Code Vein Review

Dan Webb

Not just among the games press, but with gamers in general, these days we tend to pigeonhole games in our newly created sub-genre vocabulary, as an easy way to identify specific types of games. “This game’s a Metroidvania” or “this one’s a Shmup”. “Oh, this game is a looter-shooter,” or in Code Vein’s case: “this game is a Souls-like” (or Soulsborne, depending on your preference). While labelling games can be helpful to describe what you're getting, sometimes they can actually convey the wrong message. That’s pretty much the case with Bandai Namco and Shift’s latest outing: Code Vein, a game that’s been referred to as “anime Dark Souls” for about as long as it’s been in the public domain.

Code Vein, for all intents and purposes, is effectively a vampiric, anime melodrama, where you jump into the shoes of a silent protagonist hellbent on saving the world from evil scientists, while trying to find a solution for the bloodthirst curse that torments the world’s inhabitants. In general themes Code Vein couldn’t be any further away from its forefathers. The characters adhere to classic anime tropes and there’s a sense of togetherness that you definitely wouldn’t find in a Souls game. There’s dialogue, cut-scenes, relationships and drama… lots of drama. It’s bright, breezy, a little incomprehensible at times, and truth be told, a little bit overwrought, but it’s hard to say it’s not enjoyable.

Our biggest complaint, though? Definitely the silent protagonist. How in 2019 are silent protagonists still a thing? I get that with the game’s rather impressive character customisation, boasting a bevy of different options to kit out your anime superhero. Bandai wanted a blank slate, but it feels really odd when everyone looks to the protagonist for input and all they do is nod. Fucking nod. Ugh, what a joke.

While thematically and delivery wise Code Vein and Dark Souls are on completely different ends of the spectrum. The comparisons, gameplay-wise, though, are fair, if a little misleading. Yes, you collect ‘souls’ known as haze from enemies. Yes, when you die you have to collect them before your next death otherwise they’re gone forever. Yes, there are ‘mistles’ which are effectively the game’s bonfires. The similarities are present throughout, from the way you level up weapons to the big boss set-pieces. But where it really differs, is in the game’s difficulty. It’s not even in the same league as most Soulsborne games.

The less people think of it as a Souls game, though, and more of its own take on the ‘genre’, then the more people will be able to accept Code Vein for what it is: a more arcadey take on From’s blueprint with special moves you can use and passive abilities to make your build (which come in the form of Blood Cores). It’s basically its own entity, more like a hybrid between something like Devil May Cry and Dark Souls. It’s basically Dark Souls May Cry. What I’m saying is: Code Vein can be rather easy, (I'm not saying Devil May Cry is easy, by the way) and calling it a Soulsborne game is to its detriment. That phrase has difficulty connotations associated with it.

Here’s the thing: the above description is pretty spot on… well, up until a point it is, which is where my issue with the Code Vein comes into question, and that’s with its balance. If the whole game is easy, then okay, great. If it’s all hard, brill, that’s the dev’s call. But Code Vein has some big issues with difficulty spikes. For instance, I barely died for the first 30-35 hours of my 50 hour playthrough, then, in the last 15 (3 bosses in particular), I died as if I’d been transported to my own personal Dark Souls hell. Because this is the thing - Code Vein isn’t as tight or responsive as Dark Souls is. It’s a little loosey goosey, which is okay for the game, but when you throw in intense boss battles that require twitch-like reactions, the game really does come unstuck a little.

I’ve talked a fair bit about the comparisons between Dark Souls and Code Vein, but what I haven’t talked about is where Code Vein excels over Dark Souls. Little accessibility things like a mini-map, one that shows where you’ve recently trodden, and markers for side quests, mean you don’t waste time traipsing around looking for stuff to do. That’s what Code Vein should be truly commended for. What it shouldn't be commended for is having the same issues that Dark Souls has, what with its dodgy camera and unwieldy lock-on. The final boss, because of those issues, reminded me of the Nameless King... and not in a good way!

While Dark Souls opts to tell the story and create tension with its sprawling gothic environments, Code Vein opts for a different route, which works. You know, the staple biomes - here’s a misty swamp, a snowy mountain, a desolate desert, and so on. What doesn’t work for Code Vein is Namco Bandai’s attempt to shoehorn in gimmicks at every turn. “Oh, here’s the ice level, let’s have bits of the level that have sheets of ice you can fall through!” “Oh, here’s the city on fire level, let’s have parts of the floor aflame and have you fight in tight corridors with all the walls on fire!” “Oh, I know, last one… let’s have a level that has the walls attack you with vine-style plants. That won’t annoy the player!” Newsflash, it annoys the player… a lot! So much you couldn’t even imagine! It’s cheap, it’s gimmicky, and it really doesn’t add anything to the game or the player’s experience, beyond frustration.

That’s the thing, though, when Code Vein does its own thing, the game is a truly enjoyable romp. It’s bombastic, satisfying and a joy to play. When it tries to be more like Dark Souls, becoming more challenging and adding pointless obstacles for no reason other than to seemingly irritate the player, that’s when its shortfalls become obvious and it fails to deliver. While the combat is fun, the difficulty spikes can come out of nowhere and catch the best Souls-like players off-guard. Sure, the story might be incoherent and a little all over the place at times, and the characters do come across as a little predictable – although rather likeable – Code Vein is still a really gratifying experience. It’s all a bit Jekyll and Hyde, if we’re being honest.

Code Vein

'Anime Dark Souls' was its billing, but it’s not until Code Vein breaks free of the tried-and-tested formula that it shines brightly. With a difficulty balance that stretches from a leisurely stroll to hair-tearing madness, it’s hard to know who this game is for. Code Vein is fun, though. Really, really fun, and a great place to start for anyone keen to dip their toe into a more chilled and relaxed Souls-like title.

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The score is top notch, while the voice acting is pretty solid. Shame we’ve been cursed with a silent protagonist, though! In 2019, no less!


The comic book style visuals are perfectly in keeping with the game’s style. The character customisation, while great, is let down by the fact that every item of clothing, hair, whatever, all clips through one another, which is more than a little off-putting.


If you treat this like a more conventional action game, then you’ll definitely get more out of Code Vein. While the Dark Souls inspirations are obvious, it’s very much its own thing.


Massive difficulty spikes in what is otherwise a fairly leisurely romp, let down what is a pretty solid experience.


The list is pretty solid and balanced for the most part. Seeing all three endings will be a pain, however, as it’s not exactly the shortest of games, even if you can New Game + it without upping the difficulty.

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