Dark Souls is one of those games that just screams classic. The series has impacted the games industry for both triple-A and indie developers over the years. Games like Salt & Sanctuary and Dark Devotion try to capture the feeling of Dark Souls and transplant that to 2D. Other titles, such as The Surge have tried to shake up the themes while keeping the gameplay very similar. Very much pitching camp in the latter of those two fields is Code Vein. Basically it’s anime Dark Souls with vampires.
Code Vein takes place in the post-apocalyptic future. Humanity has seen its dying days, and the few survivors live alongside vampiric soldiers who survive on human blood. These Revenants are practically immortal, reforming from ash whenever they’re destroyed. The only way to permanently put them down is by completely destroying their heart. As a newly resurrected Revenant, you must go on a journey to do what you can for your shattered world.
If you’re a Souls series veteran then you’ll probably notice that Code Vein copies the gameplay down to the letter. You explore environments filled with dangerous enemies, trying to make your way between safe spaced called mistles (bonfires). You have to collect haze (souls) to spend on leveling up your character and upgrading your equipment. During combat, you have to manage your stamina to make sure you can dodge and attack when you need to, and each area ends with a boss fight.
Code Vein's Key Differences
There are some differences in Code Vein that do stand out. Unlike Dark Souls, you can actively change up your character build on the fly. You have a "Blood Code" that sets your stats and abilities. Basically, this acts as a class that you can change in the pause menu. As such, you aren't given a number for each stat, but letters instead. These rankings define how good you are in each area. Leveling happens automatically, you don't have to pick and choose stats to put points into.
This level of fluidity comes with both problems and benefits. While you do have a slightly looser grasp on your character's build and stats, it streamlines the entire affair of leveling up. Furthermore, because you can change your build around whenever you like, it’s easy to avoid getting stuck. If your build isn’t working against a group of enemies or a boss, you can completely switch it up to try something new out instead. One massive downside is that the lack of minute control over your stats means that min-maxing isn't easy.
The combat system generally works well, mostly in the exact same ways as the Souls series. You can block, dodge, parry and have heavy and light attacks to string together into combat. You can also perform back attacks for a heavy hit but these don’t work all that well. Actually finding what the game thinks the back of an enemy is can be pretty difficult. For some weird reason, it always ends up being slightly to the right of where you think it should be. Parrying and back-stabbing also both share an overly long animation so if you plan on using these techniques a lot then get used to seeing it over, and over again.
Code Vein's Special Moves
The only major difference in the combat of Code Vein is the variety of special abilities and attacks that you earn. Since leveling up is automatic, the game gives you something else to spend your Haze on, Gifts. These Gifts can be either passive or active, and each of the different Blood Codes lets you gain them. Active Gifts are much more common than passive, and can really help to make the difference between an easy fight and a long hard road. There are even several late-game bosses who become completely trivial if you use the correct defensive Gifts.
If you’re going into Code Vein expecting anywhere near a Souls-like level of difficulty then you’re in for some disappointment. This experience is much more casual, with most bosses going down on the first try. For the most part, the bosses either telegraph moves really obviously or take damage like they’re made out of wet paper. On top of that, you’re automatically accompanied by an AI helper at all times. If you’re a Souls veteran, you’re not going to find much to sink your teeth into here. On the other hand, if you’ve always loved the look of all these Souls-like games but you've never been able to get past the difficulty curve, this might be the perfect game for you.
Speaking of difficulty curves, Code Vein's is all over the place. As I said earlier, most of the bosses go down on their first try, but there are one or two who are insanely annoying. Worse than the random jumps in difficulty is the fact that the difficult bosses are spread out. You can breeze through 3 bosses before getting caught up on 1 for an hour. Then you’re backing to breezing through until another arbitrary point in the game. Again, it is possible to break a lot of these bosses with the right knowhow, but the more casual gamers this title seems to be aimed at might find themselves giving up before they figure it out.
Code Vein's Lack Of Detail
Other than difficulty the differences between most Souls-likes and Code Vein are in the details. There are no intricate story or lore details, either in the world or the items. You mostly learn about the plot and characters through overly long JRPG-style cutscenes, which can be a little grating. The bosses don’t seem as memorably designed, and their attacks aren’t as well thought out or choreographed. The environment designs are either generic as they come, or literally ripped straight from the original Dark Souls. Environmental hazards are also less carefully placed, and more often than not kill the player in a single go.
Most of my deaths came because of the world rather than enemies. By my estimations, about 75% of them were caused by a combination of camera tomfoolery and bottomless pits. When the camera and the world itself are the most deadly thing in the game, it does somewhat point towards a problem with both. The most heinous of these environmental disasters were probably on the ice-topped mountain area. Here there are ice patches that fall out from beneath you, which give you little warning and are very hard to spot. Once you know they’re there you can keep a careful eye out for them, but your first time in it’s like a death tax on new players.
The online play takes pretty much the same form as it does in Souls games, with some minor tweaks. You can still call for help and wait for a random person to come along and help you if you’re struggling. Although you are constantly accompanied by an AI companion so it’s more than a little redundant. You can also go and help random people to practice boss fights and earn yourself some loot without the change of losing your Haze when you die. Invasions aren’t a thing however, at least not in the same way. Instead of random players invading your world or being able to invade someone else, you simply get AI enemy invasions.
Code Vein's Take On Invasions
The AI invasions are one of the most interesting additions to the formula. Instead of a simple fight against at most one or two human-sized enemies, these fights challenge you against wave after wave of monstrous foes. Invasions are when Code Vein really starts to liven up a bit and pushes the player to really test their skill. At least they do up until you discover that halberds are a thing. Then they become trivial again. Jokes aside, these invasions are one of the best new elements introduced in the game, even if we had to give up proper invasions to get them. That being said, they do have a horrible tendency to outstay their welcome a fair bit so be prepped for that.
The only real gripe with Code Vein that gets in the way of playing it is the bugs. Performance is usually okay with only some minor drops in the framerate during loading. Crashing is also an occasional problem, happening at specific moments. Once it happened just after killing a boss but didn't occur after beating the boss a second time. However, during some of the optional cutscenes crashes popped up consistently. There was also one hilarious moment where my character's entire body disappeared, leaving behind a frankly terrifying disembodied set of teeth and eyes.
Code Vein | Final Thoughts
At the end of the day, Code Vein does exactly what it set out to do. It provides players with a more casual Souls-like experience that will help to bridge the gap for any who found the aforementioned series too difficult to get into. While it lacks complexity in its leveling up system, the amount of flexibility with character builds makes the game a breeze to play. Unlike many other games in the Souls-like genre, Code Vein adhears so closely to the original Dark Souls forumla that it can be hard to differentiate them at first glance. It is difficult to talk about Code Vein without mentioning the Souls games, and that is not a comparison that many games can win. Even with a decent amount of effort put into the combat, Code Vein just cannot match up to the level of detail which goes into From Software's work. If you’re really into the theme’s or just want an easier Souls-like then you’ve probably got a perfect match here. For anyone looking for more Dark Souls to play, you’ll probably end up pretty disappointed in the challenge on offer here.
- Flexible Character Builds
- A Huge Amount Of Character Classes To Try
- Fluid, Souls-Like Combat
- Occasional Bugs
- Forgettable, Easy-To-Beat Bosses