At first, Immortals of Aveum pleasantly surprised me, putting a lot more stock into its narrative themes of environmentalism than I expected its wartime story to cover. The focus for this first-person shooter, however, is still on blasting baddies, albeit with a variety of bullet-inspired spells instead of traditional firearms. And although all the shooting is exciting for the first half of the game, it becomes increasingly annoying in the latter half when firefights get longer and more frequent. These shoot-outs interrupt the story’s momentum by dragging it out, curating an irritating sense of repetitive tedium.
Though you’re slinging spells in Immortals, the magic you’re casting is more cosmetic flavoring to what is otherwise a fairly traditional military shooter. Red magic unleashes with all the concussive force of a shotgun while green magic slowly ramps with the heated ferocity of a light machine gun and blue magic slices through the air with the precision of a bolt-action rifle. You switch between them at the push of the button, though annoyingly only in a cycle of blue to red to green and back to blue. There’s no way to immediately leapfrog to the magic you need.
The lack of a quality-of-life feature as mainstream as a weapon wheel is quite noticeable in Immortals, which sees you frequently switch between your three equipped styles of magic. Not only does each color of magic fire differently, many enemies are armored against all but one color, meaning you need to oftentimes switch to a specific color when focusing on a new target. Early into the game, when you’re only fighting a handful of enemies at a time, this drawback isn’t that noticeable. But once you get far enough into Immortals’ story, you find yourself fighting wave after wave of dozen-odd enemies, each of which requires a specific color of magic to defeat. And having to cycle through the animation of summoning green magic just to have the option to switch to the blue magic I need can be costly in as fast-paced a shooter as Immortals, where enemies hit hard and nimbly move about the battlefield. A carefully lined-up shot may no longer be there by the time you switch to the needed color.
Your considerations don’t just end at what color magic you’re using, either, as you’re outfitted with several arcane tools and powerful special spells that serve their own purposes. Those include a piercing red laser that can disrupt enemy spellcasters from using magic, an explosive wave of cascading rocks that breaks shields, floating lipids that latch onto and slow down fast-moving targets, and a shield that blocks incoming fire. All of these–and more–have their own cooldowns, and most you need to manually switch to in order to use while the rest require you to recharge them with the consumption of an item. It’s a lot to keep track of and switch between, especially on a gamepad controller. My entire playthrough on PlayStation 5 left me wishing I was playing the game on PC, where presumably all of these tools and abilities are mapped to individual keys on a keyboard.
Enemy design doesn’t encourage you to play all that strategically beyond color-coded combos. Melee-focused enemies pursue you with reckless abandon, incentivizing you to pick them off from a distance before they close in. Meanwhile, spellcasters and archers dart about on the outskirts, dancing out of view and blasting you from your blindspots, encouraging you to find ways of bringing them in close to then blast them away. Despite these differing approaches, however, all enemies are dealt with in the same way: shooting them with their matching color. All of the strategy in Immortals is tied to matching the right color to the right enemy, lessening the importance of positioning, cover, movement, and other skills typically rewarded in shooters.
If a massive, punching creature is running towards me in red armor, for example, it doesn’t matter if I try to carefully position myself where they can’t reach me and snipe at them from afar with my long-range blue magic. Their armor is red–I have to wait for them to close on me to use the shotgun-like red magic to break that armor. My ability to strategize and try to overcome an enemy’s weaknesses are often dashed in the face of whatever armor an enemy is using.
This is exacerbated by the environments, which are visually distinct but largely designed as big, open spaces with several raised platforms on the outskirts and a few columns of cover scattered throughout. Sometimes there’s a bottomless pit or two you have to double-jump over for a little extra flavor. But every battle quickly begins to feel the same, the only difference being that more enemies are being added later, which results in the aforementioned feeling of being overwhelmed, not necessarily challenged. It feels especially telling that Immortals’ idea of a difficulty curve is to introduce a tough miniboss early on and then have you later face the exact same miniboss but with other enemies fighting you too, and then again you face two of that same miniboss and some other enemies, and then finally you face an extra large version of the miniboss with a giant health bar while smaller enemies distract you on the side. The challenge is evolving, yes, but only in terms of the number of times you have to switch what color magic you’re using.
