What happens when you combine Dark Souls gameplay with anime visuals and vampires? The answer is Bandai Namco’s Code Vein (now I’ll take “New Video Games” for $600, Alex). Even if you don’t watch anime (like me, for example), there’s a lot more that this game has to offer.
Another striking difference from the other Souls games is the ability to switch character classes on the fly. Doing this also allows you to mix and match abilities across classes (certain limitations do apply). For example, you can clear a whole line of enemies using a close-range melee approach, or keep your distance and pull them in one by one with magic. Players can also change armor on the fly, not only leading to changes in base stats, but stat scaling as well.
These options provide loads of customization throughout the game and more or less force you to try out different approaches to combat and character builds. The gameplay mechanics are pretty standard for the genre. Players will gain currency for buying items and leveling up by defeating enemies. That currency drops at the player location upon defeat, and there are rest points throughout that you can teleport to and from.
The story is somewhat complex and not exactly easy to follow. Without spoiling too much, there’s been an apocalyptic event that’s turned the overwhelming majority of civilization into good vampires or bad monsters (referred to in-game as Revenants or Lost, respectively). The player (a Revenant who is a silent protagonist) awakens to this world with no memory of their past. Taken prisoner, they must then go find blood sources for their captors. This blood is necessary for the Revenants to stay sane and humanistic.
The Lost are ones that haven’t quenched their bloodthirst and have been driven into a rage filled frenzy. The player ends up grouping together with a nicer band of fighters, arms dealers, civilians, and former military types that provide backstory through dialogue and merchants within the home base. As the game progresses, the player participates in observations of several of these cast member’s memories, providing even more backstory and rewarding the player with more abilities.
With so much familiarity, is Code Vein worth the time and money?
The music is fantastic. It’s wonderfully orchestrated and it really ramps up the intensity during battle sequences. Character customization has a plethora of options that lead to some awesome results. Adding to that, people who participated in the demo are able to transfer their created characters to the main game. The optional AI companion is incredibly useful with their distraction of enemies, healing the player in dire situations, and doling out a fair amount of damage themselves.
If you need additional help, you can open your game for others to join in online mode. Players can seamlessly pop into your game and provide assistance. This is also nice as the player joining the game, because they still gain experience, items, etc., from the session. They will then return to the exact point they were at within their own game. The memory sections of the game felt like a slog at first, mainly because you lose the ability to run. Despite this, the memories do provide a fair amount of insight into other character motives, and they never run too long.
During cutscenes, you are able to skip them altogether, but you are unable to pause the game. Combat isn’t nearly as tight as other Souls games. The game doesn’t do a very good job of telling you where to go next. Sometimes, a path forward is just past a boss. Other times, a vague description is given, leading to lots of time re-exploring areas that you are way overleveled for. Some of the areas and bosses feel a little too similar to Dark Souls.
About eight hours in, you arrive at Anor Londo… I mean Cathedral of the Sacred Blood. Not only does this area look eerily similar to Anor Londo, it encapsulates another problem within certain areas of the game: labyrinthian areas that go on for too long. With environments that look very similar throughout, it felt like an eternity exploring them (Get it? Because they’re vampires and they live for an eternity? Is this microphone on?). And then later in the game, you fight Ornstein and Smough… I mean Blade Bearer and Cannoneer.
The good definitely outweighs the bad in Code Vein. The character customization, character loadout flexibility, and general visual style separate it from the bunch. It’s also easier than others in the genre. Newcomers shouldn’t feel the pressure of overcoming too immense of a gameplay hurdle to succeed. Time will tell if this is the beginning of a long running series, but it’s a promising start.