Coming from Bandai Namco is a new entry in the action RPG genre, Code Vein, with a fantastic anime look, seemingly strong story, and the chance to play out proceedings as a vampire. So come with me to a world of Revenants, The Lost, giant monsters and brutal combat.
The first thing that you have to do when starting off with Code Vein is to design your character. And the character generation screen in what Bandai have produced is one of the most comprehensive I’ve ever seen. Every little detail about your character can be tweaked, from things like the gender and build type, to the colour of individual eyes; not just the iris, but the eye as a whole. And best of all, if you played the demo and spent a silly amount of time creating your ideal character, then you can import their appearance across to the full game. And so, my lady vampire, complete with cat ears, three crowns and David Bowie style mismatched eyes, was ready to rumble.
Launching into the story we are found in a dystopian post-apocalypse world, and despite how grim the landscape is, there are still those fighting for the side of good. We are Revenants, immortal soldiers created by having a BOR parasite injected into our hearts, which basically makes us unable to die as long as our heart remains intact. The downside of this parasite is that it creates a thirst for blood, and if the bloodthirst isn’t slaked, then the Revenant goes into a frenzy and becomes a member of the Lost; unthinking creatures who live to kill. Once a Revenant becomes Lost, there’s no way back, and the only cure is to turn them into dust, by destroying their hearts.
This then gives us a handy mechanic for respawning in Code Vein, as there are plants called Mistle that act as anchors for Revenants, and when they are defeated, they are reanimated at the last Mistle they visited. And these Mistles also serve as points where we can level up, and teleport to. Oh, and they also reset the world when we rest at them, repopulating the environment with enemies. Now, those of you that have played any of the Dark Souls games will no doubt be having deja vu at this point, and that’s for good reason: Code Vein is basically Dark Souls with an anime paint job and jiggle physics. Seriously, the guys who made Dead or Alive could learn something from these visuals, as Coco, one of our friends, can manage to jiggle while she’s standing still…
So, in the Dark Souls way, as you progress through levels, you have to explore, find useful items, unlock Mistles, before coming to the point that every player of these types of games comes to dread. As you are checking out the mini map, you see that you are in a long corridor and, just ahead, is a large circular room. Now every gamer knows that this layout means a boss encounter, and you’ll not be disappointed with Code Vein. One pro tip I will offer is this: If you get to the boss room and you haven’t seen a Mistle since the start of the level, then you’ve missed a bit and should backtrack. Without a word of a lie, you don’t want to go and fight these guys with only one healing charge left (think Estus flask, right down to the way that you can find extra charges and make it more effective), so backtrack and look in all the corners that you missed. Usually there is a Mistle waiting to be activated (refilling your healing ability) that will allow you to respawn without having to fight your way to the boss again. Sometimes you can find shortcuts back to previous areas as well, which makes life a lot easier.
Having sorted yourself out, it’s time to take on the bosses, and boy are they a varied bunch. They range from slightly larger versions of the enemy types found in the early game, right through to screen filling monstrosities at the end of the run. They have but one purpose in mind – to reduce you and your AI helper to dust.
Well, I say AI helper, but there is nothing better than being able to send distress signals to invite other real life players to come to your aid instead. There are a number of restrictions that make this only possible in certain areas, but having a real person helping out can make a big difference to the entire Code Vein experience, as the AI companions are occasionally a little on the dumb side, letting you die rather than reviving you. This bit of companionship is a two way street, as you can also answer calls for distress and aid someone else; although getting called to assist a level 20 friend when you yourself are up in the hundreds, does tend to make it a bit easy! Honestly though, I’m glad to see that the multiplayer is only co-op, as I think any form of PvP in a Souls style title would detract too much from the story.
The way the tale in Code Vein is advanced is also very well handled. As you explore, or defeat bosses, you can find red things on the ground – vestiges. These are crystallised memories, and if you take them to attendants you will come across in the world, they can repair these vestiges, allowing you to walk through the memories, learning more about the various characters back stories as you go. Some of these are genuinely affecting, with brilliant voice acting all the way through. Seeing what happens to the various companions you meet in the game, understanding their history and motivations as they go through the motions of saving the world, ensures that there are plenty of twists and turns as you go. I have really enjoyed the story of Code Vein, and it is genuinely emotional at points, as it seems everyone has lost a friend or relative to the Lost at some point in time.
Visually and Code Vein is fantastic, with a beautiful hand-drawn look and stunning vistas to look upon. Getting to some of the outdoor areas and seeing the devastation, the way that a desert has swallowed a town, and the Thorns of Judgement have wrecked the planet, have made my jaw drop more than once. Add to this lovely music in the memory sequences, the stirring battle cries, the fantastic fighting sound effects and the top notch voice acting and the presentation of Code Vein is absolutely first rate.
And gameplay wise, it does do a lot of things right too, but it’s not perfect. The camera is easily confused, and in the final boss fight, this viewpoint comes across as an adversary almost as fierce as the boss itself. It can cope with locking onto small enemies, but when trying to lock on to larger, or fast moving enemies, we find it ending up swinging around like it’s had ten pints and is fighting to maintain any form of balance. Add into this a tendency to go into walls when you are fighting in a corner and the camera can certainly cause a lot of problems.
The parrying mechanic also takes a lot of getting used to, as it has a very long build up animation, so you need to action everything a lot sooner than you think. I have to admit that even now I’ve still not particularly got on with it, instead relied on dodging and blocking, however other than these few niggles, I’ve really enjoyed playing Code Vein, running through things again on NG+.
All in all, Code Vein on Xbox One is a great new addition to the action RPG genre. It may be nothing more than a reskinned Dark Souls, but when the source material is so strong, that isn’t a problem. A fantastic story arc, lots of replay value, and with tons of things to find and explore, Code Vein ticks a lot of boxes. If the camera was right, and parrying worked better then it would be a near-perfect score, but these small annoyances just stop it from reaching those heights.