It seems like there's been a recent influx of Dark Souls-like experiences that focus on punishing combat and deep exploration. We've seen games like Remnant: From the Ashes and The Surge 2 release close to one another, but there's another title that launched last Friday called Code Vein. While Code Vein is much more accessible than past entries in the crowded action role-playing (ARPG) genre, it falters on a storytelling and technical front.
Bottom line: Code Vein is a great game, but needs more polish.
- Excellent creature design
- Continuous environments
- Accessible gameplay
- Deep character customization
- Convoluted plot
- Questionable Xbox One X support
- Performance issues
- Poorly-textured cutscenes
Code Vein story and themes
Code Vein focuses on a group of vampires as they try to cure their affliction. According to the developer, Bandai Namco Studios, in the not too distant future, a mysterious disaster has destroyed the world, and it's up to you to piece together what happened. At the beginning of the game, you're tasked with creating a character, who's then thrust into the heart of the story.
While some gamers may appreciate the convoluted plot that's told through muddy flashbacks, I found it difficult to understand. When it comes to a new franchise, you have to make sure that players know exactly what's going on or risk losing them. Throughout my time with Code Vein, I couldn't understand the significance of certain events. Surely, there's a better way to convey the story.
Code Vein requires you to piece together the story.
I feel that this game shouldn't have taken quite so much inspiration from the Dark Souls trilogy. FromSoftware's masterpieces don't reveal much, but make it clear from the beginning that you're simply compelled towards a particular destination. Code Vein tries to do the same, but wants to tell a nuanced tale. These two approaches to storytelling don't mix well. At the end of the day, it's just frustrating for the player who wants to do more than slaughter legions of monsters.
Other characters know that you can't remember any details from your past, but for some odd reason, don't bother educating you about what's going on in this dilapidated city. I understand that the developer wanted to create this sense of mystery, but in doing so, they take away from the storytelling.
Code Vein combat and innovation
The most significant innovation Code Vein brings to the genre has to be the ability to change classes on the go. When you're taking out regular foes, you'll probably want to go with the Fighter Blood Code because using an oversized sword is the most efficient way. However, when you're going up against a boss which spews out miasma when you get too close, it's best to use the Ranger Blood Code. There are numerous possibilities, and you'll have to figure out what works for you during any given situation.
Code Vein is also much more accessible than other titles in the hardcore ARPG genre because it's easy to level up and switch up your playstyle. I thought Remnant: From the Ashes and The Surge 2 were accessible games, but Code Vein takes the top prize. There's an in-depth tutorial which can be accessed at any time through the menus. This teaches you precisely what you need to succeed. I honestly wish that every game with a steep difficulty curve did this so that more people could enjoy them.
Code Vein features a lot of deeper combat mechanics that require you to utilize a variety of skills that boost your attack power. However, many come at the cost of health. These are just some of the tools at your disposal, but it's up to you to discover when they're useful. A lot of this requires a trial-and-error approach, which enhances combat.
Code Vein graphics and performance
Code Vein features unique anime-like visuals that are a sight to behold. Seeing characters superimposed on a realistic world gives it a remarkable aesthetic that's similar to what we saw in Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Aside from the cutscenes, the game features mostly high-resolution textures and superb lighting.
The game contains a lot of diverse environments that seamlessly connect to one another. You'll travel through subterranean caverns and snow-covered peaks throughout the lengthy campaign. Unlike The Surge 2, Code Vein doesn't feature a lot of verticality. The levels are mostly flat, and you go from one area to the next, defeating bosses.
Code Vein features superb lighting on Xbox One X.
Unfortunately, Code Vein's Xbox One X support is questionable at best. It seems like the resolution is higher than 1080p, but the game is quite blurry even then. I'm going to guess maybe 1440p because Conan Exiles was plagued with a similar problem. Since the majority of the game takes place in corridor-like environments, it's unclear why this is the case. It's also locked to just 30 frames per second (FPS).
Code Vein runs well on Xbox One X, but even on the powerful console, there are frequent stutters during combat and while transitioning from one area to the next. I observed drops as low as 20 FPS at times. Luckily, they don't appear to take place during combat as much, so it doesn't affect critical gameplay moments.
It seems like Code Vein isn't that optimized for the console. Hopefully, the developer will issue a few patches to fix the performance. During certain cutscenes, you'll notice that the armor characters are wearing is quite low resolution. This can be jarring to witnesses because this is in stark contrast to the rest of the game.
Code Vein final thoughts
Overall, Code Vein is a good game that needs just a little more polish. Had the team added more animation variety, better textures during cutscenes, focused just a little more on performance, and tightened up the story, this could've been one of Bandai Namco's biggest new franchises. There's a lot to love about the experience, but it needs some finetuning.
As the story progresses, you get to learn more about the characters, this mysterious war, and a queen. Some of the voice acting is truly extraordinary when these vampires are discussing the toll conflict takes on the world. You can feel their pain. I want to love Code Vein, but it has a lot of problems – not to mention the mostly flat level design – that take away from the game.
This review was conducted on a PlayStation 4 Pro and Xbox One X with copies provided by the publisher.
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