Since being announced back in 2017, Code Vein has had a bit of an interesting lead up to its launch. Billed as a Souls-like with an anime twist (and featuring vampires which is always a plus), it had a fair amount of hype built up by both journalists who had got the chance to play it and gamers who simply appreciated the game’s early trailers. However, a year-long delay to the game’s release did spark some concern, with the additional wait a sign that everything might not necessarily be shipshape as far as development was concerned. Interestingly, this delay was put down to play testers liking the game so much and Bandai Namco wanting to ensure the final product met the high standard that they expected, but it still raised some concern.
Now, after finally playing through the game, I’m happy to report that there was nothing to worry about after all. Code Vein is a thoroughly enjoyable experience that doesn’t only take the Souls-like formula and run with it in a satisfying manner, but that also introduces plenty of its own unique character-focused elements for it to feel special in its own right. Sure, it has its flaws, but there’s certainly a lot more good than bad in this fang-tastic (sorry) romp.
Code Vein takes place in a world where a cataclysm has occurred and brought suffering to those that inhabit it. With this came the Revenants, vampire-like creatures that must consume blood if they don’t want to go into a frenzy and become a vicious being known as The Lost. Fortunately, the blood from special springs will suffice for Revenants, but with the city surrounded by a deadly red mist and with the Bloodsprings in a dire state, things are in a bad way for both Revenants and, of course, the humans whose blood they need. This is where you come in, the special Revenant who is able to survive the deadly mist and fix all of the problems of the world.
It’s a decent tale and one that’s not shy of detail thanks to the abundance of cutscenes on offer (some of which can be quite lengthy), so it’s easy to get invested in what’s going on. Admittedly, there can be a lot to process initially as you learn more about the world and what’s going on, but as you progress further through the game and the plot beings to unravel, it becomes a lot easier to get on board with the vampire-driven tale.
Firstly, I’ve got to give a shout out to Code Vein’s character creator. I’ve never been one of those gamers that will spend a ton of time working on their created character in a video game, but the amount of things you can customise in Code Vein and the options at your disposal had me tinkering around for close to an hour. It’s just so addictive toying around with everything – this sort of thing might not necessarily be for everyone, but it’s hard not to appreciate the effort that has gone into giving the player so much freedom to create their protagonist.
It’s also worth mentioning that Code Vein has plenty of gameplay mechanics that will feel familiar to anyone who has played a Souls-like. Bonfires? They’re called ‘Mistles’ in Code Vein and they also act as a safe haven where you get a nice checkpoint and can improve your character’s abilities. Souls? That’s ‘Haze’ this time around and you’ll be spending it to improve some of your character’s stats and their abilities. Of course, you lose your Haze if you die, but in Code Vein you can recover it in two ways: either by returning to the place of your death without dying again in the meantime, or by heading to the Hot Spring in the home base and recovering it there. The second option only gives you half of your lost Haze back, but at least it’s a risk-free method for those who were carrying a high amount with them.
Combat will probably feel a little familiar too. You’ve got your light and heavy attacks, a backstab ability if you can get behind your foe, a block and dodge ability for defending, and even a parry to catch your foe off-guard just as they’re attacking. There is a decent selection of weapons that are set across different classes available too, with one-handed and two-handed swords, spears, hammers and bayonets available that each offer different attack types. All of these weapons can be upgraded too, so you could essentially find a weapon you like early on and stick to it if you prefer. As with other Souls-like titles, it’s all about experimentation and finding what works best for you. Combat itself is slick and satisfying though, with each encounter with your enemies proving to be enjoyable and stylish.
The only real flaw with combat was with the hitboxes. Hitting enemies and dishing out damage was fine, but there were more than a few occasions where I’d clearly dodge an enemy attack only to take the hit. Typically, I’d blame this on my own abilities, but some of these attacks I CLEARLY got out of the way of. Fortunately, it’s not a common issue, but do expect some minor frustrations if you get caught out by some attacks that you were almost certain that you managed to evade.
One of Code Vein’s unique features that ties into combat is the ‘Blood Codes’, which are essentially different classes that you can equip to your character that bring with them different stat sets and abilities known as ‘Gifts’. These Gifts come in two different varieties: those that give you stat and ability boosts and those which can be used as special attacks in combat.
