After more than a year in waiting, we finally got the chance to go hands-on with Code Vein from Bandai Namco, an upcoming title from the teams that brought you God Eater 3. Here’s what we thought.
When it comes to Bandai Namco, I would be lying if I told you I wish I could have visited their booths at random gaming events around the world over the course of the past almost nine months or so. During that time, their vampire-themed action-RPG has been making its rounds through the gaming world, causing journalists from around the world to try and squeeze in an appointment at a local Bandai Namco offices in order to get their hands-on time with the upcoming title.
Instead, due to my location and financial situation, that wasn’t possible, so for me, I’d end up waiting the extra six-to-seven months longer than other members of the press. Luckily, this past weekend provided a much different experience, giving me a full weekend to experience a game that blends together the best elements of both God Eater and Dark Souls titles.
So getting home from my evening job on the weekends, I plopped down in my half-working recliner, popped out its leg rest, and got as comfy as I could with a half-eaten slice of pizza in my lap. Sloppy, I know, but I’d waited nearly a year to experience the game placed right before me thanks to Bandai Namco having sent a Network Test Edition code our way. With it ready, I was able to jump right on in, giving the Network Test Edition a solid run on Xbox One thanks to Bandai Namco and on PlayStation 4 thanks to one of my good pals from our local GameStop (thanks buddy!).
The Network Test Edition starts up with your standard Soulsborne style affair. You’re greeted with two options almost immediately: One offering you the chance to play online while the second offers an offline experience. For the sake of the Network Test Edition, I went online, giving a chance to experience the first chapter of the story and one of the end-game dungeons, which to some is reminiscent to that of Bloodborne and its chalice dungeons.
Once the mode was selected, I was given the option to start a New Game, only to be instantly greeted with two options: Remember my characters name or customize character first. Being I wanted to dive right into the character creation, I was able to mess with more customizations than I expected for a Network Test Edition of one of their titles.
Customizations ranged with more than a hundred possibilities ranging from clothing, accessories, hairstyles, face paints, eye selections, and various other things to choose from (you can check out our official YouTube video later this week). Once done, the game threw me in almost immediately into its not-so-distant future where a mysterious disaster brought about the collapse of the world, along with it, Revenants.
These Revenants, as far as the story tells you, are blessed with powers through the Vein, and through it, they give up their memories to wield the abilities they do, allowing them to take on those that have succumbed to their need for blood. Those who have succumbed to their need for blood and have mutated are called The Lost. At least that’s as much as we got to know about them.
Once this portion was done, our time with the game began to unfold right before us, allowing us to take our time with each of the Codes (classes). Out of the many, the game starts out with three Codes for you to choose from – Fighter, Ranger, and Caster. Being I normally play Knight in Dark Souls and a Ranger-style build in Bloodborne, it only seemed right to opt for a Caster.
Once done with that, it became quite clear what was but before me as I encountered the first few mobs, two things came quite clear. One, I limited myself to a single weapon until I could find another – a freaking pipe. Yep, a freaking lead pipe. I couldn’t switch to the two-handed makeshift mallet that I was given. Why? Because it wasn’t compatible with the Code’s stats, which opted for higher Mind and Will than the Fighter, the default class, which opts for higher Strength and Dexterity.
Thankfully, my experience with the Soulsborne genre and God Eater paid off before I knew it I was steamrolling the enemies placed before me. Combo’s worked quite like they would in both the God Eater series and the aforementioned Soulsborne genre of action-RPG titles. The biggest change is that unlike God Eater, ranged attacks, namely spells, don’t use mana, they use an essence called Ichor. This essence was refilled when hitting enemies with melee attacks.
This incorporated into a Caster class is unique. I didn’t have to worry about using regenerative items to restore my Ichor like I did the Estus flasks in Dark Souls 3 nor did I find myself being forced into a play-style that I didn’t like. I was able to alternate between throwing out powerful spells before dashing into melee range, unleashing wild and powerful melee attacks without little trouble.
Combos were pretty straight forward, even with the button changes, which see your light and heavy attacks bound to X and Y on Xbox One and Square and Triangle on PlayStation 4 while Parry was tied to Righter Trigger with the ability/spell guide linked to R2 and a combination of your face buttons and or D-Pad buttons depending on how you have your abilities assigned. Not to mention the passives, which we’ll talk about in a bit.
