Immortals of Aveum was the latest game to immediately spark my interest with a surprise reveal at The Game Awards, but after a cinematic trailer teased its existence, the studio behind it immediately went radio silent. Even though the EA Original is set to launch this year, developer Ascendant Studios has kept details about its upcoming first-person shooter close to the chest these past few months. I finally got a chance to see what the game looks like in action during a preview event, and it appears to be just the game to scratch my itch for a story-driven single-player shooter. Plus, Gina Torres (Destiny 2's Ikora Rey and Transformers: Prime's Airachnid) voices one of the main characters, and my geeky little heart is ecstatic.
In Immortals of Aveum, you play as Jak, a person who discovers he's Unforeseen--which is a fancy way of saying you unexpectedly develop magic powers as an adult way later than most people do. He also discovers he has the special talent of being able to wield all forces of magic, chaining different abilities together in devastating combinations. Jak is quickly trained as a battlemage under General Kirkan and enlisted into a seemingly endless war between two factions who are each vying for total control of Aveum's magic.
Bret Robbins (known for his work on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III, Advanced Warfare, and WWII) serves as Immortals of Aveum's game director, which likely informs how a game that sees you play as a battlemage matches the action hero exploits of a Call of Duty. The game's magic is certainly more colorful and flashy than any Call of Duty gun, but Jak carves each spell out of the air with runes that seem to explode with the same frenetic punch as a bullet, and Jak responds to orders barked over a magical sending stone with the same dry sarcasm as a soldier speaking into a radio. So while it looks quite different from a military shooter, there's a familiarity to the whole thing as well.
The art direction is what struck me most during Immortals of Aveum's initial reveal, and that fascination continued as I watched the game in motion and got to see how its magic system works. Magic is a tricky thing--by its very fantastical nature, it should be able to do anything. It rarely can in the best pieces of fiction, however. Instead, its power is best conveyed in how casters creatively work within a magical system's rules to accomplish impressive feats.
Immortals of Aveum has its own set of magical rules--there are a total of 25 spells that Jak can acquire, each of which fits into three primary categories: Force, Chaos, and Life. Force magic speeds across the screen in a bright blue, Chaos magic crackles with fiery red, and Life magic oozes with a sticky-looking green. Each style of magic has its own strengths and limitations, and I'm impressed with how well the colorful art direction for the magic conveys how each one works without the game needing to spell it out for you.
This magical system, in turn, seems to have greatly influenced the art direction for the world of Aveum as well, as the setting utilizes those three bright colors the most, avoiding more subdued hues and the typically gritty and tonally dour environments seen in most shooters set on Earth or in Earth-like environments.
"We wanted to separate ourselves from actually being an Earth-type world," Immortals of Aveum associate art director Julia Lichtblau told me. "We are this completely new planet. It is very Earth-like, but it is still a new world. Yes, it does have elements [of dark fantasy]--the story is a world on the brink of the abyss, and there are very high stakes and there are definitely elements in our story that reflect those very somber moments--but then there's also just a lot of banter and modern conversations that are had between the characters. And I think that the art sort of reflects that, where you do have areas that are very subdued to further enforce that mood. And then you jump to another level that is very bright and sunny and kind of bombastic and pushing the colors."
Lichtblau continued: "We have over a dozen different biomes to travel through. And the very nature of this world of Aveum is that it has these very distinct countries that each have their own biome type. And as Jak, you have the opportunity to explore those different regions. And so I do think we really tried to push each level to make it feel distinct and different but still grounded. There are still vestiges and even small environmental storytelling [moments] where you're seeing the connections between these different countries and certain things like trading between certain regions versus other areas that are very much isolated. And so we try to still ground [the world] in terms of having the flora and fauna and even just sort of rock types and such. But I really feel like each level has its own unique voice."
I was most interested to hear that Ascendant looked to real-world endangered species to inform the design of Immortals of Aveum's flora and fauna, which in turn ties into one of the game's narrative themes. "We wanted to still have that grounding element of 'Earth-like' where a lot of the species in the game--like the flowers and the bushes and the trees--are actually replicas of real-life endangered species in North America," Lichtblau said. "That is something that I was really interested in adding as this undercurrent to the levels."
Lichtblau continued: "That's always something that's been important to me, just environmentalism. And so that's always something that [our studio] talks about, and I think this was a nice way to pay homage to that and reflect some of the dev's passions while simultaneously adding that extra layer of narrative depth to the game itself."
This isn't to say that Immortals of Aveum doesn't feature more fantastical scenery and creatures--a quick glance at the gameplay trailer reveals that that isn't true. And those more fantastical flora and fauna have their own interesting narrative implications and helpful gameplay considerations. "We definitely did have the opportunity to design very fantastic glowing blue flowers or very interesting mycelium-based roots," Lichtblau said. "In the context of our game, I wanted them to feel like they're feeding off of the magic that is just permeating every building, every bit of the ground. And so you are able to see some of these more magical, glowing plants congregate on certain types of architecture or around areas that maybe have more magic presence as both a way to help guide the player through levels, but also just show the distinction between a normal floor--where you would encounter normal-looking bushes and the trees--and a more magical space. You're seeing that dichotomy."
Lichtblau didn't go into specific detail about how the studio's art direction in regards to plant and animal life informs the world-building of the game, so I'm eager to see just how much of it is present within the history of the story. At face value, Immortals of Aveum looks like a pretty game with some fun spell-slinging mechanics, but the story itself hasn't grabbed my attention yet. We've seen shooters where the story is about a young upstart chosen to kill the big bad because they've just got that special something that no one else apparently does. I want to know what Ascendant is doing to spice up a narrative we've seen dozens of times before, be it by tying in themes of environmentalism or something else.
Immortals of Aveum will launch for Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC in 2023.
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