These Blood Codes prove effective at changing up how the player’s character feels to use – rather than tying yourself to a specific skillset or stats as you level up, you’re instead able to change it around freely and tinker with your abilities by just swapping out Blood Codes. Most of them are based around the traditional classes you’d see in an action-RPG too, so there’ll be a sense of familiarity for players who aren’t sure what they want to use. Also, once you use a Gift a certain amount of times you are able to master it, meaning you can utilise it in different Blood Code builds. Not only does this encourage you to swap them around more often, but it also allows you to create what is essentially a hybrid class made up of all of your favourite abilities. It’s a robust system that’s not only really cool to play around with, but it also gives you a sense of flexibility with your character’s build that isn’t present in similar games in the genre.
There’s also a strategic element tied to the Blood Codes, especially when it comes to boss battles. Code Vein will throw plenty of boss encounters your way and they’ll often have a tricky ability that will catch you out. However, if you equip the right Blood Code, you’re typically able to counter this ability and take advantage of a boss’ weakness at the same time. It’s a cool idea and one that almost forces you to at least try out every Blood Code – however, that aforementioned flexibility can go out of the window a bit with some boss fights demanding you use a very specific build in order to conquer them.
That being said, it’s not as if Code Vein is all that challenging anyway – especially for a genre that’s prolific for being incredibly punishing. Standard enemies go down with minimal fuss and the hazards in the game don’t feel as harrowing as those seen in the likes of Dark Souls and Bloodborne. The bosses themselves aren’t as overwhelming either, with their attack patterns a little more predictable and the main source of peril being trying to figure out which Blood Code is most effective against them. That doesn’t mean that the bosses aren’t impressive though, with their monstrous designs and the scale of battles making for some epic and enjoyable showdowns – I just didn’t really feel like I was in trouble all that often in the game. I died, sure, but not as often as I had in other Souls-likes. Of course, this could be a good or bad thing depending on what you want from the game, but I did wish that the difficulty could be notched up a little here and there…
Of course, some of this could be owed to the fact that you’re not alone on your journey in Code Vein, with an AI partner joining you throughout and giving you a helping hand against the countless foes in your path. There are different partners to join you, each of which have their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to combat, whilst they’re also able to heal you when the going gets tough. That could actually be a big help at times, especially when you’re knocking on heaven’s door with a little bit of HP left, so having them around did make Code Vein an easier experience.
However, these AI partners also have one big flaw: they love a fight. There were countless occasions where my partner would dash to the nearest enemy and give them a whack with their sword, drawing their ire and luring a party of foes in my direction. There were times when I’d be scoping ahead and figuring out what to do next when all of a sudden I’d have a foe that they lured coming my way, forcing me to act quickly and get ready for a fight – most of the time this is fine, but when you’re lingering near a deadly drop and aren’t quite prepared, it can mean you’ll meet a quick (and pretty annoying) death. Fortunately, it’s an uncommon issue that you won’t face all the time, but I would warn players to keep an eye on what their allies are up to.
Of course, there’s also a multiplayer element in Code Vein, with players either able to summon the help of another player or answer another player’s call. Admittedly, I haven’t toyed around with the multiplayer all that much, but given how fun the game is anyway I can imagine it makes for a good time. Personally, I never came across an instance in the game where I really needed the help of another player, but at least Code Vein has a multiplayer element to it for those that like that sort of thing.
Code Vein is a very pretty game throughout and I loved it’s gothic-infused anime aesthetic. However, performance-wise it could run into a few problems with the frame rate dropping, especially during some of the busier sequences (and even when being played on the PlayStation 4 Pro). Now it never hits unplayable lows and, like most other issues in the game, it isn’t a common occurrence – however, given that Code Vein’s combat relies on precision and timing, having that slight stutter of some dropped frames can be the difference between avoiding a death blow or getting caught with it unfairly. It’s a bit of a pain, so hopefully a patch can be issued in the near future.
I really enjoyed my time with Code Vein. I’m a fan of the Souls-like genre anyway so it already ticked plenty of boxes for me, but the way that it integrates its own strategic elements such as the Blood Codes and Gifts into the experience helped make it feel more unique in design (even if it does wear its inspirations like a badge of honour). The visuals are on point throughout too, whilst the in-depth story was a lot easier to get invested in when compared to the more convoluted tales found in the Dark Souls series.
It does have its flaws though, and things like the drop in frame rate and sketchy hitbox detection when dodging could prove frustrating. Neither issue is game-breaking and they don’t occur on a regular basis, but their presence was enough to cause a few annoyances during my time with the game.
Still, there’s certainly a lot more to like about Code Vein than dislike and I had a great time on my blood-fuelled adventure. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the Souls-like genre or just want to dip your toes into it for the first time, Code Vein is definitely worth checking out.
Developer: Bandai Namco
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Platform(s): PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC