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Code Vein Review - A Gory Mess Or Worth Sinking Your Teeth Into?

The nightmarish medieval fantasy setting of Dark Souls is one fans love to return to time and time again, but have Shift, along with Bandai Namco's in-house development team created a worthy rival to FromSoftwares legendary series, or is Code Vein simply a dry experience that leaves nothing but the bitter taste of iron in your mouth?

As a fan of FromSoftware I'm always keen to experience Souls-Borne inspired titles, so when Code Vein was first announced, I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into it. What I found most appealing was the vastly different art direction and obvious Animé influence. Dubbed "Animé Dark Souls" by fans of the genre, it's hard to deny this describes Code Vein perfectly and is exactly what the development team were going for.

Before you begin, you'll need to create your character and decide on whether you want to name them before or after customising their look. I decided to go with the latter option because I generally like to have a clear image of something before I can name it. It's also here where you can load previously created character data in, though I was a little disappointed as I spent a ton of time on the Code Vein beta and even previously saved my character appearance, yet you can only load in data from the demo. Still, that just meant I'd have to create another unique character and with the amount of options in Code Vein, you can easily find yourself spending upwards of an hour on finalising your look for the 40+ hours of gameplay that await.

Meet Prince Aufwarden aka Deathtoll - My custom Revenant rocking a +10 Brodiaea and the +10 Suicide Spur Blood Veil.

With the option to play male or female, I went with male and scrolled through the preset faces until I found one I was happy with. From here, I was able to change my eyes, eyebrows, hairstyle and skin colour/tone. The preset faces are what determine your nose, lips and general facial features, but the eye section allows you to change the colour, design and size of your iris, pupil and sclera. You can also add scars and make-up, tweaking and positioning them to where you see fit.

On top of this, each of the clothing options can be modified by adding or taking away certain segments like cuffs, collars and tails to further individualise your character. Plus, if that wasn't enough, you can also add a number of accessories from hair extensions to hats, jewellery, medical pouches (purely aesthetic), gloves, knee and elbow pads and all kinds of things.

Like your clothing, you can adjust the size and positioning, and even colour your accessories individually, meaning your hair extensions become indistinguishable from your actual hair and your accessories can look like they came as part of a set with whichever outfit you choose to wear. The only disappointing part here is that you're limited to twelve accessory blocks and a single hair extension costs four.

Sadly, you can't have any middle-aged veterans either, as all of the facial options are of young men and women, but you do get a selection of voices for both genders and enough character options to make some truly androgynous creations.

My endgame stats. I sacrificed a lot of defense for excellent mobility and Dark Gift potency.

Once you've created and named your character, you'll be running through the demo area before making it to Home Base. This is your hub and the place you'll find yourself returning to when you need to upgrade your gear, give gifts to your companion characters (in exchange for some pretty handy rewards like unique weapons, elemental gear upgrades known as Chrome and Combat Drugs that will help you out on the field) and make any shop purchases. You can also listen to music via one of the two radios (I'd advise turning this off before talking to anyone as it interferes with dialogue and makes it pretty hard to hear anything) and practice fighting at the training area. There's even a mirror to change your hairstyle, clothing and accessories at any time and a Bath House that although I never used for its intended purpose, allows you to rest to recover half of your lost Haze (I never actually permanently lost any of my Haze and though risky, ended up running around with 1 million Haze at one point very late-game), which is the equivalent to Dark Souls' Souls - The currency needed to level up and purchase new gifts, gear and items.

Unlike Dark Souls, leveling up doesn't allow you to increase your individual stats, but instead increases your base survivability such as stamina and health. Interestingly, your chosen Blood Code provides the foundation for your base combat stats and will determine how much Ichor (Magic Power) you can use, how much extra health you have on top of your base character stats, and will even govern how effective you can become in attacking, draining blood to increase Ichor and blasting your opponents (or buffing yourself and your companion) into oblivion. Finding a weapon or Blood Veil with excellent stat scaling for your chosen stat is then what increases your effectiveness, bolstered only by the Gifts you unlock and master, and then upgrading your preferred weapons and Blood Veils.

