Platform reviewed: PC
Available on: PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S
Release date: 22 August 2023
Immortals of Aveum is a fascinating first-person shooter that doesn’t quite live up to its ambitions. A curiosity that isn’t quite interesting enough to justify itself, despite a compelling world brought to life with some vibrant design and a cracking soundtrack.
The concept is simple: your character, Jak - which makes me wonder if his parents misspelled my name or were fans of now-obscure PlayStation platforming mascots - is a semi-magical street urchin in a world where people are having big magic fights in a never-ending war. After tragedy strikes, Jak gets picked up by General Kirkan - played by the excellent Gina Torres - and trained to become a magic commando.
Hours of blasting identikit enemies with different weapons pretending to be spells follows, and if this hasn’t sold you, you’ve clearly never played one of the wealth of PC FPS games that were floating around between the early 00s to around 2015. Aveum’s concept is genre gold, and the team at developer Ascendant Studios have done a fantastic job of delivering the visuals and sound to bring this magical world to life. Unfortunately, Aveum is fun but seems absolutely determined to get in its own way.
When Aveum hits the turbos, the game absolutely shines. Weapons are pinpoint accurate, even when you’re on the move, so you’ll do a lot of circle strafing and leaping around the arena with a magic-infused double (or even triple) jump. This fluid combat is the best part of the entire game, but it’s sadly too often bogged down with the lore dumps that’ll place you at the business end of a dull walk and talk, with cutscenes that look good but often serve little purpose outside of killing the vibe.
I’m not the biggest fan of microtransactions, but would happily pay money to be able to skip through some of the cutscenes here. I still read the speech via the subtitles, but often just want to carry my adrenaline high from one big fight to the next, and it’s hard to do that when I keep being forced to slow down and ingest the story.
While the writing is enough to drive me to distraction, it’s a hell of a world to be distracted by. Some of the Aveum’s vistas are absolutely beautiful and can rank among some of the finest views in video games. The world design is top-notch, and the little incidental details like an early statue trapped in a magical pool of water are impressive. Later, twisted geometry makes for memorable platforming segments as you hurl yourself through floating chunks of rock.
Your first use of the Iron Man-esque ultimate ability that lets you fire a concussive force beam from your hand that melts through enemies. It briefly turns you into a godless killing machine and it is exceptional.
This is carried across to your arsenal, too. You’re still taking enemies out with a rifle or a shotgun, but in Aveum they’re instead magical. This means the team at Ascendant can have more than a little fun with the designs. Magic in the game is color-coded into a few different magical schools: red for chaos magic, blue for force magic, and green for light magic. Each of your three weapons will be one of these. Your arsenal can also be modified somewhat: an up-close shotgun blast can be altered into something akin to Halo’s Spartan Laser, damaging and pushing back everyone in front of you.
The magic hits people in different ways, too. Force magic hits your enemies with sheer concussive power, ragdolling them like so many modern shooters. Life magic isn’t as impressive, hitting your enemies with less of an impact. The most visually impressive though is the chaos magic, which disintegrates enemies on death leaving behind nothing but tattered pieces of clothes and some charred ground.
Aveum has a lot in the way of cool tricks: a shield you can bring up with a press of the tab key, a third jump that lets you float through the air, and even a little jump that will let you blink in a direction to dodge attacks. It has the potential to make some incredibly fun combat encounters, but there’s a problem.
The problem is that combat in Immortals of Aveum just isn’t particularly interesting. Early fights often involve lazily strafing while firing off a fast-repeating single-shot weapon until your opponent dies. This strategy is good at almost any range and, if you can land shots on enemy weak spots, there’s no need to ever change your weapon. While I often did swap out weapons mid-fight, it was often just out of boredom, as there’s very little reason to mix things up here.
Like magic, enemies also most often come in three varieties: smaller melee enemies, ranged enemies, and large, slower melee enemies. You can kite all three with the mobility provided by the game, fluidly running rings around all but the most tricky adversaries.
Paired with Aveum’s uninspiring talent system, which only offers a few interesting modifications to the way your skills are used, it’s often more efficient to just put all of your points into a single weapon to max out its damage and then use that constantly.
There’s probably a question here about whether prioritizing efficiency over fun is a worthwhile use of time, but often if a game makes it easy for me to dominate with my skill choices, I’m going to do just that. It’s easier than changing weapons too. There’s no way to quickly bounce between weapons as several special moves are mapped to the number keys so if, like me, you’re a PC FPS fan and you regularly mash the number keys to switch weapons, you’ll find yourself burning resources of magic spells instead.
Regardless of this scathing criticism, there’s a lot of charm to Immortals of Aveum. I largely enjoyed this fascinating magical setting and the fluid movement. There’s a degree of underdog charm here, too, and it’s hard not to root for the game. I hope the team at Ascendant gets to do more with the idea, because there’s a sense that, if they could take another run at it and iron out the issues, this could have been just the thing to scratch the itch for players desperate for an action-packed FPS. For me though, it didn't quite hit the mark.
Immortals of Aveum has three different colorblind modes (Deuteranopia, Protanopia, Tritanopia) and on/off toggles for camera shake, camera bob, and controller vibrations. This is a solid foundation and not one a lot of games manage to hit.
Elsewhere, there are cinematic subtitles, conversation subtitles, and gameplay subtitles too. You can change the size of these, but the standard size (12) was fine for me, someone who struggles to pick human voices out through only sound at the best of times.
How we reviewed
I played Immortals of Aveum for 15 hours and made my way through most of the story. I didn’t solve several optional puzzles and felt like there was plenty of scope for me to go back and eke out collectibles. I played the PC version of the game with a mouse and keyboard (because it’s a first-person shooter and I’m not a savage).
During my time with the game, I tried several optional challenges and spent a little bit of time searching for collectibles. The challenge here seems to oscillate between very simple puzzles and some surprisingly tricky time challenges that will require plenty of smarts to pull off.
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