Immortals of Aveum Review: Warlock Warfare

 

About two weeks before the release of Immortals of Aveum, EA’s new first-person spell-shooter action title, Baldur’s Gate III released to rapturous acclaim. Larian Studios’ Dungeons & Dragons-based RPG – with its deeply rewarding quests, robust gameplay systems, and evocative characters and storylines – became a global phenomenon, racking up over 800,000 concurrent players on Steam. A strong contender for Game of the Year, Baldur’s Gate III offers meaningful choices, compelling narratives, and hundreds of hours of immersive experience in the Forgotten Realms.

Two weeks after Immortals was released, Bethesda’s sprawling space RPG, Starfield, landed with a promise of a thousand planets. The studio’s first new IP in 25 years, Starfield lets you fulfil your space fantasy, bringing endless exploration, tight gunplay, and spaceship building to the table. Fly anywhere, do anything; as studio director Todd Howard put it, it’s essentially Skyrim in space. Perhaps the biggest Xbox exclusive in a decade, Starfield – like Baldur’s Gate – demands hundreds of hours to savour all of its delights. It promises a stirring journey into mysteries of space and time, exploring themes of existence and being, and the profoundness of human endeavour — the quest to know more.

Between these two colossal, industry-defining games is Immortals of Aveum with its modest ambitions — it lets you shoot colourful magic spells from your fingers, pew-pew-style. That’s about it. Immortals is not interested in offering you a compelling narrative, or deep gameplay systems, or total immersion into its world, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. This is because it does offer in plenty the one thing that video games should be — fun. Immortals is nowhere close to being as big in scope and ambition as the two games that bookended its release. It does not require you to commit dozens of hours; in fact, it does not require you to commit at all. Unlike its two peers, it certainly won’t be contending for Game of the Year. But, Immortals’ straightforward storyline, its earnest and frankly goofy pastiche of modern superhero films, and its tight, 25-hour campaign deliver exactly what the game promises — nothing more, nothing less.

Baldur’s Gate 3 Review: A Critically Successful Dice Roll Into the Colossal Forgotten Realms

Dr Strange meets Call of Duty

Immortals of Aveum, the first game from Ascendant Studios, published under the EA Originals banner, is a first-person shooter without the guns. Here, you shoot colour-coded magic spells, sort of what you’d expect if Dr. Strange met Call of Duty. For visual comparison, the action looks a lot like 2022’s Ghostwire Tokyo but plays out a little differently. Between Forspoken and Hogwarts Legacy, magic has been making a comeback this year (with varying results), and Immortals leans heavily on the arcane, too. Its mostly linear single-player campaign features narrow levels, with some branching paths for exploration.

There’s a modest but healthy variety of gameplay mechanics that pace out the spell-shooting action. Each level features simple but satisfying platforming sections and puzzles that serve as gameplay speed breakers. There’s a serviceable story that plays out much like a second-tier DC movie. The highlight, of course, is its arena-style shooting sections, where you juggle your arsenal of magic spells, and jump and dash around like a rabbit on caffeine, fighting off multiple enemies at once.

The vehicle for your journey through the lands of Aveum is Jak, a common street thief in the slum city of Seren, with a powerful and rare form of magic coursing in his veins, unbeknownst to him. You follow Jak’s story as he experiences a personal tragedy and enlists as a soldier in the Everwar, a millennia-long conflict involving Aveum’s five kingdoms. We see his story play out, as he makes his name as a soldier on the frontlines and becomes an Immortal, an order of elite mages who lead the war effort and serve as protectors of Lucium, one of the five kingdoms of Aveum. Frankly, the information overload can be hard to keep up with at the beginning. The game throws a basketful of half-cooked and familiar magical lore at you to establish the world of Aveum, the raging conflict, the parties involved, their motivations, and ancient artefacts and secrets that threaten to change the course of the Everwar, and consequently the fate of the lands.

I wouldn’t blame you if you felt yourself drowning in jargon. The Shrouded Realm, the Wound, the Pentacade, Laylines, Fonts, Binding Stones and Shrineforges — it’s a lot to take in. Fortunately, you can just ignore the deep end, and swim in the shallow waters of palatable information, which — thankfully — plays it simple. You’re a battlemage fighting a never-ending war, where the lines between good and evil are often blurred. It’s a familiar hero’s journey in step with most blockbuster superhero films, where humour interjects action and tension at every step of the way. There’s little about the narrative that’s fresh here, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t land at all. There are some twists and turns along the way that do take you by surprise.

