Visually, Immortals of Aveum is one of the most impressive first-person shooters I've seen. Flinging spells with the frenetic intensity of firing a gun is a fun idea, and developer Ascendant Studios has captured it in a brightly colored fantasy world with clear military action game inspirations. The game sees you play as Jak, a battlemage with the rare ability to use all three forms of magic, who is fighting in a war for control of his planet. There are some potentially interesting narrative twists hiding in the magical FPS' story, like environmentalism-inspired creature design and set dressing, but the big draw is the fast-paced shooting. Ahead of the game's release, I spoke with Ascendent Studios founder and Immortals of Aveum game director Bret Robbins to talk about how the initial pitch of the game came together and what it takes to make a good magic-based action game.
"I had been working on Call of Duty before I started [at Ascendant Studios] where, obviously, you get very dialed into what makes a great shooter and how it should play and how it should feel, how the control should feel," Robbins said. "When we started prototyping with Immortals, we did a lot of experimentation very early and we failed fast at a lot of different things. And everyone's familiar with what an assault rifle feels like, what a shotgun feels like. We had to create our own language and our own rules around how magic was going to feel and how it was going to play. And I think early on, especially early in development during our prototyping, we went down pretty complicated and bizarre roads and came up with a lot of weird shit and we were like, 'All right, not sure this is working so well.'"
With ideas not panning out, the team decided to reset. Instead of initially prioritizing the fantasy side of the world, the game needed to be a great shooter first and foremost. "About a year in, I just said, 'You know what? We need to make a shooter first. We need to make it feel great and then we're going to do all the cool weird stuff we want to do and layer it on top of that,'" Robbins said. "And we spent about six months as a team just really focusing on that. It ended up being this really great combat prototype and that really became the foundation for the game would be. And once we had that, we were like, 'This is the magic shooter. This feels great. This is magic. It's not guns, it's cool, it's fast, you feel powerful.' The whole thing was always about being a battlemage, living that fantasy of being this awesome battlemage. And we nailed it with that prototype and then layered the game on top of that."
Making a first-person shooter where you're flinging magical spells isn't completely unheard of--we got a AAA example just over a year back with Ghostwire: Tokyo--but it's not a common setup. For Robbins, that was a huge part of wanting to make a game like Aveum.
"I think any good creative project probably comes from a desire first from wanting to be the audience of it," Robbins said. "I wanted to play a game like this. I was working on Call of Duty and I had just a lot of thoughts around what it would feel like if this was actually a fantasy world instead of a military world. That was an early inspiration--we're not making 'Call of Duty: Fantasy,' we're making something else."
It's still too soon for me to say definitively whether Aveum is a completely different beast from Call of Duty--I haven't had a chance to play it--though after my conversation with Robbins, I'm cautiously wondering if the trailers for the game are marketing it as more of a military shooter than it actually is. Between the grapple-like lash ability, platforming puzzles, and environments composed of linear levels and open-ended spaces, Aveum reminds me of games like Titanfall 2 and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Using a young, quip-loving soldier as the protagonist certainly strengthens those comparisons.
"I think people have seen only a very tiny sliver of the story, this epic," Robbins said. "It's a huge story, and the game's well over 20 hours if you just want to appreciate the story. So there's a lot that happens with Jak. I very deliberately wanted to write the game in a style that was very different than a typical fantasy story--this isn't Lord of the Rings, this isn't Old English. This is modern characters with modern sensibilities in a fantasy world. My touchstone on writing was the Marvel Cinematic Universe--movies like Guardians of the Galaxy or Thor: Ragnarok--where you're in a fantastic otherworldly place but with very relatable characters. There is humor, but there's also very serious parts of the story. I feel like it really has a full dramatic range."
Robbins added that Aveum is a character-driven story, believing that the shooter's cast will sell the experience to players. "Jak certainly undergoes quite a bit," Robbins said. "Starting from an orphan living in the slum to suddenly having all this enormous magical power and getting enlisted into the army and becoming a soldier. And his journey, at times he is a little arrogant and cocky and there's always pride before the fall, so a lot happens to him along the way. I'm really proud of the writing; I think the story is fantastic. I think the dialogue is as strong and sharp as any game out there or better than most. So I'm really looking forward to people enjoying the story. The characters are fantastic. I think people are really going to fall in love with some of the characters too."
We'll find out soon enough. Immortals of Aveum is scheduled to launch for Xbox Series X|S, PS5, and PC on July 20.
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