Takumo trying to get to the bottom of things. He's one heavy hitter who'll save you in a pinch.

You'll also unlock a lot of Blood Codes - Blood Codes are effectively your Classes in Code Vein and the intended way to play is to choose a Blood Code you like, then build upon it, mastering passive and active Gifts from the other Blood Codes (Classes), eventually ending up with something pretty unique. My build was a little different from the norm in that I usually like to tank in Souls styled games, but here I decided to focus on Dex with a good amount of magic to back myself up. I ended up with a pretty unique build and spent most of the game using three different classes - Fighter, Prometheus and Queenslayer. Fighter is one of the base Classes you can choose from and having just started, I wanted to make sure I could take a hit, so instead of going Caster or Ranger, I went Fighter. This gave me decent health, okay stamina and a good amount of Ichor to cast magic. As I progressed further through the game I eventually unlocked Prometheus, which felt like a pretty natural upgrade until I obtained my final Blood Code - Queenslayer. This was by far my favourite and the one I stuck with for the remainder of the game.

Each Blood Code has a number of Gifts linked to them that you can master and carry across to others. Some of the best you'll get however, are actually locked to specific Blood Codes, but this isn't exactly a bad thing as it nudges you to try out others to see what really works for you. Though, I mostly stuck to my preferred Blood Code throughout, cheekily purchasing and mastering abilities with Awake (a certain type of collectable that you can spend to manually unlock abilities) to minimise the need to swap to other Codes. It's good to have options though.

Check out some of my late-game gameplay below:

There are also a good number of weapons in the game and though I went with the Bayonet for a good mix of melee and ranged combat, different weapons will often have slightly varied movesets. For example, some Bayonets have a single shot followed by a scatter shot of about five bullets (if you hold triangle), but others have shots with longer range (like the Brodiaea), greater penetration and even a Shotgun typed close range blast. I didn't play with the other weapons enough to see if this was the case with all weapon types but there are enough weapons on offer to cater to multiple play styles. Outside of the Bayonet, weapons include one-handed and two-handed swords, Greathammers and a number of Polearms such as Halberds and Spears, each with various movesets. There are also a number of Gifts that favour a particular type of weapon such as Bayonet Mastery and One-Handed Sword Mastery as two examples.

Each weapon has its own unique look and this is the same for Blood Veils which largely govern your Defense and Gift power. Blood Veils are essentially your armour, with each type having their own set of Defense and Gift power values. Some Blood Veils favour melee combat while others favour Light or Dark Gifts. There's a fine balance between the partnership of Blood Veils and Blood Codes and when you have comfortably found that balance, you can then decide whether it's worth sacrificing Defense for Gift potency or vice versa, though the more defensive Gifts will allow you to bolster your physical and elemental resistances regardless of what you choose, so you always have options. That said, I had about three favourite Blood Veils, but not one of them maximised the potential of my build, so in the end I had a Blood Veil that wasn't too visually appealing for the look I was going for, but felt right simply because of how much of a benefit it was for my build. Still, there are some incredibly cool looking Blood Veils in the game.

We're in this fight together!

When you begin to get the hang of combat and accumulate a good amount of Haze, your first thought is likely going to be to level up, only leveling isn't the main thing you should be doing. It's much more beneficial to use your Haze to upgrade your gear and purchase new Gifts as often as you can. Some Gifts can cost as much as 48k Haze, but late game this is nothing. You also aren't likely to finalise your ultimate build on your first run through the game, largely because your choice to either restore or ignore a Successors Vestige will determine which Blood Code you unlock. I didn't realise you could restore every Successor until after I'd failed to restore the first, so I ended up with the neutral ending for not saving (good ending) or ignoring (bad ending) each one. This was a little frustrating as it meant I didn't get the true ending, but with New Game+, you can re-play the story either at the same difficulty or a much harder difficulty (your choice) to rectify your mistakes in the first run and unlock the additional Blood Codes you missed the first time around.

