Difficulty is an interesting thing, isn’t it? Lately the trend is to really emphasize how tough something is, and I can’t recall a time when so many people were so proud of being unable to rise to a challenge. Meanwhile, back in the day you got to rent one game each weekend and if it was too tough, well, there went your weekend. Anyway, Code Vein, like many other Dark Souls clones, is mean as hell and ready to destroy you, plus it doesn’t really care what you think about that fact.
After the world is ravaged by an evil entity known as the Queen, the undead soldiers created by humanity to fight the war are left to sift through the ashes. Known as Revenants, these ex-corpses can only survive by consuming blood. The human population isn’t what it used to be, as you might imagine, so they mostly rely on blood beads produced by mysterious trees. Even these are growing scarce, however, and it’s up to you – as a newly-revived Revenant – and the friends you make along the way to find out what’s happened and save the Revenant race from destruction. The power of friendship comes up several times.
If that all sounds kind of hokey, well…just know that Code Vein has plenty of cutscenes and would very much like you to take it seriously, so bear that in mind. There’s cutscenes before bosses. There’s cutscenes after bosses. There’s cutscenes when you collect special items. Many of these cutscenes are interactive in the sense that you can walk around them, so that’s something, but I can’t recall many people saying that the big thing Souls was missing was cutscenes.
Cutscenes aside, Code Vein is a Dark Souls clone! That means it’s tough as nails. Your Revenant can wield one of several types of weapon, swinging them around with horizontal and vertical attacks. They can also wield Gifts, vampiric powers that take the form of magic spells and special weapon attacks; these are fueled by Ichor, a resource that regenerates as you attack and can be restored in bulk with slow-but-powerful Drain attacks.
The Gifts you have available are tied to Blood Codes, archetypes that serve as Code Vein’s class system. These are unique to each Revenant, though the player can copy others’ Codes and is able to swap between them at will. Unlike most Souls clones, your stats are based almost entirely off the Blood Code and gear you have equipped – leveling up mostly just increases your health and stamina – meaning its possible to completely shift builds with ease if you so choose. It’s an interesting idea, but in practice builds other than high-strength tanks end up feeling fragile and weak. Spellcasters in particular tend to get flattened in a single shot by pretty much everything, making that a difficult choice.
In order to help out, you’ll have an NPC partner joining you. They’re shockingly intelligent most of the time, which has its ups and downs. Progressing through areas tends to be a little easier because you’ve always got someone watching your back. On the other hand, bosses absolutely expect you to have a second character contributing damage and a distraction, so they tend to be damage sponges that take way longer to kill than they should. Naturally, you can also recruit other players if you so choose, but either way you should expect a struggle, especially later on.
Code Vein looks great if you’re into the anime aesthetic, but it struggles a little on console. Larger or more crowded areas can easily bring the PS4 to a crawl. That’s tough when it comes to games that rely on timing and precision like Souls clones, so Code Vein suffers a bit. On PC, meanwhile, you’ve got a superior experience, so you might want to lean that way.
If you’re into Souls-style games and can deal with Code Vein‘s insistence that you involve yourself in its plot, there’s certainly a worthwhile game here. The rocky development cycle that led to release certainly shows, but underneath it all there’s a playable combat system and interesting character customization waiting for those patient enough to deal with the game forcing its plot upon you. Also, do yourself a favor and turn on the radio and jukebox in the base so you can listen to the theme song. It’s…it’s something.