Immortals of Aveum feels old-fashioned, but not in the way "boomer shooters" feel old-fashioned. Those games revere the speed and simplicity of '90s shooters, whose plots are usually some variation of "moon's haunted," whereas Immortals brings a distinct Xbox 360 vibe. Clusters of baddies spill out of dropships like Halo 3 grunts, and the path through each linear level is dotted with cutscenes featuring scheming villains and earnest heroes who just want to make a difference, dammit. We appear to be reenacting the transition from corridors and keycards to the Hollywood storytelling ambitions of the 2000s.
I'm not opposed to it: Although today's fascination with old-school arena shooters suggests a kind of contemporary FPS fan who rejects all post-Quake values, I think most of us are also suckers for the immersive simmy abilities of 2000s shooters like BioShock and The Darkness. Immortals is a fantasy game with spells rather than guns, which gives it a good excuse to stuff your keyboard with magic powers. By the end of the few hours I spent previewing it at EA's offices recently, I could:
- Double jump
- Yoink enemies off cliffs with a grapple spell
- Cast stun and slow spells
- Raise a shield to mitigate incoming damage
- Dodge (a disappointingly short distance)
- Equip three types of primary attack spell
- Bust out big specials with the number keys, such as an energy wave that terminates with spikes of earth, good for breaking shields
- Bust out an even bigger ultimate spell
An S-tier maneuver in any game is the thing where you snag a distant enemy with some variety of harpoon gun, yank them to your face Sub Zero-style, and then blast them with whatever shotgun equivalent you're working with, and I did that over and over with the grapple spell. The shotgun in this case is a surge of red magic from my palm, which has a satisfying Iron Man repulsor feel. I also enjoyed hip sniping with the long range attack spells, which manifest as blue beams reminiscent of those fired by Quake 2's railgun. (No shooter gets to totally escape '90s comparisons.)
My favorite attack of the demo was that ultimate spell: a two-handed purple murder beam that feels just like using my favorite Diablo 3 spell, Disintegrate, in first-person. I was delighted to find that bosses don't have any special immunity to this fire hose of damage, and used it to erase more than half of one mini-boss' health in the first few seconds of our fight.
My impression of Immortals as old-fashioned extended to the less fun bits of my demo. Invisible walls keep you from having too much fun double jumping, and the speed of your progress through the linear levels is regulated by busywork: locked doors that are opened by hopping around in search of color-coded switches and shooting them with the correct kind of magic. Aiming my blue spell at the blue switch (and the glowing blue weak point of a boss, at one point) feels awfully quaint at the same time as I keep seeing clips of Zelda players solving problems by building bizarre automatic torture machines.
The three types of magic in Immortals are actually called "red," "blue," and "green," by the way. This isn't a fantasy world I foresee being adapted into a prestige HBO drama: Plucky protagonist Jak and his pragmatic commander are full of that big 2007 energy I've been talking about. It's an earnest, goofy take on fantasy warfare, a hard counter to the gloomy, enigmatic mood of Elden Ring and the other popular dark fantasy worlds of the moment.
"I didn't want it to be a traditional fantasy universe," Immortals director and studio founder Bret Robbins told me. "I didn't want it to be pointy-hatted wizards with gray beards and elves and dwarves and Old English and all that … I look at Marvel movies like Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor, or some of the other ones, and they walk that line between having a very crazy, cosmic, fantastical world, and then very relatable characters and writing."
That Marvel influence is easy to pick up: Jak is an anomalous "triarch" who can use all three colors of magic—your classic chosen dude—and he joins an elite group of soldiers called Immortals to save the magic (and the world) from a seemingly unbeatable foe. A magically-animated construct joined me in battle for a period, and although it frequently annoyed me by obscuring my view of enemies, it did a fine job as Groot stand-in.
Keeping it simple
Along with the linear levels, Immortals will contain larger hub areas to explore, and "even those linear levels have a lot of exploration, a lot of side areas that are hidden," Robbins tells me. There are also opportunities to discover "something new" in locations you've already visited by returning to them with new abilities. Fundamentally, though, Immortals looks like a good old-fashioned singleplayer campaign that you play from beginning to end. It's about 25 hours long, we've heard.
Despite several obituaries, singleplayer games never really died, so Immortals can't really be called old-fashioned on that basis alone. But with even Arkane wandering away from its roots recently, it does feel like this particular kind of story-heavy singleplayer shooter is out of vogue. Respawn is keeping some of that spirit alive with its Jedi games (despite not being FPSes), but alongside the big singleplayer console exclusives like God of War Ragnarök, there's a hunger for prestige there that I don't get from Immortals. Robbins says he would love for his studio to one day be mentioned alongside the likes of Respawn or Naughty Dog or Insomniac, but Immortals doesn't try to raise the bar on performance capture or graphics tech.
"I wanted to just tell a great story and create a new world and create a really fun game," Robbins told me. "A lot came out of that, and sometimes you can't help yourself, and you come up with a huge set piece that you really love, and it's awesome. The game is certainly full of those, but there weren't design meetings where I'm like, 'Well, how do we make this the bleeding edge?' It was more like, 'How do we make this fun and different?'"
Immortals could benefit from some more exciting environments, in my view: The architecture I saw was pretty drab, and I kept thinking of another upcoming Unreal Engine 5 game, the Lords of the Fallen reboot, and how its cavernous gothic structures crawl with detail by comparison. But I've gotta respect the uncomplicated approach here, and it feels genuine. Immortals isn't self-consciously old-fashioned: It's just designed by someone who likes a particular style of singleplayer shooter campaign.
"I started my career as a game designer, a level designer, and I really enjoy creating a well-crafted, scripted experience," said Robbins, whose professional resume dates back to Gex: Enter the Gecko, and also includes the original Dead Space and a few Call of Duty campaigns. "And also just being able to tell a big epic story, a very cinematic story with great characters."
Immortals of Aveum is being published by EA, but was funded and remains fully owned by Ascendant, the studio Robbins founded in 2018 to develop it. It'll be out on July 20, and on PC it can be found on Steam and the Epic Games Store, as well as EA's own store.