The term souls-like has been thrown around a lot. A souls-like action RPG is what best describes a video game that follows the formula of the Dark Souls series. That is your character of a certain class facing ridiculously overpowered enemies who are able to one-hit you if you’re not careful (and those aren’t even the bosses). The Dark Souls series is particularly rewarding when you are able to thwart an enemy’s relentless and powerful attack and smite them completely with your skill and cunning.
Other games have been able to offer their own souls-like while spinning the formula to provide their own particular challenging experience. Nioh, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Ashen, Lords of the Fallen to name a few. Now there’s a new souls-like contender that has entered the fray and wants to show that it has the only experience that will challenge the player in battle more so than the rest. Gear up and prepare for combat with unspeakable evil in Code Vein.
You play as a Revenant. A cursed soul who is tasked with destroying all the monstrous nasties that are roaming around the place and with collecting Blood Beads to feed your appetite for blood. Revenants that lose their humanity become one of the Lost. A crazed monster with an uncontrollable bloodthirst. If you’ve played a Souls game or anything similar, you’ll understand mostly what this game is about.
The game is played through a third-person perspective, with you guiding your created character through massive, intimidating areas full of anguish, full of evil and full of monstrous things twice your strength, twice your size, and thrice your pissed off level. Nearly all of these enemies are able to drain your health in 3 hits or less. Thus like in true souls fashion, you can’t just charge in and God of War your way through hoards of bad guys. Your attacks depend on your endurance and your position, so choosing the right time to strike is key. Quick reflexes, precision timing and sheer determination to take a hulking, ugly monstrosity down will be the highlight of your time with this game and the more enemies you take down, the more of a badass you will feel.
You’re able to change your character’s attributes and skills according to your fighting style by assigning the character Blood Codes. These will give you new abilities and allow you to mix and match various playstyles to take enemies down your way. You can choose a code focusing on brute strength and gigantic 2-handed weapons, one which favors agility and speed and those who prefer smaller weapons or one that focuses on casting powerful Gifts, which is this game’s name for spells. There are even some codes that offer unique special abilities and Gifts not found in other codes. New Gifts can be learned provided you’ve collected enough haze for it to be learned, adding more destruction to your arsenal. If you max a gift out to its full potential you can use the gift no matter what Blood Code you’re using. You can buy weapons, items, and clothing and you’re able to upgrade these also to dish out more hurt. There are a plethora of options available to you to play this game, allowing you to slay enemies in your given own style of play.
The visuals paint a very grim, post-apocalypse look as you traverse through what once was civilization. Entire sections of the City have been swallowed up by giant craters, roads are split wide open, buildings are a pile of rubble and it’s all presented with high-quality textures and decent special effects. While the surroundings look nicely realistic, what immediately stands out are the animé style characters, who manage to blend perfectly with the realistic surroundings. Code Vein has delivered some impressive eye candy in a fun and fantastical animé way while maintaining the lonesome and grim visual presentation it was aiming for.
Sound design is strong also and adds immense atmosphere to an already bleak game. The soundtrack is haunting and powerful, creating a sense of dread and even panic every time a challenging battle is taking place. During scenes where the action takes a back seat, there are musical tracks that add very tense moments to scenes where characters are interacting with each other. Slashing, bashing and blasting enemies looks and sounds satisfying and the various snarls and roars of the enemies will no doubt send shivers down your spine.
Code Vein has much going for it as far as action RPGs go. It looks good, it sounds good and it has its moments when it comes to the action. Unfortunately, as Code Vein attempts to live up to the action RPG formula set by the Dark Souls series and other similar games, comparisons are unavoidable and if you’re familiar with those games, you’ll notice where Code Vein falls short and that is with the gameplay itself.
The Souls games encouraged you to study the environment, the enemies and their attack patterns, even the character you’re playing as. This enabled you to understand that they weren’t the kind of games you’ve played before and it felt more gratifying to learn, to understand and to master everything those games threw at you. However here, there’s nothing to learn; nothing that’ll make you stay alert and nothing really to gain. Combat becomes a mindless task of dodging, slashing and spamming Gifts. Combat becomes even less of a challenge when you fight with a companion as they tend to be way too overpowered. Code Vein’s difficulty stems not from the enemies themselves and their attacks, but where they’re placed and how many there are.
Code Vein tends to throw enemies at you in large groups and since they usually rush you in narrow spaces, you’re immediately surrounded with almost nowhere to avoid attacks. Enemies also tend to be placed in narrow corridors around corners waiting to ambush you. Throwing multiple enemies at once and putting them in cheap placements creates artificial difficulty and makes encounters with enemies more annoying than fun.
The enemies tend to be of the same variety also. They look impressive enough but most of them usually follow the same attack pattern. You have your basic close-range attackers, your fast movers, your massive heavy hitters, and long-range attackers. They become too predictable very fast doing the same attacks without mixing things up and making fights interesting.
As nice as the visuals look, the variety is severely lacking. You’ll traverse through the same looking apocalyptic cityscapes and underground areas and it will become dull very, very fast. Some of the details change here and there but there’s hardly anything that distinguishes one area from another. You get this sense of deja-vu that you’ve passed through each area again and again because it literally all looks the same, resulting in a very boring and very monotonous looking gameworld.
Code Vein has all the makings of being a great action RPG. There’s atmosphere, there’s options for how you want to play and it looks and sounds pretty damn good also. Yet it still doesn’t quite live up to the game series that inspired it and even the other games that drew inspiration from that series. Code Vein does offer its own take on the formula by offering players the choice to play how they want, but it’s meaningless if the player has to exercise their choices through a very mundane environment that has to rely on padded difficulty rather than intricate game design. If you’re adding to your collection of souls-like action RPGs, then by all means pick this up. Just be aware that the more you play this, the more it’ll just make you want to play one of the Dark Souls games again.
This review was written based on a digital review copy of Code Vein for PC provided by Namco Bandai Entertainment.