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Saturday, December 2, 2023

Immortals of Aveum: Spectacular like Call of Duty, but with magic

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A former CoD developer had enough of helicopters and assault rifles. His new studio is therefore publishing a first-person shooter of a somewhat different kind in 2023

After nine years of delivering one Call of Duty after another as creative director, Bret Robbins suddenly had a big aha moment in 2018:

I was working on a typical scene from a CoD level with lots of chaos and action. And all of a sudden I thought: what if there”s not a helicopter flying up there, but a dragon? What if instead of rockets, fireballs were hitting all around us? And what if instead of an assault rifle I”m firing a magic gun and spells? An image immediately formed in my head and at the same time the question: Why doesn”t this game actually exist? That”s what I want to play!

Cut to 2023. Robbin”s sudden inspiration has since grown into a fully developed game at the Ascendant Studios he founded: Immortals of Aveum is set to make this very idea of a fantasy shooter come true and will be released on 20 July 2023 for PC, PS5 and Xbox Series X and S.

We have previewed the magical single-player spectacle with the latest Unreal Engine 5.1 and summarise the most important information here. But first, here is the gameplay:

Occupation: Battle Mage!

Immortals of Aveum is set in a newly designed and war-torn fantasy universe where various factions fight for control over magic itself. This in turn springs from Ley Lines – a kind of web of energy that runs like veins through the world of Aveum.

Jak, the protagonist of Immortals of Aveum and a battle mage by profession, also draws his powers from them. And they are special, because Jak can use all three colours (blue, green and red) of magic while most other wizards are limited to only one category.

(The world of Aveum is said to be bursting with mythology and history. Here you can see the magical Lay Lines.)
(The world of Aveum is said to be bursting with mythology and history. Here you can see the magical Lay Lines.)

 This peculiarity makes him interesting for the eponymous Immortals, a kind of magical Special Forces in the service of the Kingdom of Lucium. For the chief villain Sandrakk and his army are already on the borders of this actually peaceful kingdom and threaten to take over all magic.

The story should not only serve as a backdrop and excuse to sizzle away hordes of enemies, but is clearly at the centre of Immortals of Aveum. “It”s a story game. We want to tell an epic story with rich characters first and foremost,” developer boss Bret Robbins tells us.

When it comes to multiplayer or co-op, they are cautious: “We have ideas in that direction, but are currently fully focused on the single-player experience. “

Three colours instead of AK-47

So you”re on your own as Jak when you don your magical gauntlet and enter the fray against enemy mages, golems and even dragons.

(Large mass battles are also on the programme. However, Jak is not a normal soldier, but an elite mage.)
(Large mass battles are also on the programme. However, Jak is not a normal soldier, but an elite mage.)

By doing this you combine different types of spells and the three magical colours to create powerful combos – depending on which opponent is in front of you at the time. Bret Robbins explains the basic combat mechanics in Immortals of Aveum like this:

The blue attacks are precise and have a long range. Red resembles a shotgun with a fierce effect in close combat. The green attacks are projectiles that can find their own target. In addition, there are abilities like a magic shield to deflect enemy fire or a magic whip to draw enemies close.

Knowing which tool to use and when is supposed to be one of the challenges of Immortals of Aveum and sounds quite clever.

For example, if you meet one of Sandrakk”s minions with a blue shield, you must first destroy it with blue magic to damage it – all other colours will be ineffective.

If a horde of melee fighters is rushing towards you, it is best to teleport to an elevated position with green magic and attack them with spells from above. And other enemies are as nimble as ninjas themselves and hard to hit, so you should first rake them with a spell that slows down time and paralyses them before giving them the full brunt of red magic.

(This green magic manipulates time and can slow enemies, (or projectiles).)
(This green magic manipulates time and can slow enemies, (or projectiles).)

There are a total of 25 spells to choose from, but at the same time you have to be careful with your mana reserves in the battles. Just because there are no firearms doesn”t mean you”ll have an endless supply of ammunition

But more than a magic CoD

Jak”s magical arsenal is meant to grow over the course of the story campaign and be customisable to your individual play style: New magical gloves with powerful bonuses can be found in treasure chests or bought from merchants, items such as rings or totems increase your hero”s stats and in the talent tree with 80 slots you can exchange earned experience points for improvements.

Depending on which school of magic you are particularly fond of, you can also consistently skill in the direction of blue, green or red or rather build a generalist. So here, in addition to the pure first-person shooter, there is a good pinch of action role-playing.

According to Bret Robbins, this should also increase the replay value: “There is a lot of room for experimentation. You can build a very nimble battle mage that outmanoeuvres enemies. You can build a tank that is slow but unstoppable. The skill tree provides a lot of reasons to play through the game again.”

That can take time, by the way: If you only play through the story and ignore side quests, you should be busy for around 25 hours.

Wait, sidequests? Yes, Immortals of Aveum, like Call of Duty, relies on a stringently staged campaign with big battles and dramatic cutscenes, but it does let you veer off in other directions here and there.

According to the developers at Ascendant Studios, exploration even plays a big role, with new areas opening up in levels you”ve already visited when Jak unlocks the corresponding magic abilities – similar to the Metroidvania genre.

In addition, the action is repeatedly loosened up with physics puzzles, for example when Jak has to use his abilities to arrange light beams in a dungeon so that they hit the walls in a certain pattern and open a hidden door. Kind of like a puzzle room in Portal 2, only with magic!

(With the right upgrades Jak can strengthen his skills or learn new ones.)
(With the right upgrades Jak can strengthen his skills or learn new ones.)

Deep lore, clever puzzles, complex talents, tactical combo system: all in all, Immortals of Aveum seems to want to be much more in the end than just the mage CoD that the studio founder had once dreamed of.

For a debut project, the game is more than ambitious, definitely refreshingly different due to its setting and certainly a candidate for the Steam wish list of every shooter fan. The fact that there are neither microtransactions, nor live service plans or an always-on compulsion should also be music to the ears of many players.

Will all the promising individual parts of Immortals of Aveum add up to a coherent overall picture when it is released on 20 July? Despite all the magic, that remains hidden in our crystal ball.

Editorial conclusion

The idea of a magic shooter intrigued me from the first second: Instead of unpacking rocket launchers, sniper rifles & Co. for the umpteenth time, the battles in Immortals of Aveum are really different. Methodically switching between the magical colours, figuring out devastating spell combos – it all sounds like a more than overdue change in the shooter genre.

And the whole thing looks good anyway. The Unreal Engine 5 finally unleashes its full power in Immortals of Aveum and I”m honestly glad that the developers didn”t make any compromises and left the old console generation behind. I”m also pleased that a genuine story shooter is finally coming out without any Service Online Season Pass frills. As you can see, Ascendant Studios is preaching to the choir.

But despite all the adulation, we should stay calm, drink tea and wait and see how the whole thing really plays. Because as the saying goes: overhype is rarely good for you. Or something like that.


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