Code Vein was originally scheduled to be released last September. Following its delay, the game still has no firm launch date. Publisher Bandai Namco will only say that it’s coming out for PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One “later this year.”
At a media event last week, I played the game for a few hours. I found it to be an absorbing, challenging experience with a complex web of combat systems. It’s certainly an attempt by Bandai Namco to create its own Dark Souls/Bloodborne-like franchise, as a complement to its publishing contract for FromSoftware’s much-loved series of tough-combat action role-playing adventures.
Code Vein is being developed by the same team that created many of the games in the God Eater series, itself a pretender to the Monster Hunter series. God Eater games are all about taking down big bosses using a variety of blades, so it’s no surprise that Code Vein has a solidly competent combat style that makes full use of weapons variety.
The game encourages players to unlock and equip a wide range of weapons combinations, in order to take down particular enemies. I learn quickly that choosing an appropriate weapon makes specific challenges much easier to resolve, whether that by range or melee or a combination. This makes Code Vein as much a puzzle game as a combat role-playing game.
Yes, battles are won by agility and observation and timing, but also by sensible tactics. Trial and error is an inevitable part of the process, as I test my weapons against enemies, and against their own tactics. I die often, and am thrown back to save points. Finding and reaching save points, while budgeting my health boosts, is not easy, even with the help of an AI companion.
A heavy emphasis on role-playing micro-management is also on display in Code Vein’s system of special attacks and buffs, known as “gifts.” I unlock these as I play, equipping and de-equipping them according to specific needs.
I imagine that, later in the game, I may settle for a favored loadout. But the early levels suggest a lot of mix-and match experimentation, including jumping across three different classes — fighter, ranger, and caster — when I need something specific.
Code Vein’s systems and story are shaped and formed in the language of blood. I am a vampire whose powers depend upon the collection of blood, usually by draining my enemies through specific combat moves.
Draining attacks are a lot of fun, sometimes offering spectacular moments of enjoyable fighting animations. These attacks can take an extra second or two longer than basic moves, so there’s a strong element of risk-reward calculation in my dealings with the many horrible creatures, ogres and giants that I encounter. But without blood, I am unable to make use of my gifts, so it’s an essential part of combat. I can also spend “focus” on certain attacks, rendering them more powerful, albeit briefly.
As the story unfolds, and my range of gifts unlock, I learn more about the world, and about my allies. For large parts of the game, I play alongside a variety of AI companions whose stories reveal the nature and lore of our dark, post-apocalyptic world. Human allies can also join my quests, though I did not get to try the game in multiplayer.
The story, at least in the early part of the game, is a faintly baffling tale of devastation and loss, in which I befriend a scantily clad young woman who sees me as The One, and who is subsequently spirited away. It all feels a bit hackneyed, but the story is probably the least interesting thing about this anime world of dark magic, spectacular weapons, and unforgiving enemies.
We’ll keep an eye out for any news on a release date. It may be something Bandai Namco is saving for E3, next month.