Thanks to its not-so positive previews before launch (including our own), I was prepared for the worst with Code Vein.
I hadn’t played the demo because I often find they don’t give a good representation of a game’s quality, so I didn’t know what to expect beyond it being a bit like Dark Souls but with anime vampires, and to be honest that sounded right up my street. Not enough games feature vampires in my opinion. And you know what? I’m glad I gave Code Vein a go, because after a shaky start I’ve ended up loving it.
There’s no denying that Code Vein is heavily influenced by Dark Souls. It has a currency earned by defeating enemies, an interconnected world full of shortcuts to be discovered and unlocked, places where you can rest, level up and teleport to other locations, and a limited healing ability that can be enhanced over time. And then of course there’s the combat, which requires perfect timing and a whole lot of skill. Admittedly, the weightlessness of movement and combat in Code Vein initially left me cold. But after I disposed of my expectations and put Dark Souls out of my mind, I realised that Code Vein is actually mechanically solid. It can’t quite compare to the work of FromSoftware, but it does the job.
Perhaps I’d be more critical of Code Vein‘s combat if it wasn’t for the fact that an AI companion assists you every step of the way. Early in the game they got on my nerves quite a bit as they killed nearly everything before I even got a chance to land a hit, and they talk too much. Though while the talking too much issue persists, I began to appreciate the assistance as enemies got stronger. Eventually your companion becomes a true battle buddy, someone that you need to work alongside to combat the countless foes in your path. They take the heat off you when fighting multiple opponents, buff you when entering combat, and pick you up when they’re down. Though you can dismiss them if you’d rather go it alone. Or you can invite a real person to join your game. But the gist is, Code Vein is not as hard as your usual Souls-like. Not by default, anyway.
It’s the ways in which Code Vein differentiates itself from the standard Dark Souls formula that really make it shine. For example, while you can’t allocate points to specific stats when levelling up or equip a myriad of armour parts and accessories, the Blood Code system makes up for it. Essentially character classes that determine your base stats and capabilities, you can change your Blood Code at any time you like, with new Blood Codes being discovered as you play through the game. It means you’re not tied into a class choice made at the start of the game, or restricted by the stats points you’ve placed; I primarily played as a two-handed sword-wielding warrior, but I could change my Blood Code and become an efficient spellcaster or a nimble assassin without any repercussions.
Each Blood Code also has a number of active and passive skills you can learn, too, called Gifts. A melee-centric Blood Code might allow you to perform a devastating lunging attack, for example, in addition to providing Gifts that provide you with combat advantages under various circumstances. A Blood Code focused on Gift usage to attack, on the other hand, might allow you to fling magical projectiles, and provide an ample pool of Ichor, the energy used to power such Gifts. The real delight comes in mastering these Gifts by killing enemies while they’re equipped, as then you can carry them across to other Blood Codes. You won’t be able to throw many fireballs as a tank-like heavy axe user, for example, but the option’s still there if you want to. You’re free to create a skillset that works for you. Or create multiple and frequently switch between them.
Code Vein is also more direct with its storytelling. It had my attention during the first half of the game, but I wasn’t fully invested until some real revelations were made. Things picked up and I actually found myself caring about the rag-tag bunch of vampires that I’d found myself lumbered with. I love the Dark Souls games, I really do, but I couldn’t give a damn about their stories because I’m lazy and I don’t want to work for them. It’s refreshing that Code Vein doesn’t demand you to read the description of every item you find to piece together fragments of a narrative. Its story unfolds with entertaining cutscenes, heartfelt dialogue, and memory sequences which are really well done. Stylish and moody, they let you learn more about the supporting cast and actually make you feel for them.
It helps that Code Vein is a great-looking game. Its character creator is one of the best around, allowing you to create a vampire that’s stylish or truly ghastly. The supporting cast all look great, too, and the environments are detailed and varied. Even better, there are some fantastically grotesque and interesting character designs. I looked forward to entering new areas, eager to see what challenges they presented. And brilliant bosses are just the icing on the cake. But there is one problem: boobs. If you’re offended by heaving anime bosoms, Code Vein is not the game for you. Pretty much every female character you meet or befriend is ludicrously dressed. Being a fan of Japanese games I’m pretty desensitised to it now, but I still found myself shouting “go and put a bloody top on!” to one of the central female characters who insists on wearing what appears to be ripped nightwear.
For those who can look past its inappropriately dressed ladies, Code Vein will no doubt prove to be an unexpected pleasure. Its weightlessness takes some of the nuance and impact out of its Dark Souls-inspired combat, and its difficulty is more of a wavy line than a gradual curve at times, but it’s got a lot of heart. An engaging story, engrossing character development and tense action come together to form an adventure that grips you from beginning to end. And it’s one that you are more likely to see though to completion thanks to competent AI partners that actually hold their own in combat. ‘Dark Souls with anime vampires’ is a good way to describe Code Vein, but in reality there’s so much more going on beneath the surface.
Code Vein is available on PS4, Xbox One and PC. We reviewed the Xbox One version.
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