Unlike Dark Souls, each stage is fairly straight forward, at least the ones we were given a chance to experience, which made them feel a bit more like something you’d see in God Eater or Monster Hunter as far as design choices go. Don’t be fooled though, there are traps around every corner, and even bigger creatures lurking around the others. You can easily get overwhelmed with or without a player-based partner and the AI NPC at your side.
There was time-and-time again that this Soulsborne veteran was torn to shreds due to underestimating what was put before me. Sure, leveling up pays off, but even by the time I’d managed to get through the first few corridors, something even bigger and meaner was thrown my way. Even with the Mistle’s being your place to save, level up, learn new abilities inside each of the Codes, and the similar controls; the game itself is a deep and complex web of intricate designs. I just wish the level designs we experienced were just as deep and as complex.
While there are tricks and some traps, the maps were pretty straight forward, and for veteran Soulsborne players, the parts we did get to explore are straight forward – almost linear if you will. That aside, the experience itself was rather smooth, framerates never dipping down once on either the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One versions, but there’s a reason for that.
I could be proven wrong, but it seemed that both versions use their own versions of Dynamic Resolution Scaling, which allows the game to scale down the graphics and the active effects going on in order to compensate for the load on both the hardware of the console. Regardless if this is the case or not, the game runs smooth, very smooth, and it’s actually quite gorgeous compared to most titles of its kind.
Despite the graphics, you won’t actually get much time to admire them while trying to pay attention to your surroundings. It’s clever how they designed the game and the entire collecting blood, blood beads, ichor and the settings themselves fit the vampire vibe rather well. Even the ‘gifts’ themselves that you’ll find inside the Codes and their respective trees are rather nice as well and definitely bring the vibe full circle as you play.
Even backstabs and parry animations are a delight. Each of them changing based on the type of “armor” you have on. Want some cool wolf-like hounds popping out of the back of your character before taking a chunk out of the enemy in Tokyo Ghoul like fashion? Go with the Blue Hound armor. You won’t be disappointed. There are tons of different animations and they are all as spectacular as they sound.
But there’s something else. Even the enemies themselves help bring this to life. Everything inside and out is uniquely designed to fit into this carefully crafted world and it’s truly, while intimidating from time-to-time, a design choice we’ve not once seen before. Sure, Bloodborne did try, I’ll give it that, and it did the whole ‘Victorian’ experience rather well, but it didn’t really touch on these kinds of anime-style design elements that actually work quite well in the combined genre as a whole.
One of the other elements that really helps Code Vein stand out is how you obtain other Codes. In order to obtain new Codes, you will have to take out enemies, to obtain their Codes. However, not every single one of them, as far as we have experienced, will possess a code. It seems that there might be a trick to unlocking some of them and that trick hasn’t yet been demonstrated in a retail or live-demo of the game.
However, we did obtain one from the starting boss, Oliver, which let us obtain his Code, allowing you to use his combat style before his mutation as a Lost begins to plays out. That’s also another mechanic that begins to stand out on its own. Code Vein bosses don’t have one single phase.
Rather, all of them, literally, all of them that I got to fight had different attacks and abilities that they would use as the fight progressed. It’s an austere presentation that works in Bandai Namco’s favor. It’s not common you see a game that seeps this kind of detail through everything about it. The presentation, the gameplay mechanics, the story, character designs, narration, level design, all of it. It’s a type of presentation we don’t often see in games these days.
This isn’t just a copy and paste Soulsborne experience. Rather, it’s unique, it’s fun, and albeit rather challenging, it is highly rewarding and it seems that the one year delay on the game might actually pay off in Bandai’s favor and we only hope it does. While I do prefer the PlayStation 4 version over Xbox these days (mostly due to my friends playing on one over the other), I do appreciate the overall performance and quality of both versions of the upcoming title.
While the story does come off as a rather… Convoluted story due to only a portion of it being given out to test, I’m certain that this game will have a lot of staying power, and even some strong post-launch content support, which I hope to experience when the game releases later this year. Here’s to hoping we get a solidified release date during E3 2019 which is just a matter of days away.
Stay tuned as we will keep you updated about the upcoming release.
A code for the Code Vein Network Test Edition on Xbox One was provided to our outlet by Bandai Namco.
About the Writer(s):
Dustin is our native console gamer, PlayStation and Nintendo reviewer who has an appetite for anything that crosses the borders from across the big pond. His interest in JRPG’s, Anime, Handheld Gaming, and Pizza is insatiable. His elitist attitude gives him direction, want, and a need for the hardest difficulties in games, which is fun to watch, and hilarity at its finest. You can find him over on Twitter or Facebook.