My build largely consisted of a Melee Bayonet-only attack named Circulating Pulse, a Ranged Bayonet-only attack named Fusillade Rondo, quick blasts of Lightning Balls named Blast Bolt and an incredibly powerful Ice Spike attack named Freezing Roar. I then used Overdrive (which is an Attack Up ability buff for you and your partner that lasts until you get hit, taken from the Assassin Blood Code), Iron Will (reduces damage taken, acquired from the Berserker Blood Code) and a Status Effect negator of my choice. I could have also used my partners ability Gift but more often than not found them a little useless so didn't bother. Each partner has their own Communal Gift you can use that grants a benefit suited to their fighting style. You can have 8 Active Gifts equipped (which are Gifts you have to manually use) and 4 Passive Gifts, which on my build included Dex/Str Up, Dex/Willpower Up, Extra Ichor and Bayonet Mastery for much higher damage output.

There are some truly beautiful spots in Code Vein.

The combat in Code Vein may be inspired by Dark Souls, but is different enough to have carved its own identity into the genre. As expected, backstabs are a thing and deal an incredible amount of damage (bolstered by a passive ability I had for a while, which can effectively double its potency), but when the enemy is down, if you're quick enough (or have the Gifts needed to speed up your charge attacks), you can actually use a Drain Attack to drain them of Ichor, mercilessly using them as blood banks to replenish your own stock only to once again abuse them with your Gifts. You can perform the Drain Attack at any time, but run the risk of being interrupted and potentially obliterated depending on what you're facing. Different Blood Veils have different Drain Attack animations and the same can be said for parries - The timing changes depending on the type you have equipped.

While performing backstabs and Drain Attacks will replenish your Ichor stock, you can also do this by using an item called Ichor Concentrate. A fun way to use Ichor is to utterly abuse backstab until you've doubled your Ichor stock, then you can head straight for that boss fight for ultra decimation. Each backstab gives +2 Ichor and your starting limit can often be doubled this way (depending on your Blood Code). The only enemies you don't seem to be able to backstab are bosses, which is a little disappointing but not enough to dampen the experience.

If you're feeling confident you can learn to parry enemies to deal massive damage, though much like my time with Dark Souls, this isn't something I became very good at and instead got by perfectly fine without it. It felt rewarding enough the few times I did manage to pull this off however, so if you master this ability, you're in for a fun time.

Mistle - Your number one spot to rest and level up.

Additionally, if you take enough damage or dodge enough attacks, you'll eventually build up Focus. You'll know when this is active as you'll shimmer with a blue aura and your Focus bar will be flashing bright blue. There are a number of Gifts which focus on making you more efficient at reaching this state, and while this is active you are much harder to stagger, can stagger enemies easier, stamina quickly recovers and you have access to a special launch attack that can deal a huge chunk of damage to your opponents. This also works both ways as enemies have this too, so you'll want to put your enemies down hard and fast, or simply back off until their Focus depletes.

If you find yourself badly injured, you may want to consider using Vivifier. This allows you to teleport back to the last Mistle (that's a bonfire to you Souls fans) you rested at without losing any Haze, and in doing so will respawn all of the enemies, but also replenishes your health and Ichor stock, plus your Regen Extension Factor (Estus) which serves as a healing drug and can be empowered permanently with Regen Activation Factor. Mistle also allows you to spend Haze to level up and both purchase and master Gifts, which you'll be doing a lot.

That said, I haven't touched upon it previously because I tend to avoid spoilers in all of my reviews, but the story in Code Vein is pretty simple and very typical of your standard Shounen Animé plot. You play a Revenant - A Vampire-like human with a parasitic entity inside of you, granting you immortality but at the cost of your humanity, because the only substance you can truly subsist on is blood. You need blood to survive and if you go for too long without it, you'll develop Bloodthirst and run the risk of falling into a Bloodfrenzy. This doesn't actually play into the gameplay mechanics, but would be pretty interesting if it did and if we ever get a Code Vein 2, this is something that I'd love to see integrated into the gameplay, as it'd be great fun playing as a Bloodfrenzied Revenant.

So much war, all because of this - The precious Blood Bead.

