Playing Immortals of Aveum is like eating a nice meal in a really fancy restaurant, only the meal gets bigger the more you eat, and the restaurant gets fancier and fancier the more you look around. And your date keeps making quips and, yeah, some of them are funny, but now and then you wish they’d take it a bit more seriously when the waiter accidentally starts a fire. And you wish you could remember which of your eight forks was for the main course and which was for dessert and around the time you’re halfway through the meal you realise it’s all dessert and the forks are made of pipe cleaners. It’s all that, but, like, in a good way.
Taken at face value, Immortals of Aveum is a very brave release in a year like this one. With hard-hitting, terraforming titles like Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3, Remnant 2 and Final Fantasy XVI, 2023 has been a hell of a year for games so far – and we’re not even in quarter 4 yet. So even with the backing of EA and its implied dragon’s hoard of capital, Ascendant Studios’ magic-themed FPS is entering the field like a gaudily-dressed billy goat into a swamp full of alligators.
I’ll admit to not expecting much from it, either. From the outside it has all the looks of a big budget flop, shiny graphics and forced pizzazz hiding something altogether more shallow. Happily, though, Immortals of Aveum has proved me to be very wrong – on most, but not all, counts.
For a start, there’s more depth to its world and story than I predicted. I’m not going to pretend it’s Oscar-bait or anything, but there’s a level of nuance to its politics and history that I didn’t expect. It’s set in the world of Aveum, where five kingdoms have been locked in a perpetual conflict called the “Everwar” for centuries. The cause and target is the total control of magic itself, a powerful resource drawn into the world via Leylines, conduits of power that weave in and out of Aveum and a shadowy otherworld called the Shrouded Realm. While Immortals of Aveum drops proper nouns like the morning rain, the crux of the story is deeper than a simple light versus dark affair, aided in no small part by the characters.
It may lean a little too much on quips, but the writing here does a good job of painting each character with a genuine personality. There’s chemistry at work – particularly between the two leads, rookie spellslinger Jak, played by Darren Barnet, and General Kirkan, the gruff, embattled mentor played close to perfection by the exceptional Gina Torres. These two carry the story on their shoulders, filling the silence with believable back-and-forth and selling the sillier elements with a sincerity that genuinely bleeds through the writing.
Thrust into the centre of the conflict, Jak is a Triarch, a special magic-user able to wield all three colours of magic. Immortals, like Jak, are part of an elite combat unit who use gauntlets called Sigils to channel magic. Most are attuned to one colour, and Jak’s ability to use all three makes him weaker in each discipline but stronger overall. Handily, it also gives us multiple damage types to fight with.
Red is all about raw power, and spells cast with it feel like shotguns and grenade launchers. There’s a disruptor ray, and a powerful crushing move that deals damage to anything in front of you and knocks them back. Blue is more focused, with spells that feel like you’re firing a Magnum, and utilities like a Lash that can pull enemies towards you. Finally Green is all about life and the manipulation of the world and can be used to move large objects around to make paths, or can be focused into a rapid fire, machine-gun-like ranged weapon.
If anything, Immortals of Aveum over-stacks its plate at this particular buffet. While it’s great to have so much choice, there are so many spells and abilities that it becomes tricky to mentally juggle them all in a firefight. Enemies come at you from all directions, both melee and ranged, and there are just so many offensive options that it often feels like too much of a muchness. For instance, you have three damage types to cycle through, but you also have items such as the aforementioned Lash, or a vial of magical limpets that slow time, and a device that looks like a pocket watch that can fire a powerful beam of red light and disrupt enemy attacks. Then there are Furies, immensely powerful spells that deal heavy damage to groups, and even an Ultimate ability that can tear through anything for a few seconds. Add to this a dash, double jump, and the ability to hover and it soon starts to feel just a little overwrought.
And yet combat remains flashy, frantic fun. Yes, it could stand to be a little more precise and considered at times, but ultimately Immortals of Aveum is a balls-out shooter at heart. Every fight is a spectacle of noise and colour, with every spell a firework of sparkling lights and heavy impact that feeds back nicely through the DualSense. There are boss fights throughout that will put your abilities to the test, though this is hardly Dark Souls and most won’t require much more than strafing, shooting, and using Jak’s force shield liberally.
Perfunctory puzzles punctuate the pretty places you’ll portal past, too, usually requiring only basic problem-solving and observational skills. Most involve clearing gunk called Lurge, or shooting coloured stones to activate lifts or lights, or to open doors and grant access to special chests. Most contain gold and magical essence for crafting or upgrading gear, while others contain the gear itself. Jak can equip a bracer and two rings, while his entire arsenal of three Sigils and all the little devices to activate his abilities can be swapped out and upgraded. Immortals of Aveum implements character stats the way a uni student implements shots on a Friday night, in that there’s far too many to handle without making a mess.
As you can upgrade along three different colour-coded skill trees as well, stat-management becomes unwieldy and cumbersome. In the end I stopped worrying about +5% critical hit damage or whatever, and just equipped whatever had the biggest numbers each time. I should also point out that the gear that comes with the Deluxe Edition is ridiculously overpowered for almost the entire first half of the campaign.
It’s also worth mentioning that this game is absolutely, sometimes staggeringly, good-looking. It doesn’t do an awful lot with those good looks, though. It doesn’t have much of a visual identity, and is more a collection of beautiful sky-boxes, gilded towers, caverns filled with glowing lichen, and sky-scraping statues. It pulls it all together well, though, and the motion capture and face-work on most of the main cast is exceptionally good. It’s also impeccably polished, with almost no slowdown on PS5 and not a bug or glitch in sight.
Immortals of Aveum is a surprisingly good game. Well-made, polished to a high shine and just deep enough to leave a lasting impression. It’s up against some genuine powerhouses this year that it just cannot measure up to, and yet taken for what it is, it’s a solid action-adventure FPS with enough fresh ideas and genuine earnestness that it more than makes up for its shortcomings with good old-fashioned positive energy. It might be a little over-filled and overdressed, but it absolutely holds its own in a crowded market.
Combat is flashy and fun
Controls are overburdened
Combat could be more precise
Too many unnecessary stats