2023 saw a noticeable influx of games focusing on magic users, and the upcoming Immortals of Aveum is another, looking to add its own spin on spell crafting in games. The first title from the newly-formed Ascendant Studios, it aims to be a new type of first-person ‘magic’ shooter, channeling the spirit and frenzy of classic 1990s FPS games for its take on magical warfare.
As the next game in the expanding EA Originals label – featuring titles like Wild Hearts, It Takes Two, and Unravel – Immortals of Aveum feels like the biggest AAA turn for the brand. With the developer made up of former creatives on the Call of Duty and Dead Space franchises, the game leans on that pedigree to present an action RPG that uses magic spells instead of bullets.
Ahead of its 20 July 2023 release, I played the opening hours of the story campaign, jumping into the many combat encounters and puzzle-solving sequences that showcase spell crafting from a unique perspective. I also spoke with Immortals’ lead combat designer, Jason Warnke, about how Ascendant approached its reimagining of traditional FPS gameplay.
An Age of Magical Warfare
According to Warke, Immortals of Aveum began with rethinking tropes for the popular first-person shooter genre – the most obvious one being about how an FPS always puts a gun in the hands of a protagonist.
‘When we first started coming up with the game, the idea of doing a first-person shooter without guns was super interesting – like how would that work?’ said Warnke about the early days of developing Immortals. ‘I still have my Hexen and Heretic discs back from when they were first released. I got taken with the idea of rethinking traditional FPS combat and the intuitive nature of handling a gun in a game, and all within a magical setting, which was exciting.’
Immortals of Aveum focuses on the story of Jak, a young battle mage with the rare ability to wield three forms of powerful magic simultaneously. With his aptitude for spellcraft, he gets recruited into an ancient order of mages known as the Immortals, to fight in a long-standing war that has spread worldwide. As Jak gains new powers and artefacts while completing missions, he’ll uncover a larger conspiracy that reveals a more significant threat, which puts all those in the realm at risk.
While Immortals is a story-driven game set across different chapters, each of which whisks you away to other areas of the world, it was clear from the opening hours that it’s actually a larger game with hidden secrets and points of exploration, including spaces where you can interact with townsfolk. Of course, combat encounters come first, but I did get a sense that it was leaning into those familiar RPG moments, with you gradually unraveling its visually stunning world.
While the setting of Immortals of Aveum is high-fantasy through and through, leaning hard on the familiar sword & sorcery trappings, the style and tone of it felt more like a popcorn action film or TV series, somewhat similar to the recent Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves. This made getting into the game’s world feel easy, as opposed to having to contend with dense and sprawling lore from the outset, like The Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time. The game aims for a more exciting speed, which is very much in keeping with the pace of the game’s sense of action.
Therein lies the most interesting throughline for Immortals of Aveum, in that the fast-paced and hectic combat is explosive, challenging, and also very weird. As a battle mage, Jak wields different types of magic that act as stand-ins for a familiar arsenal of precision (Blue Magic), rapid-fire (Green Magic), and heavy (Red Magic) attacks. How you juggle these types of magic, as well as an assortment of artefacts that provide you with unique abilities, will determine how you can thrive in combat.
Enter the Combat Puzzle
Though Jak is a spellcaster, he is not at all the archetype of a ‘glass cannon.’ If anything, Immortals puts its focus on throwing the spellcasters right into the middle of fights, striking a similar vibe to recent shooters like Doom Eternal – just with magical spells replacing shotguns and chainsaws. During my talk with Warke, he spoke about how Immortals of Aveum is aiming for the ‘combat puzzle’ style of design for its encounters.
‘Over the last five years, we’ve gone through four separate combat versions of the game to really find what Immortals would be about,’ said the lead combat designer. ‘Our whole game is all about the combat puzzle, how you choose to use your weapons and the actions you choose during those moments in the open arenas of combat creates such a different experience for players.’
When it comes to combat in practice, Immortals really excels at showcasing how chaotic magic can get. Jak is a very proficient sorcerer, and that gives you a lot of cool tools to take out enemies, which range from traditional soldiers and rival magic users, to larger foes like golems and dragons. The early fights start out at a relaxed pace, but things can quickly get wild once enemies with larger skill sets come into play, which puts more pressure on you to close out engagements as quickly as possible.
I really enjoyed how fast the game was when combat kicked into high-gear. Some of my favourite moments were utilising a set of unique abilities together with my core arsenal, such as one instance where I used my magic whip to pull an enemy toward me, and finished them off with a shotgun-style blast of red magic. Another encounter saw me pulling up my magic shield to block a volley of homing green magic, using a special sub-artefact to slow down a set of roaming foes, and then following up with a blue magic spell that fired an energy javelin. These moments were on-the-fly decisions that really impressed me with how much versatility there was in the combat.
While the action is very much a reflex-focused affair, Immortals also features some light RPG elements, such as crafting gear, equipping new types of armour and magic conduits, and building your skill tree in order to create your own version of Jak.
It’s not possible to fully max out the skill tree, so this means you’ll have to be mindful in how you spend your points across the three magic disciplines. I put most of my points into the red magic tree, turning Jak into a close-quarters battle mage that could blow enemies to bits. I was very impressed with how each skill altered the protagonist’s abilities in a meaningful way, and with an option to redistribute your points, the game also provides opportunities to experiment.
I enjoyed how thrilling and tough the many combat encounters were, but a recurring problem I did take note of was that the game struggles to maintain a sense of visual readability during these brawls, which can get overwhelming fast. I had a few deaths during some tough encounters that came as a result of how chaotic battles got, with all the magical spells and explosions going off – which commonly also led to framerate dips.
The developers stated the game is still going through tuning, of course, so here’s hoping those technical and performance issues can be resolved.
Embracing the Magic
Focusing on magic and spectacle is an interesting take on a modern shooter, but its familiar ‘rip and tear’ style pace of FPS combat makes it a promising vessel. That hit of action that gets you amped up and in the zone during chaotic moments is exciting to play out. It’s certainly worlds apart from Call of Duty or Doom in terms of style, but Immortals of Aveum feels like it’s aiming in the right direction.
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