Jak is accompanied by a colourful cast of allies — fellow Immortals — in the Everwar. Kirkan, the leader of the Immortals, is Jak’s mentor, the one who took him in when his life in Seren fell apart. She’s unrelenting and fierce, and keeps her cards close to her chest, often giving frustratingly opaque answers to Jak’s questions about the Everwar. Zendara, Jak’s field commander, is driven towards the next mission and has little time for small talk and camaraderie. Devyn, on the other hand, is garrulous and sociable, serving as a friendly face in the intimidating order of the Immortals. He also brings the jokes, dropping them at any given moment with the confidence of a clown, even if some of them don’t land.

The Immortals lead Lucium’s army against the forces of Sandrakk, a tyrant who wants to control the source of all magic in Aveum, in the Everwar. The game’s characters are the usual suspects you’d expect to pop up in a phase five MCU film, but they somehow enjoy a natural chemistry here that works in their favour. This is down to earnest and committed voice acting work throughout, which shines even when the writing is lacklustre.

Immortals, as I’ve pointed out before, often looks, sounds, and feels like a genre-fatigued superhero film, hitting familiar narrative beats and action set pieces. Just like the films it’s trying to imitate, the writing in the game repeatedly uses humour as a crutch, but it never delves into the try-hard territory. The abundance and abruptness of jokes often dilute the stakes involved, and break narrative tension, but sometimes they reflect the goofiness of the whole thing, never shying away from embracing the silly stuff.

Over time, new characters are introduced who you expect to be menacing and intimidating. But when you meet them, they turn out to be Joss Whedon-esque quippy idiots and you cannot help but chuckle. For example, in the second act of the game, you infiltrate a monstrous underworld and then make your way through a path smouldering with lava and ash, fighting off hordes of enemies, to finally reach the volcanic lair of a man you seek. You think he’d be ferocious, but when you meet him, he is mildly annoyed that you broke into his bachelor pad, he corrects you when you call his parlour a porch and then proceeds to offer you coffee.

Spells and whistles

While Immortals of Aveum tries hard to be a movie, its strength lies in the video-game stuff. Ascendant Studios is led by industry veteran Bret Robbins, who helmed the original Dead Space and was responsible for several Call of Duty campaigns. His experience bleeds into Immortals, which if you put the magic aside, is a first-person shooter. The world of Aveum is sustained on blue, green, and red types of ancient magic. Magni can wield a particular branch of magic, but Jak is a Triarch Magni with a rare mastery over all three colours of magic.

Each branch of magic is harnessed through Sigils, which act as magical substitutes for guns in the game. Red magic works like shotguns — short-range, high damage, and smaller clips. Blue magic stands in for a precision rifle and sometimes a sniper, great for long-range combat. Green magic represents fully automatic rifles or sub-machine guns with a big clip size, great for taking on medium-range enemies. The rapid-firing green Sigils, however, come with greater recoil and spray, reducing your accuracy. Each Sigil also has a designated reload time when you chew through the clip, which can be reduced later through skill upgrades.

Most enemies in Aveum are colour-coded, too, requiring the corresponding magic type to put a dent in their health bars. As each encounter throws a motley crew of foes at you, juggling the different types of Sigils and switching between your magic colours (with a quick press of the triangle button on PlayStation’s Dualsense controller) becomes essential and, thankfully, remains fun.

In addition to these attack-focused strike spells bound to your Sigils, each magic colour is accompanied by a Totem that executes a control spell that helps you traverse the environment, manipulate enemies during combat, and solve puzzles. While your Sigils are equipped on your right hand, Totems are bound to your left. Blue Totems, or Chains, channel the Lash spell, which is a magical whip that pulls faraway enemies closer to you in combat and lets you grapple on to anchor points in the environment during exploration. Green Totems, or Vials, contain Limpets — fluid blobs that slow down moving targets, whether an enemy or an object. Red Totems, or Lenses, shoot out blazing scarlet beams of disrupt spell that, well, disrupts enemy magic attacks and stuns them.

Your quiver of spells also includes augments — a shield to protect you from incoming fire and blink and hover abilities that come in handy while evading enemy attacks and platforming. What Immortals gets right is the balance of strike, control and augment spells, all of which work together in harmony, never really overwhelming the player or becoming unwieldy. You also get an ultimate attack when you fill up your Dominion meter, unleashing a powerful beam that combines all three colours of magic and deals devastating damage.

