The comparison of modern releases to FromSoftware’s highly-lauded Souls series has become an overused meme in the gaming industry by this point, but what happens when a game actually wants that link? Say what you want about reaching for the stars, but Bandai Namco’s Code Vein is the closest facsimile you can find, albeit adorned by a coat of anime paint, and one of the few games out there that actually experiment with different systems, to refresh the formula.
It may not always work, but Code Vein’s stylish third-person combat, robust class system, and the inclusion of AI companions allow the game to truly to stand on its own, despite some nagging issues with story progression and player agency.
In true anime fashion, Code Vein casts the player as a created character awakening in the ruins. As a Revenant who feeds on blood, players will soon learn that the world has basically descended into post-apocalyptic madness, and starvation is a real threat with more Revenants than people. It is a bleak setting, to begin with, but it can be jarring when the story is serious in tone, even as players are drinking giant beads of blood from mystical white trees.
In no time, players will find themselves grouping up with a bunch of like-minded Revenants, who know you for the world saviour you are, and it is now up to you to save the world and find out what caused such destruction.
It is a familiar premise, with Code Vein slowly drip-feeding story beats and lore in between revelations, lending a nice touch of mystery to the proceedings that can stir the curiosity. There is always something to look forward to finding out, and the pace it sets is just about right for this kind of game.
As you would expect, the game is pretty cut-scene heavy, with dramatic exposition being played out as you uncover more of the secrets of the world. Alas, for the more character-centric reveals, these play out in painfully slow moving Blood Echoes.
While the notion of more worldbuilding and intriguing character stories is always appreciated, it is extremely hard to enjoy when such sequences are slow and plodding, literally requiring the player to stroll through flashback corridors. It is a sudden break of pace compared to the rest of Code Vein, and could have been handled better when it comes to connecting such moments to the rest of the plot.
This is the biggest issue of Code Vein by far, with the story often being separated from the action you take part in. Sure, you will fight the Lost enemies throughout your adventure, and bosses at pivotal story moments, witness some twists and turns, but the big moments feel too few and far between, when compared to the more present environmental storytelling happening elsewhere.
Thankfully, the combat is fun as hell. Exploring sprawling dungeons and surface areas, finding enemies at the most inconvenient of times, and learning to look for openings, this is as Souls-like as you can get.
Precision and timing are lessons you will need to pick up quick, often rewarding you with windows to unleash your combos and drain your foes of Ichor. While melee combat will be the go-to for many, Code Vein’s Ichor/magic system is great for those looking for a ranged option as well.
However, deaths will occur, setting back your progress to the nearest Mistle save point, and the loss of precious Haze, which is Code Vein’s currency for levelling up, as well as for vendors. Exploration to find precious shortcuts will certainly cut down on tracking back, and is key to farming for Haze to beef yourself up for the next encounter.
Code Vein certainly excels at keeping you engaged in combat with the use of Blood Codes. It is essentially a class system that grants different stats, weapon proficiencies, and special abilities called Gifts based on whichever you have equipped.
The freedom of creating a build that caters to your playstyle is undeniably awesome, and with 25 classes (broken down into ranged, melee, and assassin archetypes) to choose from, there is substantial depth to Code Vein.
This is aided by the fact that once certain Gifts are mastered, they become independent of their Blood Code, allowing you to create a blend all your own. Building up your mastery of Blood Codes will prepare you for any situation. Fire off an initial salvo with Blood Shot, use Shifting Hollow to close the distance, and finish it off with a Triple Annihilator, the possibilities are quite endless.
These options will come in handy when you match up against certain enemies in Code Vein, where usually there is not a one size fits all solution. The fact that Code Vein gently nudges you to switch up your combat style is what makes the combat continually interesting.
You are also seldom alone in your quest to save the world, with Code Vein introducing a persistent AI companion that comes with their own Blood Code and fighting style. Consider them as an added augmentation to your style, filling in the gaps while you go with your favourite loadout. Or you can just ignore them and go it solo, the choice is all yours.
On many occasions, Code Vein does throw multiple enemies at you, and having an AI companion fighting alongside you can be a boon, except when you are facing the more complex enemies. The companions are seemingly hellbent on being the most aggressive fighters this world has ever seen, failing to learn patterns as you would.
For the tougher battles, it can be a hassle trying to avoid death and still having to take care of the help, and this frustration may just lead players to avoid using them, which is a bummer considering they are one of the better features introduced in Code Vein. More often than not, the game felt much more balanced and fair with a partner along for the ride, and having them around only makes their Blood Echoes even more meaningful.
There is also the option to summon help from other players like in Dark Souls, but it is hardly worth the hassle with the AI doing their best to help.
For all the inspiration it draws from, Code Vein is a game that is sufficiently unique to stand on its own two bloody feet.
With the ability to switch Blood Codes on the fly, the freedom the game allows the player to experiment and enjoy the combat is a godsend, while the story and AI companions can veer from being awesome components to frustrating elements. That said, if you have been searching for a more accessible but still challenging adventure with its own take on the genre, Code Vein is certainly something that is worth the bite.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
Code Vein takes some chances with the Soulsborne formula, and largely succeeds in making us loyal believers.
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 7.5/10
Value - 8/10