I have this weird tendency to be very particular about games that either draw their inspirations or flat-out steal their ideas from Dark Souls. They usually either use it as a stepping stone to explore their own ideas and understand that they are exploration games first and focus on making the explorable areas as interesting as possible, or they try to do “What if Dark Souls but _____?” Code Vein is thankfully in the former category. Because while the game does take a bit of time to get to the point of itself, it ultimately makes for an enjoyable experience that while not for everyone, is something that I can jive with.
The best I can tell you about the plot is that the world’s ended and you play as a voiceless amnesiac revenant (basically a vampire) and you are trying to navigate a post-apocalyptic world filled with monsters so you can find these things called Bloodsprings to keep your bloodlust under control. It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it puts a lot of the exploration and combat into context. The use of our characters as undead, like in Dark Souls, gives us a justification for why we can constantly die and come back to life over and over again, which is all well and good.
The main thing I want to talk about is the gameplay and the ways that it differentiates itself from the works of From Software in ways that I think are actually pretty interesting. You got these aspects/modes called Blood Codes. These are essentially the game’s version of a class system but it’s done differently: They all give you different bonuses that narrow you into the play style that they suggest, but all have abilities called gifts that can be swapped in and out for a great level of customization to define the way you want to play. The special thing is they can be cast out on the fly to suit your needs. This allows for a remarkable amount of flexibility for tackling new challenges as you see fit. There is also a shed load of Blood Codes that can be obtained from the various characters that you meet and regularly interact with throughout the game and you can even find items that let you unlock the memories associated with said Blood Codes to gain new abilities. And while the execution of the exposition in these memory sequences is a little clunky, it’s an interesting way to tie narrative into gameplay that ramps up as time goes on.
Outside of the implementation of the Blood Codes, Code Vein operates pretty faithfully as a game that takes a lot of inspiration from Dark Souls, but with a few extra changes. You still have the exploration-based gameplay that has you fighting enemies and bosses that can be tackled more slowly and methodically, but the biggest change comes from the partner system. While you can go through the entire game by yourself, you can have at least one NPC follow you around and help you. And this has the side effect of making the game feel like it was balanced with having at least two non-hostile bodies in the world at a time because Code Vein loves to throw ambushes at the player on top of just having you fight more than one enemy at a time, it’s doable solo, but it can be really annoying at times. The last major difference is that there’s the game’s version of a parry/visceral attack: Hold Down the A/X button (depending on your controller) to get an attack that refills and adds to your bloodstock, which allows you to use more of your special abilities, which you can have eight of equipped at a time. The Parry is done on the left trigger and the frames as to when you have to time it can feel a bit inconsistent at first, you get the timing down as more of a predictive move as opposed to reactive.
But other than that it uses the tried and tested formula of “light attack, heavy attack, dodge roll, sprint, and block” mechanics mos of these games tend to use on top of the “die and leave all of your XP/Currency behind and if you die again, it’s gone for good” mechanic that Demon’s Souls introduced and Dark Souls made famous. This is alleviated by using the game’s Hot Spring Mechanic to retrieve at least half of your lost gains if you can’t at that moment in time. Yes, I said Hot Spring. Yes, I’m just as confused as you are in regards to how that works. One last thing I want to touch on is the character creator. Years of bad character creators have left in me the place where I have a special test in place I like to call the “Can I make a Decent Looking Black Guy?” Test. I can say that, for the most part, Code Vein Passes. While I wish there were more black hairstyles, the ones that are there look decent enough.
Overall, Code Vein is a neat curiosity of a game. It’s not the best Souls-like game I’ve ever played, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t really need to be. It does enough different with the Blood Codes and the way those are developed that I can recommend it, but only as a “try this on Game Pass” or “Wait for a Sale” type recommendation. If you want to live your best anime Vampire Life, then get to Blood stealing.