Immortals of Aveum shoots so hard for the look and feel of a summer blockbuster that I’m surprised the collector’s edition doesn’t come with a big buttery bucket of popcorn. Or at least one you can microwave at home.
It’s even coming out in July, a traditionally barren point in the release calendar, but surely a softer slate of competition can only help this flashy new IP on the EA Originals publishing label cut through?
From its high-stakes story that leans heavily on the kind of fantasy escapism that will never use a real word if it can make one up, to the quip-sharp tone of its sassy superhero script, from what I’ve seen in a hands-on preview across three story levels, Immortals of Aveum is generally successful in what it sets out to achieve – with a few caveats.
When games try to be “cinematic”, why do they always mean the cinema of Michael Bay and James Cameron, exclusively? Plenty of games are obviously inspired by movies, but whenever the “cinematic” tag comes out, it usually boils down to big explosions and moody close-ups of firing guns. Crucially however, what developer Ascendant Studios thinks sets its debut game apart is that there aren’t any guns to fire, just dazzling spells to sling.
Immortals of Aveum tells the story of an eternal conflict called the Everwar, where – for thousands of years – people have fought for control of the magic at the heart of the world. You come in as the balance is shifting towards evil, with the despotic Sandrakk at the helm of the Rasharn faction gaining the upper hand against the Kingdom of Lucium.
It’s up to Jak (no relation to Daxter, sadly), a new recruit in the Order of the Immortals and talented spellcaster who can wield all three colours of magic, to make the key difference that turns the tide of the Everwar.
Apparently conceived as “what if Call of Duty, but dragons”, the three colours of magic are based around familiar archetypes of weapons. Red is close-range and analogous to shotguns, green is fast-firing like an SMG, while blue has longer range options more similar to marksman rifles or hand cannons.
Because of this, I’m not convinced that the magic-shooter gameplay is quite as unique as Ascendant is asserting, since there’s not a lot of tangible, mechanical difference in firing off spells instead of the weapons they’re reminiscent of.
But with that said the magic definitely adds a lot to the action. Visually, Immortals of Aveum is fantastic, with vibrant, shattering particles filling the screen with violent confetti as you bounce around, constantly swapping between spells to exploit your enemies’ weaknesses.
Enemies aren’t as versatile as Jak, so they usually only use one colour of magic themselves. But that also means they’re weak to that colour, allowing you to take them out more easily by juggling your equipment efficiently. This tactical layer adds an extra element of complexity to fights, which can contribute to scraps becoming properly tough and hectic.
But it can also lead to clunking through the gears in the heat at the moment, when it’s tough to distinguish between different colours and equipped weapons at a glance. This could be an accessibility issue owing to my colourblindness, or just unfamiliarity with the different spells of Aveum, but fumbling through the overstuffed control scheme on a pad was frustrating at times.
However, perhaps the most impressive element of Immortals of Avenum is the exceptional scope and scale to the levels. As one of the first major-publisher games to release using Unreal Engine 5.1, you can really tell that everything is just extremely large.
My preview started in the tutorial level and saw Jak face off against, essentially, training dummies, but the action soon moved onto dense and sprawling jungles with dilapidated temples crumbling in the undergrowth, and then onto underground caverns dimly lit with an ominous glow.
There are apparently many more biomes to explore in Immortals of Aveum too, so it’s a visual treat on many fronts. Right from the big battlefield cutscenes in the opening, there’s a great sense of presence. You can feel how the models exist within the environment with a perceptible depth, rather than just seeming like a flat image.
But this has gameplay applications as well. Even though many of the encounters happen in standard-looking arenas like you’d expect with a DOOM-like shooter, the sheer size means Ascendant Studios can pack a lot of variety into each area, utilising different levels of verticality in different corners of the map and enough distance between vantage points and sight lines to make short, medium and long range spells make a noticeable impact.
Hopefully the finished game can take full advantage of this spectacular tech, but when performance issues have been at the forefront of so many releases, it’s going to be a real test for this first massive game from a fledgling studio to come out running smoothly.
Another interesting aspect of Immortals of Aveum is the cadence between action and exploration, with subtle environmental puzzles littering the world. These can be simple locked doors you need to notice and return to later with the right power, treasure hunts where you need to destroy coloured crystals matched to the ones shown on a locked gate, or tricky platforming challenges that ask you to time your shots or hop onto a moving bridge forward.
I really liked how the puzzles played out, even if some did have you brushing up against the invisible walls of your goldfish bowl. Because the environment does feel so present and expansive, it often looks like you can get on top of places you actually can’t, which takes you out of the moment, but it’s very much the kind of thing you can push past if you’re not feeling it.
So, with incredible special effects, expansive environments and a story with epochal stakes, Immortals of Aveum is a big-budget epic with all of the hallmarks of a summer blockbuster. But just like at the box office, we’ll have to see if the whole package is still something we remember come awards season.
Let’s see if it can stick the landing when Immortals of Aveum launches for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S on July 20, 2023.