We’ve got Souls-likes out of the ears these days, and few of them manage to do anything new or better than the genuine article. The Souls-like has turned into a single-player focused version of a battle royale, everyone is making them, but what are they really bringing to the table?
That’s harsh of course, and games like Nioh and Sekiro put a spin on the Souls formula that makes them masterpieces all their own, but I have to say I’m skeptical whenever the term Souls-like rears its head. Code Vein is the latest game to carry the moniker, and I’m happy to report that it’s an immensely enjoyable experience.
Code Vein is super anime, and I mean that in the best way. Souls-likes often take too serious a tone, and though the world of Code Vein is set in a post-apocalyptic hellscape, there’s a lot of anime tropes to offset the somberness of it all. It’s also a much more forgiving game than most in the subgenre. In fact, I would say it may be the best entry point for anyone intimidated by the reputation for difficulty Souls-likes have justifiably earned.
Code Vein Review | I’m a vampire!
In Code Vein, you take the role of a newly awakened Revenant in a closed land called Vein. The veritable hell you find yourself in is the result of human experimentation with the BOR Parasite, a creature that fuses itself with a human heart and provides practical immortality and immense strength.
There’s a catch though: the BOR Parasite causes its host to have an insatiable thirst for human blood. Those fused with the parasite are called Revenants, and if they don’t partake of blood periodically, then they become a feral Lost.
Scientists did their best to eliminate the Revenant requirement for blood, but they failed. The “Queen” was their most successful attempt at refining the process and taming the BOR Parasite. She was an immensely powerful Revenant, and it was thought that she’d bring harmony to Revenants and bring about the next evolutionary phase for the human race. But, that didn’t happen.
Instead, the Queen went feral, and everything was terrible. Part of Code Vein‘s plot is discovering just how bad, who the Queen was, and her fate after the war between her and humanity.
Your silent protagonist has just awakened when the story starts and has no idea what’s going on. They, and the scantily clad Io, who wakes beside them, find themselves thralls of a stronger Revenant who is seeking Blood Tears. Blood Tears grow on strange trees and relieve Revenants of their thirst for blood for a short time and are one of the most valuable items in Vein.
As the game begins, you find yourself in the underground ruins of a vast city. It’s up to you to find your destiny in this broken world.
Code Vein Review | It’s got soul.
The combat is what drives Code Vein, and it’s meaty and satisfying. Light and heavy attacks can be mixed with “Gifts,” which are the “magic” of the game. Gifts use Ichor (MP) and can buff you and your allies, summon projectiles to attack enemies with, or grand you powerful physical combos that smash your foes.
Code Vein isn’t as tricky as most Souls-likes, and that’s not a bad thing at all. The environments are more expansive than fans of the subgenre might be used to, and as such, the challenge can come more from attrition than the enemies themselves.
You have access to such a wide range of moves and abilities that once you find the right build, you’ll plow through opponents. However, the game is good at shaking things up. Enemy variety is good, and though there are reskins in some cases, each area has its hallmark creatures that challenge you in new and exciting ways.
The camera and lock-on, like in most games like Code Vein, has some issues. For most enemies, the lock-on system works fine, and the camera does its job. However, when fighting groups of enemies or when fighting in close quarters, things can get a bit hairy. I died a few times because the lock-on inexplicably prioritized an enemy across the room from me when its friend was hacking away at me with abandon.
All in all, Code Vein is a good intro Souls-like because of the forgiving combat. You have Regenerations, an item that works like the Estus Flask, and enemies respawn each time you rest at a Mistile (a small plant that’s this game’s equivalent to a bonfire), but the whole thing seems a lot more relaxed than Souls fans are used to.
Code Vein Review | It’s in your blood.
The big hook with Code Vein is the Blood Code system. While most Souls-likes push you into a particular class or build from the get-go, Code Vein encourages you to mix and match. Your character is a very special remnant which doesn’t have a hardwired Blood Code. As such, you can absorb the Blood Code of other Remnants through sampling their blood.
Each Blood Code has its own specialties which lend themselves to a specific playstyle. The Fighter focuses on boosted endurance for melee combat, and its gifts focus on raising attack and a nice triple hit combo, the Ranger is more of a supporting character that can attack from range with bayonets and bestow defense buffs, and the Caster uses powerful attack spells that pelt foes. These are just the three starting Blood Codes, and by the end of the game, you’ll have access to many more.
When you master a skill of a particular Blood Code (or pay to instantly learn it using XP and an item), you can use it with any other Blood Code. This makes it possible to get some really powerful builds going. If you want a giant-sword swinging, ice-shooting magician with tons of HP, you can do it. If you want a powerful mage that can also quickly batter enemies with a one-handed blade, it’s all yours. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can tweak your build until you find the Blood Code and Gift combination that works for you, and the system gives you an immense amount of freedom to experiment.
Code Vein Review | World-building
Post-apocalyptic landscapes can get kind of sameish with everything being all junky and destroyed, but Code Vein manages to bring a lot of variety into its environments. Each area is interconnected and expansive, and they all have their own quirks that keep exploration interesting.
You’ll visit the Ruined City Center, which is a vast town which has been destroyed by the Queen and the Lost. Tons of wreckage dots the landscape, and forms nooks and crannies for enemies to hide in. You’ll also visit The Howling Pits, which hold pockets of fog and deep water which makes navigation hard.
My favorite location, by far is the Cathedral of Blood. It’s a sprawling complex of stark white gothic architecture that has an MC Escher quality about it. Those whole thing is a maze which challenges you to navigate multiple floors to overcome. It’s a far cry from the ruined areas you visit before you get that and yet it somehow maintains an atmosphere of ruin and decay.
I never found myself bored of any area, though the optional Depths dungeons you can take on by finding maps got to be repetitive in structure. I felt driven to keep exploring to see what spectacle lay ahead, and to me, that’s a signifier of excellent level design.
Code Vein Review | Playing with a friend (kinda).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the multiplayer aspects of Code Vein. Though it’s very much a single-player focused experience, there is a multiplayer component very reminiscent of that found in Dark Souls.
If you choose to play online, you can send a rescue signal via the multiplayer menu in-game or alternatively, respond to someone else’s signal. You can’t really play through the whole story with a friend, at least not without stay fairly in sync, as you can only send a rescue signal in areas you haven’t completed yet.
This is one area I feel like Bandai Namco could have worked a little harder in. A lot of people who want to use the multiplayer in this game probably would like to just play the whole story together, and I don’t see a reason why that couldn’t be the case.
Code Vein Review | Bloody good.
If you’ve ever wanted a Souls-like without most of the baggage that comes with playing one, Code Vein is right up your alley. It has all the great exploration and combat without going too far into frustrating territory. It can get tough, and you’ll likely die a few times, but the experience here is more focused on world-building and keeping your moving forward.
I had very few issues with this game, and it was a great experience playing through it. There’s some hype behind it, but I think it’ll end up being one of the sleeper hits of 2019. It blends the right amounts of Souls-like gameplay, anime cheesiness, and excellent design to result in a satisfying package that should please just about anyone.