You have to admire Ascendant Studios for confidently diving head first with its debut game, Immortals of Aveum. The fantasy flavoured, magic-based first-person shooter has the appearance of a big summer blockbuster, and in some ways it backs that up, but unfortunately it doesn't quite hold true when you examine it more closely. It's an impressive effort, but one that could've benefitted from a smaller scope.
This is a single-player action adventure that brings you to a world in which wars are waged with magic rather than firearms. The terrible irony is that it's the use of magic in the seemingly endless Everwar that's causing the Wound, an enormous hole in the planet, to gradually grow. As the two warring nations of Aveum battle over control of magic, the floppy-haired Jak discovers a latent and rare ability to control all three types. He's quickly forced to become a soldier and, five years and one haircut later, joins the titular Immortals to stop the war and heal the Wound.
It's a decent premise, and refreshing to play a shooter that eschews guns for something different. There are some likeable characters among the cast, with actors doing a fairly good job with an inconsistent script. The writing and tone put us in mind of Marvel movies, with characters quipping and joking while discussing potentially world-ending events in the war room. There are more serious moments throughout but it feels as though the game doesn't quite get the balance right.
Whether you enjoy the story or not, Immortals is at its most enjoyable when you're put in control. The game has a similar structure to God of War Ragnarok; the main missions are pretty linear excursions, but outside of those, you're free to explore the varied and sizeable environments. While separated by short loading screens, each area has a distinct look and contains plenty for you to uncover as you progress. Throughout the story, you'll unlock new spells, equipment, and abilities that open up new paths and give you more options in combat. Revisiting previous locations as you progress is worthwhile — you'll find hidden paths, optional challenges, and plenty of loot.
This being a shooter at heart, it all feeds back into combat. You can swap between the three colours of magic, with each acting as a different projectile-based weapon. Put simply, Blue acts like a long-range rifle, Red is a short-range shotgun, and Green is a mid-range submachine gun. There's more to it than that, of course — different enemies will necessitate using different colours, for example to break corresponding shields. In addition to regular shots, you'll also gain access to special, more powerful spells, such as rocks erupting from the ground or a blast to knock enemies back. As you unlock more abilities on the skill tree, each colour also becomes more complex; some Green attacks can stack poison, while some Red attacks can apply corrosion, making targets weaker temporarily.
Generally this system works well, and firing off your attacks feels punchy and satisfying. However, as the combat slowly grows in complexity and stronger enemies come into play, it all kind of unravels. It doesn't take very long for fights to become very chaotic, the screen filling up with an obscene amount of flashy effects that make it hard to see what's going on. Enemy groups can be quite large, and they'll surround you on all sides. In conjunction with hard-hitting attacks that are difficult to anticipate, your dodge operating on a cooldown, and a shield that breaks pretty fast, and it can be very overwhelming, leading to deaths that'll have you asking what even happened. At times, it's visually too busy for its own good.
You can make fights much easier for yourself by engaging with side content; Shroudfanes are optional combat arenas that often reward you with boosts to your max health and mana, and you can find new equipment inside hidden chests in each area. On top of that is the gear crafting and upgrading system. This lets you power up your existing weapons and equipment, or craft better stuff, which obviously makes you more formidable in battle. However, it's far more complicated than it needs to be. You'll have many options available to you and it can honestly feel like hard work figuring out how to maximise your stats.
Once you've got to grips with that, you can at least take a step back and appreciate the presentation. On the whole, Immortals is a good-looking game, with some picturesque environments and one or two memorable set-pieces being the highlight. Even when the game is throwing an obnoxious amount of magical effects around, it's able to maintain a steady 60 frames-per-second — most of the time. It did struggle on a rare occasion, but sticks to its target 95 per cent of the time. We will say we played the game prior to the arrival of its day one patch, which will include performance improvements and bug fixes. While we played the vast majority of the 20-hour campaign bug-free, the game did lock up entirely in one instance, forcing us to reboot. Hopefully the patch will sort that out.
Immortals of Aveum presents us with an interesting new fantasy universe in which magic replaces bullets, but in practice it doesn't quite hit the mark. Despite solid fundamental action, combat can quickly become difficult to read, devolving into a dizzying swirl of colourful effects. Solid presentation and performance lead to some visually arresting scenes, even if the story isn't particularly memorable. It's a good first effort from Ascendant Studios, and the potential is absolutely there, but there's a feeling that the team bit off a little more than it could chew.