Ascendant Studios has been keeping a secret – a big one. Formed five years ago, they’ve been quietly working diligently on their first game, Immortals of Aveum. Announced at The Game Awards late last year, nobody expected this game to arrive any time soon. Well, surprise! Not only is gameplay being revealed today, the release date is downright imminent. Coming to Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC on July 20th, 2023, it’s time to get to know this amazing looking magic shooter as we get our first look at gameplay.
Telling you about their first game is best informed by telling you more about the studio itself. Formed by Bret Robbins, former leader of studios behind franchises like Dead Space, Call of Duty, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, and 007: From Russia With Love, he wanted to make a visceral fantasy magic-based shooter that simply didn’t exist. Undeterred, he began to build a team to bring that vision to life. Assembling developers from Telltale’s studio closure, Cloud Chamber, 2K Games, and many more, he assembled over 100 top-tier developers and set to work with megatextures, lumin, nanite, and every other eye-popping piece of tech that Unreal Engine 5 has to offer. What they’ve made is nothing short of gorgeous.
Immortals of Aveum is a single player action shooter with magic-based combat at its core. The inspirations are obvious, with fast-paced visceral combat and incredible magical powers. You play as Jak, a powerless and poor scrub from the streets. When his power suddenly manifests later in his life he becomes an “Unforeseen” and is immediately recruited to a group called the Order of the Immortals. This group has been fighting a massive and seemingly endless battle dubbed the Everwar for control over the world’s magic. These magic wielders can see ley lines within the world, allowing them to tap into them, as well as the mysterious statue at the heart of a massive crack in the world called “The Wound”. The Order of the Immortals represents the special forces of this world, manipulating blue, green, and red magical energies, but by all accounts, they are losing. Jak will have to uncover the mystery of the statue, the magical energies it seems to emit, unleashing his magical powers in a literal bid to save the world.
The game is very story focused, and they’ve brought together an all-star cast to bring it to life. Darren Barnet (IMDB) plays Jak, Gina Torres (IMDB) brings General Kirkan to life (I’ll follow you anywhere Zoë!), Antonio Aakeel as Devyn (IMDB), Lily Cowles as Zendara (IMDB), with Steven Brand (IMDB) and Yvonne Senat Jones (IMDB) bringing the villains Sandrakk and The Hand to life, respectively. It’s a great collection of talent, and it’ll be exciting to see how they work together. In the short bit of gameplay that we saw, it’s already clear that Ascendant Studios is seamlessly blending cinematics, combat, storytelling, and exploration, blurring them all together. It’ll be exciting to see where the cast takes it. I already know one thing for certain – the motion capture work on all of them is absolutely phenomenal.
While we only got a hint of it in a reveal voiceover, Jak’s origin story wasn’t a happy one. His powers came after his birth, making him an “Unexpected”. General Kirkan was faced with a choice with this child who could grow to threaten the very world she’s trying to protect – kill him and end it immediately, or arm him, train him, and turn him into a weapon that she can use against the forces of Rasharn. Thankfully for you, she chose the latter.
After a short introductory sequence where Jak uncovers his latent power, the hands-off demo jumped forward five years. The Everwar is living up to its name, and Jak is no longer the wide-eyed kid he once was. Lining up to repel the Rasharnian forces, General Kirkan addresses Jak. He quipped that it’s “selection day”, referring to the time when new Immortals are chosen. Her reply was “then it’s a shame you’re here, then…” as she heads towards the ramparts. He’s insistent that he’s ready to ascend and become an Immortal like the General and her team, but his insistence has the opposite effect. Unconvinced, she tells Jak that if he helps her win the day, he’ll be ready to take his place among the Immortals. Heading to the battlefield, he quickly finds that he has more immediate needs.
Dropping into the fight, it’s already well under way and the stakes couldn’t be higher. If the enemy captures the ley lines here they’ll be able to unleash apocalyptic results on the entire world, seizing all magic for themselves and twisting reality as we know it. Tasked with defending the forward Bastion, Jak fires up his “Sigil” and sets out on the battlefield.
All of Jak’s power is focused through his Sigil – an armament attached to his hand. You can purchase new Sigils, customize them, upgrade them, and find new ones. Additionally, you can purchase rings, bracers, totems, and more, providing a full RPG upgrade system for your magical powers. We only caught a glimpse of what all is possible, but it looks extensive.
