What if Call of Duty was set in a fantasy world where wars were fought with magic? That’s the question new developer Ascendant Studios tasked itself with solving over five years ago, and its answer is the immensely promising PS5 first-person shooter Immortals of Aveum. We were lucky enough to be invited by EA to see the first ever footage of this action-packed, single player outing earlier in the month – and we came away spellbound by what we saw.
While the developer admitted that it has explored multiplayer and co-op options, it was clear that it’s 100 per cent focused on the solo campaign for launch, which it expects to occupy players for over 25 hours when the title deploys on 20th July, 2023. In addition to the various combat gauntlets that make up the core action, you’ll also find secrets, branching paths, gear upgrades, and a dense story filled with lore. This is a traditional single player experience through and through.
The pedigree behind the release is also seriously impressive. The project is the brainchild of Bret Robbins, a veteran game director who got his start at Crystal Dynamics, before eventually transitioning to EA where he served as the creative director on Dead Space and later led the Call of Duty franchise at Sledgehammer Games. These influences are clear to see in the 20 minutes or so of gameplay footage we enjoyed, but more on that a little later.
Despite being published by EA Originals – the sub-division responsible for the critically acclaimed It Takes Two – this is clearly a AAA production, and over 100 veteran employees from franchises like BioShock and Borderlands have spent around five years assembling it. The title’s being built in Epic’s ground-breaking new Unreal Engine 5, and takes advantage of all the tech’s fancy new features; it’s also running at a brisk framerate, as you’d expect from a team led by Call of Duty veterans.
While the plot is dense, the bottom-line is you’ll play as a character called Jak, a battlemage recruited to a Special Forces-esque division named the Immortals due to his unique ability to command multiple different types of magic. The backdrop to the story is that there’s an ongoing conflict between factions called the Everwar occurring, and you’re evidently going to play a crucial role in the outcome of that battle. The setup seems a bit generic, but the cinematics are seriously impressive, with great acting and animations.
The gameplay, though, is where the release looks set to shine. Despite being entirely magic-based, this is not a slow spell casting experience; in fact, battles have the breakneck pace you’d associate with series like DOOM, as you charge about the battlefield, leaping into the air and popping off shots. Spells zip out of the protagonist’s sigils in rapid bursts, more akin to the kind of assault rifles and submachine guns you’d find in a Call of Duty game. It looks intense.
Adding depth and variety to the combat is a leash you can use to reach higher terrain or to pull enemies towards you, as well as a shield you can utilise to defend yourself – and also fire through. This impedes mobility, so you can’t have your shield raised at all times, but obviously it’s necessary when you’re underfire. You’ll unlock new gear and skill points as you progress, which can be used to buff certain characteristics. Some spells, like the ability to slow time, are also used to solve puzzles.
As alluded to above, Jak can wield three different types of spell, with red acting like a shotgun and green having homing powers. Blue is the more traditional assault rifle, and there’s a colour matching element to the combat, where some enemies will be susceptible to certain types of powers. All of this will ensure you have to switch up your approach frequently, and clearly different mixes of enemy types will challenge you in unique ways.
The result is a combat system that looks fast and frenetic; you may be a mage, but you’re effectively a gunslinger, waltzing into combat and doing damage in acrobatic, breathless set-pieces. The speed of the action, combined with the impressive number of particle effects on screen, really does give it that fantastical Call of Duty feel – which was clearly the developer’s aim. While it does attract obvious comparisons to the likes of DOOM, we haven’t seen a shooter like this for quite some time.
The developer alluded to Metroidvania-like elements as well, mentioning that as you progress you’ll unlock new spells and powers, which open up previously unexplored pathways on past levels. These will result in new secrets and items, which will further help you to enhance the capabilities of your character. We did get a glimpse of the gear screen and it’s fairly familiar, although we appreciated the more subdued emphasis on stats compared to what you see in live service nightmares like Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League.
The developer’s commitment to single player and brisk, unobstructed fantasy combat left us impressed. This is the classic kind of solo campaign that’s been underserved in more recent years, and the Call of Duty experience has clearly informed a fast-paced gameplay style that looks and sounds great. Immortals of Aveum may not have been on your radar previously – it wasn’t on ours! – but it’s rare developer presentations impress us to this degree. This could be kinda magic!
Thanks to EA for inviting us to get an early glimpse at Immortals of Aveum, and to the team at Ascendant Studios for providing us with so much background on the development of the game. The title’s due out on 20th July, 2023. Are you caught in this release’s spell yet, or do you still need to see more? Wield your inner-powers in the comments section below.