Code Vein is more than a Dark Souls clone

Jordan Heal's Code Vein review

Code Vein might look like your average Dark Souls clone but it is so much more than a mere copycat and offers a fresh spin on the genre while retaining its own sense of self.

I have been waiting to play Code Vein for roughly a year and I have to admit it is every bit better than I could have hoped for.

Before we delve into the wonders of the title, I’ll take a moment to highlight the negatives and any aspects that might turn people away.

As you might expect from the artwork, trailers and so on, the game is very, very anime. If your tolerance for anime tropes and themes is low, you might struggle to get to grips with this particular game.

Likewise, if you are not a fan of the Souls series for whatever reason you may well find this game isn’t suitable for you either.

With that said there are numerous NPCs that can accompany you and make the game less daunting, if that sounds preferable.

In fact, it actively encourages you take companions along for the journey – though by no means do you need to accept help.

Finally, the cutscenes and character interactions are incredibly drawn out, which can be jarring when the game has such an emphasis on exploration and you would much rather find tiny threads of the narrative by yourself.

If – like me – none of the above is particularly problematic, you are going to find that Code Vein deserves to be heralded as one of the finest games to have been released this year.

Code Vein has incredibly robust customisation

Code Vein boasts a deeply robust character creator which vastly outshines almost any other I have ever laid my hands on.

Admittedly, every design you make will be overly anime but if they weren’t, they’d scarcely fit into the brilliant universe laid out before you.

The character design is far from the only intricate system implemented in the game.

Its skill trees (blood codes) offer wildly varying customisation options to the point where you could sink hours and hours into testing different builds without actually making any progression.

Each blood code has a set of skills (gifts) unique to itself but when the player levels them up enough they will earn the ability to ‘inherit’ them.

Once inherited, the skills can be used across any blood code (except for skills truly unique to a blood code that typically cost more to unlock) that enable the player to create diverse and unique builds.

One of my favourite combinations was to use a two-handed weapon that scaled with dexterity and the Isis blood code. This particular blood code granted my character high ichor (used for casting spells), scaled with dexterity-based weapons while also offering normal mobility.

Using this selection of gear I could then apply the ‘Bridge to Glory’ (raises attack power) and ‘Venom Mark’ (applies venom to weapon) active gifts to give myself buffs.

My passive gifts were ‘Two-Handed Sword Mastery’ (raises attack power), ‘Opportunism’ (grants additional damage when fighting an enemy afflicting with a status ailment – venom, for example) and ‘Swift Destruction’ (raises attack power depending on mobility stat).

Please note that Swift Destruction was not being used optimally in this build since it grants even more damage when your character has quick mobility – the trade-off to get this extra boost was switching to a one-handed weapon, which didn’t really suit my preference.

All of the above used in tandem with the ‘Dragon Lunge’ active gift allowed me to melt most bosses with relative ease since my damage output was so high.

My ichor also restored quickly when attacking with a two-handed weapon, meaning I could always reapply my buffs once they had cooled down.

Using this combination allowed me to normal roll with a heavy weapon while gaining significant damage boosts and still have enough gift slots to use utility spells.

This isn’t at all the most over-powered build but it suited my own playstyle well since I tend to focus on roll dodging, dealing heavy damage while pumping out spells in the middle of combos to mix up my attacks.

Using a lighter weapon with this build would allow you to have quick mobility, but I preferred the roll dodge as opposed to the quick dash on offer by the lightest tier of mobility.

As you might be able to tell, this is but one of many, many variations that could be used to give yourself an edge in combat. This is the type of combat I love in role-playing games – endless customisation that can be tailored to suit your playstyle.

Exploration is the key

Depending on where you are in the world, the scenery can change from dreary and dismal through to spectacularly breathtaking all the while encouraging exploration that can only be rivalled by Souls itself.

One example of this is in the Cathedral of Sacred Blood which, quite literally, all looks the same as the NPCs will tell you. Yet, once you understand the area, you can plough through it with speed.

Other areas just paint an incredibly scenic, sublime setting such as the Ridge of Frozen Souls. It is seldom in video games I like a level that is focused around frozen ice and yet this area is my favourite in Code Vein.

It helps demonstrate the palette the developer had on offer because at first glance, you would think the game entirely takes place in a sombre-looking, bloodless, barren wasteland of a city.

Instead, Code Vein is a spectacle of areas that take you throughout its domain as you try to save the world from succumbing to the lust for blood.

The level design does become slightly stagnant after the Cathedral of Sacred Blood with each succeeding area being quite linear and easy to breeze through.

I do hate to continuously refer back to Dark Souls when I abundantly believe Code Vein stands firmly on its own feet but its reminiscence towards it is undeniable.

Many people recall stories of how they abandoned the series for its sometimes unrelenting attitude which can take some time to become acquainted with.

Code Vein remedies this because it encourages co-operative play, whether that be with an NPC companion or another player.

The bosses – while mostly interesting – could do with some balancing. Some have health pools far too low while others can take a long time to chip away at.

I’m confident in saying that Code Vein is due an update which balances the bosses’ health pools.

After playing around with bosses both solo and co-op, there is a huge discrepancy in how the fight could turn out depending on which method you opt for.

For instance, Gilded Hunter is an enthralling encounter by yourself but with a companion the fight is significantly shorter and even underwhelming.

Yet fighting Cannoneer and Blade Bearer alone is a huge task because of the sheer size of the health pools for both bosses yet with a partner it feels more balanced, if not a tad cheap.

The trick will be slashing down the overall health pools for boss fights when fighting them solo, but increasing them for co-operative play.

Speaking of which, the duo boss fight is definitely my favourite. Before it occurred to me to use ‘Ice Armor’ and ‘Fire Armor’ I struggled a fair bit.

Sure enough with proper strategy and practice the elemental Ornstein and Smough-inspired duo boss was bested.

I also feel as though the final fights (Skull King and Virgin Born) felt out-of-place despite their quintessential significance to the story – Juzo Mido felt like a nice duel to end with.

The story has little room to breath

I have said at the beginning that if you are not partial to lengthy interludes and character development then you might not be a fan of Code Vein.

Despite the sometimes overly abundant cutscenes and dialogue on offer, the story can still feel scarce.

I won’t delve into specifics and spoil much, but you might find yourself a lot more interested in gameplay than story which could detract your focus from what is going on.

I would highly recommend paying attention to any and all story points because they are interesting and somewhat gripping, if a little flat at certain points.

Whereas in other games of this genre you might need to actively hunt out any sparse details to help you construct a much broader picture, this isn’t prevalent in Code Vein.

Instead, you are almost spoon fed the entire narrative from start to finish except for a few titbits which serve as twists every now and again.

While I don’t think the plot is particularly bad, I would also say it’s one of Code Vein’s weak points.

The character customisation, blood codes, gifts and gameplay all help craft the meticulous game that it is, leaving little room for the story to breath by itself because you are so eager to continue playing.

Perhaps if the cutscenes were fewer and spread out, I might have enjoyed them more. But every time I beat a boss (especially a ‘Successor’ boss) I knew I was in for at least 10-15 minutes of cinematics.

This was frustrating when all I wanted to do was keep playing.

Truthfully, this is hardly a fault in the narrative more so than it is an achievement for how stellar the gameplay is.

Overall I have to say Code Vein is one of my standout games of the year – though it hasn’t quite knocked Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice from my top spot.

If you love role-playing games and vampire themes then this is a game you cannot afford to miss this year.

 

 

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