The Souls games need no introduction. What started off as a brave experiment that pushed the envelope in difficulty, has now carved it’s own million dollar niche. In fact, games like Dark Souls, BloodBorne, and Sekiro have sold millions of copies – creating a new genre called Masocore in the process. It seems every one wants a piece of that pie, but making a Souls game is tough. Because it’s not only about the difficulty, but also about the fluidity of combat, the particular brand of environmental storytelling and devilish level design. Deck 13, makers of The Surge are still trying to get it right, and this is the situation that Code Vein – the latest game from Namco Bandai is stepping into.
Code Vein’s world is not just another post-apocalyptic world; it has seen both spiritual and physical devastation, turning the survivors into beautiful anime vampires with masks and a thirst for blood. Fortunately for a time these Revenants could survive from blood filled fruits that grew on weird albino trees. But now, that’s gone and only the fight separates them from the hunger. If this persists, it transforms the Revenant into the Lost, monsters with insatiable hunger, doomed aimlessly to walk in a set path on a dungeon cavern map as fodder for your blade. Yet all is not lost, and as an upside to all this bloody business, you possess a blood code that gives you specific gifts. Fortunately you play an anime vampire of your creation who conveniently can possess several blood codes and just so happens to be the chosen one.
The narrative adopts more of Nioh’s direct storytelling than Dark Souls’s passive environmental approach to world building. So you have slick cuts-scenes pushing things along, while there are also story curiosities thrown around for the user to take in if they want to. For the most part, peeling the onion of Code Vein was satisfying and it kept pulling us in, though it felt a bit off. There are two worlds crashing against each other in Code Vien; two concepts locking horns and fighting for your space. One side is the impressive and distinct anime style that is really well done, and the other a dark souls-borne game it wants to be. This tug of war is apparent throughout the game, right from the selection of some of the voice acting which wildly arcs from Anime like to that distant, hollow signature dialogue that appears in Souls games. This dual personality is consistent and it translates to you, the gamer, as you struggle to come to terms with both halves. This is fine if you’ve never played a Souls game, but if you have, then the style sometimes feels out of place.
If you are a fan of Anime, you will gush over the character creator in Code Vein. Mostly because it never ever veers away from always sexy, no matter what combinations you choose. From leather, to bandages, to glowing metallic to plain old plaid, you can deck yourself out in the latest in Vampire Post Apocalypse couture. From lace to glowing metallic leathers to plaid, you can go all out and even create the closest approximation to your favourite anime character. The game elaborately explains the Blood Code system to you before ejecting you into the fray. Essentially it’s great that you aren’t locked down to any specific class. You are free to switch between fighter, mage and ranger, then unlock gifts for them as you progress.
The action of Code Vein is very close to that of BloodBorne, with the same sort of movement. Even the creatures seem to be modeled around From Software’s macabre Victorian thriller. The level design is decent, but most of the environments are lackluster variations of endless destroyed caverns. You gather Haze which you lose upon death if you don’t claim if before dying again. You know the drilll. The game does add a few refreshing things into the mix and one of them is the dodge meter which awards you a free power move if you evade well. The same dodging and slashing with careful evades holds true here too, but the Blood Codes add a twist. You need to effectively keep switching builds to deal with certain bosses and learning and tweaking is fun, though the gifts seem limited and only impactful if you’re playing a mage. A souls game is only as good as its enemies and gigantic nightmarish bosses. Code Vein seems to have skimped on that factor too, with fairly generic monsters that pose little in the way of patterns and are easy to understand; though sometimes they can get that cheap shot in.
If you thirst for a Souls game, then Code Vein could be that swig of blood you need, but keep in mind, it’s very much a Souls-lite. Despite putting its best foot forward, there’s something missing here, from the copy paste level design to the boring monsters. That elation of escaping that monster infested trap, or dropping a major boss or a Nioh like duel with another samurai, is just missing here. Yet it’s a decent action adventure RPG with a damn good character creator.