Bandai Namco returns with another title heavily influenced by the hugely successful Dark Souls formula: the dark and gritty Code Vein. Offering a more direct narrative, a post-apocalyptic dystopian world, and a story heavily influenced by vampiric lore, does it stand up to the high expectations of the genre?
Code Vein Review
The game takes place in a secluded land called Vein. Following a great calamity, vampire-like survivors called Revenants fight over the continuously diminishing supplies of blood, with the ever increasing risk of losing control and entering a mindless, savage-like state known as The Lost. Losing all memories, Revenants often resort to harvesting blood from the last remaining surviving humans. However, a small pocket of resistance hopes to restore balance to this bleak and dark existence.
The game wears its Souls-like inspiration on its sleeve, with almost identical mechanics and features standing proud. However, that’s not to say it doesn’t make moves to improve on this tried and tested formula. If there’s one particular area where Code Vein stands alone in the Souls-like space, it’s the dominating stance the game takes on telling its narrative.
Code Vein tackles the challenge of directing an intriguing tale on two main fronts. Traditional cutscenes and lengthy dialogue progresses an overarching story, while small memory sequences allow for greater depth and understanding of the protagonist and their allies. Much of the story is hidden behind collectibles and limited events, each offering an opportunity to dive into a web of intricate design. It plunges players into a dark story of death, loss, and despair, with the protagonists the only beam of light in an otherwise blackened sky.
It does suffer from some pacing problems from time to time, with 10-15 minute cutscenes and dialogue breaking up an otherwise action-packed experience. If it wasn’t for the quality and dark-natured design of the story, it would have been a challenge to not skip the majority of the cutscenes just to get back into the meat of the game.
Before we dive into the meat of the game, it’s fitting to first take a moment to appreciate the incredible character creation on tap. In a genre that traditionally offers very little character choice at the beginning of the experience, Code Vein explodes out of the gates with a hugely in-depth character customization suite, allowing players to change and manipulate practically every area of a character’s being. While it’s not quite as deep as some of the more popular MMORPGs of today, it’s clearly paving the way for new heights in the Souls-like genre.
Continuing its efforts to reinvent some of the genres more stagnating elements, Code Vein features a full-flavored banquet of character progression and customization with a class system that quickly became my favorite in recent memory. Blood Codes, the name given to an individual class, represent a characters list of available abilities and potential stat use and growth. Switching this up is as simple as navigating a menu and making a new selection, but it’s the combination of unlocking these Blood Codes and the nature of the progression coming together that makes it such a feast.
Each Blood Code has a group of abilities, some that favor specific weapons or builds, others more generic, each of these abilities can be unlocked and, later, mastered. Mastered abilities allow for the character to use the abilities regardless of the currently selected Blood Code. It’s like those pick-and-choose stalls at the local shops, giving you a giant cup before standing you in front of a wall of gloriously colorful choices, salivating at the barrage of oncoming flavors to assault the senses. Except, instead of chewy sweets and sour balls, you’ll be decimating foes with a giant sword, torching your enemies from afar with spells, or zipping around the battlefield with a glaive. Each in a customizable build of your very own creation.
Furthermore, these Blood Codes are delivered in such a way that they become a focal point of the entire experience. While many are locked away behind traditional story progression, others are hidden in certain areas, tied to certain objectives, or lined to a completion of a series of events, it’s a thrilling and hugely rewarding experience with each new discovery having the potential to take your class to the next level.
Code Vein’s combat is Dark Souls, but less punishing and more explosive. The staple defensive elements are in place: parrying, dodging, and blocking, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. However, there’s also a flurry of offensive and passive abilities that make combat more action-orientated. With the right setup and approach, you can storm a room of enemies and leave a pile of bloodied ash in seconds. Constantly tweaking my character, learning new abilities from newly discovered Blood Codes, and unleashing new combinations on enemies, combat was fresh, intuitive and rewarding every step of the way.
For all its strengths and desires to improve on the genre, Code Vein does fall short in some areas. The game doesn’t look great; it suffers from the sharp object lines and poor texture qualities synonymous with the JRPG environments, and some of the level design and direction leads to needlessly frustrating hours of play looking for the right path or searching out that final objective. While many weapon and combat styles are available, the actual selection within each style is very limited, I used the same sword throughout 90% of the game.
Characters are also very often wearing gas masks to protect themselves from environmental hazards, which leaves the top third of the face to sell their stories and emotions – a near impossible task in a game of this artistic direction. It’s not a deal breaker, but there’s a lot of room for improvement in these areas and hinders an otherwise worthwhile story. Lastly, the user-interface is archaic, almost entirely dysfunctional in parts. Items are represented by bizarre icons that often provide little to no information and without the charm that makes Monster Hunter’s UI bearable. Navigation is hindered by a poor map system, and it all feels as a simple decision in design could have been made to avoid most of these problems.
Despite its clear Souls-like inspirations with unforgiving combat, fog doors, challenging boss battles, and traditionally bizarre approach to multiplayer, Code Vein is a lot more forgiving than other games in the genre. You always have the option of bringing along allies, offering much needed boosts to damage output and survivability – and even the option to revive you in combat once or twice. It’s far from an easy game, and is challenging enough to push players to their limits. Despite this, a single mistake is unlikely to ruin your entire excursion. This proves to be a much needed and welcomed change to a less frustrating direction – coming from a player that is utterly awful at Dark Souls games.
Code Vein is an exciting, rewarding, and tenebrous venture into the Souls-like space with a fantastic class system, explosive combat, and dark narrative – hindered only by its lack of visual prowess and odd UI design.
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