To prevent Bloodfrenzy, Revenants need to consume Blood Beads. Blood Beads actually grow on trees, only they're incredibly rare to find and often the reason for Revenants turning on one another. Characters also have to wear gas masks, as the red mist in many of the outside areas dramatically speeds up the process of Bloodfrenzy.

As the main protagonist, you are the chosen one and the one destined to end the worlds suffering by getting to the bottom of this huge apocalyptic mess. Throughout your journey you'll encounter a number of characters with their own agendas and backstories to discover, and while this is your typical heroic story, the characters you'll come to know and meet are genuinely likeable and each have a somewhat tragic past. The world is bleak and you're a member of the only resistance group potentially able to put an end to the chaos.

Having finished Code Vein, I can openly admit I wasn't too interested in the story. The cutscenes provided some pretty cool moments, but were too few and far between to really engage me, yet the ones which did have some depth actually went on for a little too long. I really enjoyed interacting with the main cast and took a particular liking to Takumo, Jack, Io and Eva, but it was the gameplay that kept me coming back time and time again.

Taking a trip down memory lane - This is one of the many restored Vestige memories you'll come across.

Outside of the main cutscenes, you'll find Vestiges hidden and scattered across the many maps you'll explore, while collecting these Vestiges can do three things - 1. You can piece together character memories and re-live them in a blue hued dream-like landscape, almost as if you were there. 2. You can restore a Successors memory to stop them fading out of existence (you'll know what I mean by this if you play the game yourself) and 3. Watching and walking through these memories provides extra story and unlocks Gifts previously locked within their owners corresponding Blood Codes. These make up for about half the story, so you won't want to miss them.

Once you're done with the story, or if you simply want to take a break from the narrative, you may want to wander down into The Depths. To do this you must first speak to the muscular, white armoured man named Davis. You'll unlock more areas to visit in The Depths the further you progress through the story. As such, I decided to finish the story before heading down to The Depths. The only issue was by that point I had already become too powerful and so what I thought would offer a good post-game challenge offered virtually no challenge at all.

While in The Depths, you'll find yourself acquiring a number of partially upgraded weapons and several unique Gifts that are usable with any Blood Code. As such, there is a little replay value to be had, but aside from a final, somewhat harder boss fight, there isn't really all that much to get excited about during this part of the game. Having finished Code Vein, The Depths were clearly intended to be played as you progressed through the story and while this isn't the be-all and end-all, I'm a little disappointed more areas weren't available to unlock after finishing the few that exist.

One of the coolest looking late-game areas.

Code Vein also allows for co-operative play, activated by one player sending out a Distress Signal for the other to receive. Players can then play alongside one another until the host either dies or the area boss gets defeated. There's also a gesture system in place that by double clicking the left analogue stick allows for you to select your chosen gestures. Gestures can be customised with a phrase, stamp and character animation, so celebrating a victory, greeting another player or even sulking are all viable options to express your feelings to other online players. It is also entirely optional and regardless of what level you are, you will always be leveled down to match the hosts level. This keeps things fair and removes the silly level limit of Dark Souls titles. I just wish both characters would be visible in the cutscenes.

Overall, though Code Vein is by no means a perfectly crafted title, it's unique enough that it stands out within the genre as something fresh and unique. I finished it in 38 hours, reaching level 155 with +10 gear, so there's a lot to sink your teeth into. The gameplay mechanics, though somewhat unrefined, are highly enjoyable and I loved every moment of it, especially being able to craft my own unique build with the highly unique Blood Code and Gift system.

Boss fights are fun and though it's easier than Dark Souls, this makes Code Vein a lot more accessible to people who may have been previously put off by the difficulty of the Souls series. It's also worth mentioning that at times, Code Vein is an incredibly gorgeous title to look at, but it isn't without some issues - The framerate isn't entirely consistent and varies from running ultra smooth to having noticeable dips depending on the area you're in. This is a bit of a shame, but it doesn't stop Code Vein from being a hugely enjoyable title you'll have trouble pulling yourself away from, and one that any Souls or Animé fan will undoubtedly fall in love with.

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