Review: Code Vein

As Code Vein’s release slow­ly drew near, the some­what disap­poin­ting God Eater 3 ear­lier this year left us won­de­ring if the team had lear­ned from their past mista­kes. It had alrea­dy been hea­vi­ly delay­ed, and the silence up until a few mon­ths ago cast doubt over the future of this new IP. After play­ing through mul­ti­ple betas and the full release though, Code Vein ended up being a fair­ly solid tit­le that does enough to dif­fe­ren­tia­te its­elf from other souls­li­kes.

At its core Code Vein is an action-RPG that has some clear simi­la­ri­ties to the Souls games, but it’s easy to see that a lot of work has been done to make it feel uni­que. The most noti­ce­ab­le dif­fe­rence is easi­ly the set­ting and visu­al style. Ins­tead of a fan­ta­sy world fil­led with dra­gons and other mythi­cal crea­tures, Code Vein bor­rows hea­vi­ly from the team’s main series, God Eater. From the ani­me inspi­red cha­rac­ter designs to the over­all look of each area, you’d be for­gi­ven for thin­king that this was just ano­t­her ent­ry in the long run­ning hun­ting series. But when it comes to how this set­ting is used, Code Vein mana­ges to tell a more inte­res­ting sto­ry than its pre­de­ces­sor. 

After desi­gning your prot­ago­nist using the robust cha­rac­ter crea­tor, you’re quick­ly drop­ped into the game’s decaying world. You learn from a mys­te­rious girl named Io that your cha­rac­ter is a revenant; someo­ne that is no lon­ger human, rely­ing on human blood to sur­vi­ve. After your cap­tu­re and escape from a band of despe­ra­te reven­ants, you’ll run into the lea­der of a group try­ing to find a solu­ti­on to a revenant’s need for blood. Blood beads, stran­ge fruit-like objec­ts that grow from cer­tain plants, can be used as a sub­sti­tu­te for blood, so the group tra­vel to find the source of the­se plants and in turn free reven­ants from their hun­ger. 

Code Vein’s sto­ry is a mixed bag over­all. On the one hand, the back­sto­ry behind the world’s cur­rent sta­te and how reven­ants came to be is hand­led well. It’s also told more direc­t­ly than a Souls game, wit­hout giving away too much infor­ma­ti­on ear­ly on, and you learn far more about the events lea­ding up to the game com­pa­red to God Eater. Howe­ver, many cha­rac­ters are given litt­le time to shi­ne, often having one major sce­ne befo­re being left in the back­ground. This was also a pro­blem with God Eater 3, though at least it’s not qui­te as bad here. Ves­ti­ges, soli­di­fied frag­ments of a revenant’s memo­ries and expe­ri­en­ces, are found scat­te­red throughout the game and pro­vi­de you with back­sto­ries for each main cha­rac­ters. While not the most ele­gant way to tell a sto­ry, it’s still enough to make you care about most of the cast, even if they don’t have much impor­t­an­ce in the main nar­ra­ti­ve. 

If the sto­ry and cha­rac­ters are clo­ser to God Eater, game­play in Code Vein leans more toward a typi­cal Souls game, though you can still feel the influ­ence of the for­mer here. The basics are what you’d expect, from light and hea­vy attacks, blo­cking, par­ry­ing, dod­ging and sprin­ting. It’s a fami­li­ar set­up, even with a dif­fe­rent but­ton lay­out, giving you more time to focus on what’s new ins­tead. Hea­vy and light attacks can be held to per­form ano­t­her set of attacks, and a drain attack simi­lar to devou­ring from the God Eater series is avail­ab­le. The drain attack is used to gain ichor quick­ly – though it can also be gai­ned through nor­mal attacks – which is then used for gifts. Gifts ran­ge from your stan­dard buffs and ele­men­tal attacks to flas­hy melee skills, giving you a decent num­ber of tools to work with. Swit­ching bet­ween melee and gifts adds a satis­fy­ing game­play loop to com­bat, and the bonus ichor you gain from par­ries and drain attacks makes them use­ful no mat­ter what build you’re using. 

Leve­ling and stats have also been chan­ged to make try­ing out new game­play styles far easier. While increa­sing your level will always impro­ve your stats, what stats you have are deter­mi­ned by your blood code. Blood codes are essen­ti­al­ly clas­ses, each with their own stat sca­ling and unlock­able gifts. Sin­ce you can chan­ge your blood code at any time, this means that you’re never stuck with set stat values for the ent­i­re game, unli­ke Dark Souls. So, if you want to switch from using melee attacks exclu­si­ve­ly to a more gift focu­sed build it’s as simp­le as chan­ging to the appro­pria­te blood code. It’s a fan­tastic sys­tem, ope­ning up many dif­fe­rent play styles wit­hout being forced to make new cha­rac­ters. Gifts from one blood code can also be used on any other with enough use, adding even more pos­si­bi­li­ties to batt­les. 

Com­bat is by far the best part of explo­ring each area, espe­ci­al­ly as you unlock new blood codes and equip­ment, though it’s not enough to make up for the lack­lust­re level design. Most are­as fol­low the same pat­tern: Fol­low along a main path, occa­sio­nal­ly go down an alter­na­te rou­te for extra items, unlock short­cuts to aid in back­tracking and even­tual­ly fight a boss. Obvious­ly, you could say this about most souls­li­kes, but in Code Vein the­re isn’t a who­le lot done to dif­fe­ren­tia­te are­as asi­de from the visu­als. Most are lacking an inte­res­ting level-spe­ci­fic gim­mick, and the­re are only a small hand­ful of ene­my types throughout the ent­i­re game. A coup­le of are­as do try and chan­ge things up, but the lack of dis­tinct land­marks can make them con­fu­sing ins­tead of inte­res­ting to navi­ga­te.  

Bos­ses are ano­t­her part of the game that can be disap­poin­ting at times, though this also ties into Code Vein’s incon­sis­tent dif­fi­cul­ty cur­ve. Some bos­ses can be mel­ted wit­hin a minu­te, while others actual­ly mana­ge to put up a chal­len­ge. It’s almost fun­ny when a cuts­ce­ne is hyp­ing up an upco­m­ing boss fight, only for it to be defea­ted in the blink of an eye. In fact, some regu­lar enemies end up being more dan­ge­rous due to their high dama­ge and habit of attacking in groups. The­re are still some memo­r­able boss fights, aided in part by the game’s phe­no­me­nal sound­track, and the new game plus mode allows you to crank the dif­fi­cul­ty up to com­pen­sa­te for this poor balan­cing.


While Code Vein may sha­re some of God Eater 3’s pro­blems, the final pro­duct is actual­ly qui­te enjoy­a­ble. Are­as may not be as intri­ca­te as some­thing from a Souls game and com­bat isn’t as flu­id as Nioh’s is, but it’s still a fun game for the most part. The blood code sys­tem allows for a good amount of build cus­to­mi­sa­ti­on, and the game over­all mana­ges to hand­le its mecha­nics and the­mes bet­ter than the God Eater series. 

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