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Code Vein

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: Bandai Namco Games
Release Date: Sept. 27, 2019


PS4/XOne/PC Preview - 'Code Vein'

by Thomas Wilde on July 4, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Feast on the blood of enemies through a journey across a massive interconnected world to unlock its mysterious sanguine past in this grueling action-RPG.

Pre-order Code Vein

Code Vein was initially announced in 2017 for a 2018 release, with plans for a demo at that year's Gamescom conference. At E3 2019, it was available at Bandai Namco's booth for hands-on play sessions, where you could choose one of three character classes and take on a short stretch of an enemy-infested dungeon.

I sat down to play it, and I promptly got destroyed.

Code Vein is probably the single most difficult game I played at E3 this year, with an elaborate backstory, a handy control sheet that read like stereo instructions in another language, and enemies that were not taking any of my crap. You have a host of offensive and defensive options, including a parry, a dodge, and the ability to attack or finish off an opponent by draining their blood, but this was definitely a game pitched at the same masochistic crowd that enjoys the Dark Souls franchise.

Set in the distant postapocalyptic future of Earth, players in Code Vein are members of Vein, a society of blood-drinking revenants. In order for the power you needed to survive, your character has exchanged their memories of their past, which also comes with the additional downside that if you ever fully give in to your bloodlust, you end up as a mindless, hostile ghoul. Your goal is to head out into the wastes, through fields of crumbling skyscrapers, to figure out how to regain your memories and your humanity.

Code Vein, as a single-player game, gives you an AI buddy to pal around with, selected from a cast of available characters, each of whom have their own abilities and backstories. You can also play via online co-op, with a buddy along to watch your back.

Your characters are customizable, with an "in-depth character creator" that I didn't get to play around with at the show, and you can select a "blood code" on the fly from the menus to determine your class, and thus your personal weapon preferences. The three available blood codes in the E3 demo were Prometheus, a glass cannon build that focused on dodges and parries to avoid damage; the Dark Knight, a durable fighter who favored giant two-handed weapons; and the Harmonia, who wields abilities called Dark Gifts. I started as the Prometheus, which went extremely badly for me, before switching to the Dark Knight for a little extra survivability.

It didn't much help. Code Vein is the sort of game where every incidental monster would qualify as a boss encounter somewhere else, where any incidental hit sends you flying and strips off your life total by quarters and thirds. You have access to a scant handful of items you can use to even the odds, like throwing knives and healing potions, but they don't help that much. It's about finding that pattern, knowing when to act, and most crucially, doing the right thing at the right time. A good solid parry can leave an opponent wide open, and if you play your cards right, you can tear into a monster and drain it dry, killing them and refilling your life simultaneously.

I get the feeling that Code Vein is one of those games you're going to have to sit down and learn, maybe over the course of an evening or a weekend, before you can even start to do well at it. An E3 booth demo was very much like being thrown into the deep end of the pool, except the pool was full of blood and monsters. This isn't an easy game to pick up and play. Still, if you like games that involve a hefty learning curve and absolutely no forgiveness for even the most casual mistake, then Code Vein is definitely what you're looking for.

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