While certainly nowhere near as prevalent as the Rogue-lite genre that has flourished amongst indie developers over the last few years, the Souls-like is very much a growing niche in gaming. Sparked into being by From Software nearly a decade ago, there’s been a few pretenders to the Dark Souls throne, and what’s curious to see is that the next challenger is actually coming from within the building. Bandai Namco Entertainment have published the Dark Souls games, which is now presumed to be at an end, and they’re looking to rekindle that success with their own internal effort, Code Vein.
Coming from the team behind God Eater, it’s not exactly a step into the unknown and the team have already shown themselves to be able to put together a good action RPG with boss battles at its core. There’s a similar conceit to the story of Code Vein as well, but it certainly hews more towards the Souls-like gameplay and open world design.
Set in a post-apocalyptic world, humans have evolved down a bizarre and unusual path, straying away from the meat and two veg that many people currently enjoy down a more vampiric path to consuming blood for sustenance – presumably vegetarians and vegans will have been first up onto the dinner table. You play as one of these Revenants, a fully customisable character, and with the supply of blood gradually slowing, more and more are giving into their vampiric bloodlust and becoming one of the Lost. Rather than give in yourself, you instead seek to explore the lost history of the world, to try and find a solution.
Anyone familiar with the Souls games should feel right at home with this stamina-based combat system. There’s heavy and light attacks with a range of different weapons, though only a few were available to try. In the thick of the action, you’ll be carefully watching enemy animations and trying to avoid getting hit through a combination of blocks, parries and dodges. Dodge, parry or simply take damage and your Focus gradually fills up, eventually boosting your speed and attack damage passively. Oh, and there’s a Drain attack that can be charged up and used in combination with parries and back attacks.
However, you also have a wide range of additional abilities, known as Gifts. They can range from powering up your attacks with lightning on your sword, increase defence, send a small or large firebolt at an enemy, reviving your AI companion, and so on. You can access a lot of them with ease, pressing a shoulder button in combination with the four face buttons or four D-pad directions, however, you’ll be spending Ichor which is earned from dealing damage, getting kills or consuming items. Spend it wisely, in other words.
What really helps this game stand out is its anime stylings and the world its set in, but it comes with a slightly odd hodge-podge of ideas within that. There’s the cavernous underground section that the demo started in full of deep and dark purple hues, but breaking out of this location and above the surface, I was confronted with a rather more ordinary destroyed city. You’ve got your range of fantastical abilities and weapons, including a very Edward Scissorhands-like glove of blades as one possible Drain weapon, and Mia’s insistence on wearing a bearskin hat and running around with what seems to be a 19th century musket… Somehow, it actually works quite well.
Mia is one of your potential companions through all of this, and so alongside your standard array of light and heavy attacks, switching weapons and magical abilities, she’s also got your back in a fight. She’s great for dealing a smidgeon of extra damage, drawing the attention of enemies away in a fight, and reviving you if you’re downed and she’s not under attack herself at that time.
That you can have a companion might be somewhat controversial amongst the die hard fans of this sub-genre, as it does lighten the load and make the game that little bit easier. She’s a real lifeline during boss battles, as she shares some of her health with you when you’re downed and doesn’t seem to have the same inventory constraints as you do when if comes to self-healing. Of course, she can be downed if you let enemies focus on her for too long, and you’ll need to take some of the burden yourself.
Balancing this will obviously be key for Bandai Namco to get right, and with this particular build, it’s actually too far in the wrong direction. Every charge up attack animation, every ability and spell, and item consumption takes too long and slows you down too much. It amps up the difficulty in a manner that feels too unforgiving, but thankfully it’s something that the developers are aware of and have likely already tweaked and fixed since getting player feedback from the game’s showing at Tokyo Game Show.
Code Vein has a few interesting ideas up its sleeves, from AI companions to the breadth of Gifts you have available to you, but it does ultimately seem to boil down to being an anime Dark Souls in quite a lot of ways. That’s hardly a bad thing when there’s an awful lot of fans of the genre looking for more games of this ilk.