Immortals of Aveum has one of those new fantasy series names. It’s the type of name that has the air of a sort of generic fantasy word soup – because it is – but also the kind of name that will live and die by the game’s success. If the game takes off, it’ll be second nature, like saying ‘Final Fantasy’ or ‘Pillars of Eternity’. If it doesn’t, it’ll remain a dumb-dumb tongue twister. After an initial hands-off presentation, I think it stands a decent chance of making the word Aveum sound, well, normal. Which is as strong a complement as one can give a game like this.
To understand Immortals of Aveum (that’s pronounced Ay-vee-um, by the way), you really first have to understand where the game comes from. In a media preview session introducing the title in full, EA placed an enormous emphasis on the pedigree of its team and its creative lead and studio head – one Brett Robins.
Robins has been around the industry, but his greatest triumph is arguably his role as the creative lead on the original Dead Space. After that, he went to work on Call of Duty, and that’s where the vision for Immortals of Aveum (one representatives say was “three decades in the making”) began to take shape.
To hear Robins tell it, there was a rather simple bolt-from-blue moment. Reviewing a Call of Duty level, he began to daydream: what if that was a dragon instead of a helicopter? What if instead of artillery going off around you, it were fireballs flung by distant mages? This is the vision that led Robins away from COD, to start the independent Ascendant Studios. After developing the concept, EA signed the title as the largest-scale game for its EA Originals label yet.
So, here’s the pitch: Immortals of Aveum is a first-person, story-driven, single-player, magical shooter. With RPG elements. This leaves a lot of influences to process.
There’s a Dr. Strange feel in conjuring up big sigil-clad shields and the like. There’s the spectacle of Call of Duty in how levels are structured, but in a much different sort of universe. Magical energy bursting through pulsating hands definitely evokes BioShock. In aggressive movement and attack-focused combat, one sees ripples of DOOM. There’s even low-key Metroid Prime vibes, when the action ebbs off and gives way to small magical puzzles to progress or unlock optional areas and rewards. Role-playing DNA is on display not just in the lore, but in character progression and upgrades, too.
The titular Immortals are basically the special forces of this magical world. There’s a whole detailed lore that’s been constructed, but the elevator pitch is pretty simple. There’s a big Sauron-lookin’ bad guy, and they’ve designs on conquering the whole world by controlling all magic. Most other nations have already fallen, but you now stand as the last line of defense for your people – and the world at large.
All of this is obviously secondary to how it plays. And it looks fascinating. Naturally, the obvious comparison to make is to shooters. There are three core ‘types’ of base weapons, and they’re handily color-coded. Blue magic offers single longer-rance piercing shots, almost like a sniper. Green is rapid fire but less damaging, more like a submachine gun. Red magic functions like a shotgun blast. In addition to their differing functions, some enemies have color-coded shields – so you’ll want to shatter a red shield with red magic, and so on.
These core weapons are effectively unlimited, but you then have access to higher-level spells called ‘Furies’ that make use of a mana bar. Blink lets you teleport a short distance, for example, just like the skill from Dishonored. Lash cracks out whip-like magic that lets you yank enemies closer to you, making it an ideal one-two combo with red magic.
There are other Furies you’ll unlock over time, while gear and ‘sigil’ upgrades will let you augment your abilities and customize your play-style and character build. Some of the skill unlocks will have a greater effect, too. While Immortals of Aveum promises a ‘20 to 25 hour’ linear campaign, it’ll be possible to return to areas from past levels with new powers, which will let you unlock new side paths and rewards with said powers, Metroidvania style. While this is a linear COD-style shooter, the developers promise a good chunk of optional stuff.
Probably the most interesting – and important – of your skills is your shield. Ascendant Studios was clear from the off; it didn’t want to make a ‘cover shooter’, despite the Call of Duty heritage. You’re not dashing to cover and hiding before jumping out to pop off shots. You’re a Battlemage, a magical gunslinger, and as a result, you’re tanky and fast. This is where that Doom comparison comes in.
Your one true defensive option is your shield, which is giving Doctor Strange in how you conjure it with your left hand while continuing to cast offensively with your right. You can shoot through your shield, but having your shield up slows you down. The result is a defensive option that nevertheless feels offensive at once. In some gameplay clips, you get a feel for how that’ll look – darting about the battlefield wildly, blinking here, lashing enemies there, casting spells that hinder enemy movement, throwing up shields for quick protection before having another burst of movement. It looks satisfying.
It also looks more than superficially different from a shooter. Some gamers (and some media, no doubt) will shortcut to describing this as ‘COD with magic’, and though that’s definitely accurate, it’s also wildly reductive. There’s more to this than that, and that’s exciting. It’s also cool to have a new franchise with an entirely magic-driven worldview. We did just have Forspoken, but this looks infinitely more interesting than that game ever did in terms of both narrative and gameplay.
The chaotic, explosive nature of the moment-to-moment play is appealing - and one can naturally see how it might lend itself to multiplayer. That’s not on the cards right now - though the team is refreshingly honest that it has been considered. It’s something for the future. For now, this is a single-player adventure - and one that has replay value, thanks to side content and the ability to create significantly different magical loadouts via gear and perks.
Undeniably the strongest influence is Call of Duty. But is that so bad? I love the spectacle of those campaigns, and so seeing that expressed in a magic fantasy setting is thrilling. Seeing clips of the protagonist being rag-dolled around in the mouth of a dragon that soars above a huge, chaotic magical battlefield, I nod. Of course this works. Of course this looks rad.
How it feels remains to be seen, of course. This was all hands-off – and for a game like this, the proof is in the pudding, as the saying goes. But the pedigree is there, the vision is there, and after this showcase, well, my interest is certainly there.
We’ll find out for certain how it all comes together when Immortals of Aveum releases on July 20.