The combat in Immortals is limited to arena-style battles, interspersed between winding corridors of exploration. There’s a decent variety of enemies here – at least initially – but after a point, you’re mostly shooting at familiar foes. Each chapter also presents fresh boss battles to switch things up, which, while being mostly easy, are a neat departure from regular combat. And while spell shooting works pretty much the same as guns in any regular shooter, it doesn’t quite feel the same. It lacks the punch and feedback of firearms and falls short of feeling quite as tight and refined as the gunplay in Call of Duty. The combat also never rises to become challenging and each encounter area includes a generous spread of health and mana crystals that replenish your HP and magic bars. Immortal is a breeze on Normal, and I’d recommend the Hard difficulty if you’re looking to sweat for your rewards.

Thankfully, Immortals of Aveum brings a healthy amount of exploration to the table, rewarding curious players with gear and gold. It works much like side excursions in God of War or Jedi: Fallen Order, where mostly linear hub worlds include branching side paths that are often locked. As you acquire new abilities and spells, the paths open up, offering new areas to explore, gear to find, and enemies to fight. The hub worlds here are nowhere near as expansive as God of War, but you can always come back to a previously explored area and find something new. Each level also includes Shroudfanes — optional challenges that bring dedicated platforming sections and boss battles, both of which can be tricky and grant you high-value rewards. There’s a customary gear and upgrades system and a skill tree for the three branches of magic. These don’t dive deep like in an RPG and remain simple and serviceable, which works in Immortals’ favour.

Visuals and performance

Immortals of Aveum is one of the first big games built on Unreal Engine 5, utilising its proprietary Nanite geometry and ray-traced Lumen lighting, and it shows. In the right light, Immortals can look stunning. This holds for both characters and environments. Character faces are evocative, capturing changes of expression and emotion in subtle detail. The game’s campaign takes you through a wide variety of outdoor spaces and changing environments. Open plains, snowy cliffs, dense vegetation, and arid lands — all look good in the game’s golden lighting. Immortals’ art style, though, feels derivative and doesn’t establish its own fresh identity.

The shiny visuals also take a toll on the performance on PS5. There’s no option to tweak visual settings and switch between modes dedicated to performance or quality. Immortals instead targets a 60fps output in upscaled 4K resolution. While it manages to hit its framerate targets fairly well, performance does see frame drops in intense combat and busy areas. The image quality remains inconsistent, too, and you can see that texture quality and image resolution were sacrificed at the altar of framerate. Future patches, of course, could fix some of the issues, and at the time of writing, a third update, is now live across PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X/S and claims to improve upscaling for better image fidelity on consoles, among other optimisations.

Verdict

Decent single-player shooter campaigns are a rare commodity today, especially with Call of Duty and Battlefield paying more attention to their popular multiplayer modes. A short and sweet single-player campaign, without microtransactions, battlepasses and lootboxes is also an increasingly invisible species. And in an era of publishers rushing out broken games on launch, Immortals of Aveum arrives complete and in good shape. It comes with its flaws, but it has its heart in the right place. Its imperfect but fun spell-shooting combat and surprisingly well-executed level design make it a breeze to play through. Its summer blockbuster story is nothing you’ve not seen before, but it manages to win you over with its earnest charm. And its different moving cogs fit together coherently to make a machine that — while having its fair share of loose screws and dents — works.

Immortals of Aveum comes at a time when games are almost like homework – they demand time and attention. They require you to almost put your life on hold and live a different, more exciting, and rewarding life in the vast virtual playgrounds they offer. This is not something to complain about — I look back fondly at the time when, for a good three months, I abandoned everything in my life to become an outlaw in the American Frontier when Red Dead Redemption 2 came out. Video games possess a transformative and teleporting power that frankly no other medium can replicate. But sometimes you don’t need your games to be a full-course meal. They’re perfectly palatable as a snack. Immortals is that bite-sized biscuit that won’t leave a memorable flavour in your mouth but will taste just fine, and be the exact kind of meal you need at that point. Right around the time when ambitious video games are showcasing the incredible depth they can offer, Immortals of Aveum represents a bygone simplicity and shallowness of the medium, that perhaps is just as important.

Pros

  • Fun spell-shooting combat
  • Tight single-player campaign
  • Well-executed exploration, platforming
  • Likeable characters
  • No microtransactions, no bugs
  • Impressive visuals

Cons

  • Generic villain and story
  • Excessive and overwhelming lore
  • Derivative art style
  • Performance issues

Rating (out of 10): 7

Immortals of Aveum was released on August 22 on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series S/X.

Pricing starts at Rs. 2,999 for the Standard Edition on Steam and Epic Games Store for PC, and Rs. 4,499 on PlayStation Store for PS5 and Xbox Store for Xbox Series S/X.

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