And granted, this type of increasing challenge is typical for most shooters, where you’re expected to better strategize and master your weaponry over time to deal with the increasing number of threats. Immortals’ difficulty isn’t as rewarding to overcome, however, because the untenable task of weapon switching is constrained in an unfair way. Within the frantic whirlwind of Immortals’ heated combat, keeping on top of everything that you need in order to progress through a fight is oftentimes frustrating. I appreciate the almost puzzle-like nature that Immortals is presumably striving for, where getting through a firefight isn’t solely dependent on how well you shoot but also on figuring out what you need to use and in what order. And in the early hours of the game, this formula works quite well. It’s only later, when Immortals’ idea of combat difficulty is reduced to the simple idea of just throwing more enemies with larger health bars at the player, that this concept falls apart. The sheer number of variables to keep track of while splitting your fire between several quick-moving bullet sponges is overwhelming, regularly leading to irritating deaths that forced me to put down the game and cool off for a few hours before trying again. And, again, I suspect this shortcoming is less severe on a PC with a mouse and keyboard but having only played on consoles, I can’t say for sure either way. It all just feels like you’re bashing your head against the same wall and only losing because you’re unable to switch between all your weapons quickly enough to put enough damage into everything fast enough.
Immortals’ story is also mediocre, but it at least ventures into some interesting topics. You play as Jak, a soldier who’s special because he can use all three colors of magic whereas the Average Joe can only use one. You’re fighting in a war that’s been going on so long that no one can really remember how it started, but both sides know that whoever wins gets control of all the magic in the world and neither army is willing to back down for fear of losing access to the most powerful resource on the planet.
The story runs through the paces of your typical military shooter. You’ve got a protagonist motivated by tragedy, a commanding officer who likes you despite your rebellious attitude, and two main squadmates: a lovable ride-or-die homie and an antagonistic ally who constantly looks down upon you and demeans your worth with a lousy nickname. There’s a masked villain who mysteriously just appeared one day and displays the same capacity for using all three colors of magic as well, setting up what’s positioned as a shocking reveal (it’s not). There’s some comfort in that familiarity, but it’s in how Immortals subverts the expectations of where the story is expected to go that it becomes most intriguing.
At the core of Immortals’ story is the idea of environmentalism and the costly nature of a war that continues as the result of human greed. Upon learning how humanity’s war has caused the extinction of hundreds of fauna and flora species and will continue to make the world increasingly uninhabitable, Jak strives to be the voice of reason in the room and convince enemies and allies alike to give peace a chance. It’s an initially interesting development, and seeing Jak take his more power-hungry superiors to task and confront the logical fallacies in both his enemies’ and allies’ positions creates absorbing drama among the characters. I regularly found myself snooping through discovered text logs and pieces of Immortals’ lore to better understand the full scope of the history that had led to such a climactic moment and wanting to see what would happen next to uncover whether Jak could pull off the peace he was chasing.
Unfortunately, the environmental element of Immortals has both poor gameplay and narrative payoffs. To cleanse the world, you just do more shooting and killing–Jak can rip away more magic from the world to fuel his spells to then battle against the deadly sentient miasma that’s consuming the world, knowing that this miasma is created whenever magic is being taken from the world. It’s a tantalizingly complex dilemma that Immortals just refuses to delve into after setting it up.
And even though he’s positioned as the voice of reason and a revolutionary in how he thinks about the war, Jak’s wisdom is dashed halfway through the story with him making a bizarre decision that goes against much of his character development up to that point. When presented with an easy way of ending the conflict and sundering both sides’ incessant need to control magic, Jak opts to…not make that choice. In fact, he does the exact opposite–a costly mistake that feels uncharacteristic of his seemingly intelligent grasp of the morality of the situation. As a result, you spend most of the latter half of the story striving to make amends for this bad call, but it just reinforces how badly Jak screwed up and how odd that he didn’t recognize the clear hypocrisy in his actions that resulted in more war. It pushes him away from being a likable protagonist to being an oddly written and ultimately despicable one. And it’s hard to play as someone you dislike. The whole thing feels less like character development and more like a way to strangely justify there being a second half of the story and making the whole experience twice as long as it probably needed to be.
Immortals of Aveum stops just short of fully complementing its traditional military shooter story with an engaging environmentalist message, instead opting to primarily use those narrative themes to inform the world design and lore. It leaves the overall story feeling half-baked, further highlighting the uncharacteristic actions of its unlikable protagonist. The actual shooting fares a bit better, especially in the first half, when combat is more like a color-coded puzzle. But it, too, falls short–the repeated use of enemies and arena layouts make for repetitive firefights and the sheer number of combat options is difficult to navigate when combat reaches an overwhelming fervor. I enjoyed small pieces of Immortals of Aveum, but not enough to strongly recommend.