swords big enough to defy the laws of physics, these characters also show off the various types of Blood Veils. So far we’ve seen three types of Veil: Hounds, Stingers, and Ogres, all of which allow the character to draw blood from their enemies not by biting anyone’s neck, but by transforming their attacks into hungering wolves or scorpion tails which gore into your foe and absorb the blood you’ll need to charge your special Gifts.
Combat begins with the Dark Souls format of dodging, rolling, and balancing variously powered attacks, but Code Vein also adds complexity in the form of Revenant’s Gifts. By drinking the blood of your enemies you gain access to a range of buffs and special moves that will come in handy for boss fights, but using your drain ability requires more planning than simply hacking away at mobs, so you need to get the balance right and prepare ahead of time for difficult battles. Environmental aspects also need to be considered, and playing the demo certainly felt like stepping into a Dark Souls level, with twisting caverns stretching out before me and the all-too-easy risk of rolling off a misty cliff edge completed by the presence of lethargic yet deadly enemies.
Dying in Code Vein resets you to your last rest-point, and naturally, respawns all the enemy mobs in the process. The burden of hacking your way through them repeatedly is only lessened with an Estus-like healing system and, of course, a companion eager to take hits for you. Thankfully, I found my ally, Mia, far from getting in my way and messing up combat, provided a solid distraction that allowed me to experiment with Code Vein’s slower charging attacks and drain abilities, especially if I was being careful not to aggro an entire room at once. I only got to see one of Code Vein’s allies in action, but I see the appeal of swapping out a range of characters to complement your playstyle or utilize their individual abilities in crucial battles.
I’m hoping we’ll see much more of the characters in their own right, as it’s one of the biggest factors making Code Vein unique from the Souls series with a completely different approach to a larger story, and one which could have a huge impact on its final tone. Characters whose personalities and relationships develop along the way would be a huge departure from the Dark Souls formula for hands-off environmental storytelling, so building a strong cast and compelling stories in Code Vein will be vital to justifying their inclusion, and pitching the series in its own direction.
Whether Code Vein will be able to live up to Dark Souls’ iconic boss designs also remains to be seen, but with giant sword-wielding wolves and sexy naked spider women to live up to it feels like the Dark Souls aesthetic is more than capable of taking on more overt inspiration from anime. From fighting Ryuk-style demons in black cloaks and warped gas-masks to towering humanoids with sagging gray-skin and dangling ant-eater trunks, Code Vein feels ready to go in a direction of its own. We’ll have to wait and see whether the game truly nails the balance of maddeningly difficult yet satisfying combat, and an expansive world that begs exploration to the point of death, but hopefully our more masochistic players will find something to enjoy when Code Vein releases next year.
Code Vein will be launched in 2018 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. If you like the sound of combat to set your blood pulsing you can watch the most recent gameplay trailer below, or check out the official launch trailer here.