Combat in Immortals of Aveum is fast-paced and spell-based, and first person. As a Battlemage (or “Magnus”) you’ll have three colors of magic to master, as well as what looks like hundreds of possible augments in a massive interconnected web that should provide some personalization over the course of the game’s 25 or so hour campaign. Jak is part of a small subset of Magnus that are also designated “Triarchs” as they can address all three schools of magic. Though it’s not clear how those powers are unlocked, or if Jak will have access to them from the beginning, they handily break down into blue, red, and green ribbons of power. Blue is long range, accurate, and fires in a straight line. Red is high damage, but you lose accuracy in the bargain. Green is automatic fire, high rate of speed, and can also home in on its target. These powers are joined by skills we saw like the ability to lash an enemy with a spectral whip, yanking them towards Jak for him to dispatch them. Similarly, incoming fire can be deflected by a magical shield that Jak can raise up to protect himself as well as firing through it, though it’ll slow you down if you use it as a bulwark. Combinations of all three magic types, chaining them together, countering, and striking with the right weapon at the right time will be the key to victory.
As Jak heads towards the forward Bastion we see the Unreal Engine 5 power on full display. Absolutely phenomenal lighting and shadows react to all the chaos on the battlefield, as well as the neon-bright magic being hurtled in all directions. It’s hard to focus on all this gorgeous shadow, lighting, and architecture amidst the chaos, but Immortals of Aveum is clearly a graphical showcase title that is sure to push all of the next-gen systems to their breaking point.
Back to the fight, in one combat sequence we saw Jak fire off a spell class dubbed “Furies”, one which unleashed a massive string of magical spikes that shatter on contact called “Blast”. The Control spell that grabs enemies can also be used to fling foes off ledges. We also saw Jak use a spell called Blink to quickly teleport in and out of battle. If first impressions are correct, there’s a lot more here than the usual light, medium, and heavy attack stuff we’ve seen done to death. The Talent screen was only shown for a second, but if my count is correct there are over 30 upgrade paths for each magical type!
None of that matters much to Jak though – he’s more concerned about the massive dragon that just landed on the forward Bastion we were supposed to be defending! Unleashing blue attacks as fast as we can, power turns to panic as the massive beast scoops him up in its claws and leaps into the sky with a roar. You see, the problem with being scooped up by a dragon isn’t that you’ll be eaten, necessarily, it’s that you unfortunately don’t know how to fly. Magic user problems, right? Thankfully, a few blasts to the face forces it to let us go, and our blue shield is enough to prevent us from being turned into a fine magical paste.
Having escaped from the dragon, our focus now turns to a massive warship that had sailed overhead during the battle. A team led by an Order Magus is here, having used the battle for cover. This Order Magus lieutenant is known as The Hand, and she’s interested in the nearby Temple of Aristeya. The Hand is Sandrakk’s top lieutenant, and she’s as dangerous as she is mysterious. She is looking for something, and that’s probably not good for our side.
While we try to follow her, the battle rages on outside. These lieutenants are not the only dangerous enemies we saw, with mages floating high above the battlefield, deflecting or repelling bolts back at our armies. Another red mage fires explosive bolts from his hands not unlike Tony Stark’s repulsor blasts, flinging our weaker knights backwards with ease. A nearby red mage also focuses for a moment, letting fly a continuous blinding beam that cuts through our soldiers. It’s clear, even without his dragons, Sandrakk’s armies are crushing us, and we are losing this war – badly.
Cleared to recon whatever The Hand is up to, we immediately break protocol and attack her forces head on. Here we see our first glimpse of the combat at its full potential. Rapidly switching between all three colors of magic allowed Jak to gun down a wide variety of enemies, pulling, pushing, spiking, repelling, and obliterating each in turn. With the path clear, it was time to follow The Hand into the Temple.
Jumping into a bit of exploration and puzzle solving, we got to see alternate purposes to some of Jak’s spell arsenal. He unleashes a spell called “Limpets” that is used to slow objects down to solve an environmental challenge. He can also use this same spell in combat to slow enemies, meaning the team is thinking about dual-purpose casting. Optional side content and paths, backtracking as your power grows – if you are getting a Star Wars: Jedi Survivor vibe, you’ve got the same feeling about Immortals of Aveum that I did.
Pursuing The Hand, she manipulates some crystals at the heart of the Temple, raising a huge statue to retrieve yet another crystal. These must be critical to Sandrakk’s plans, so we do what any good soldier would do – start blasting with little regard to any sort of plan! Unfortunately for us, The Hand is laughably overpowered by comparison, blasting us back with almost no effort and making good her escape. Dispatching the rest of her minions, now we had to make good our escape and report our findings back to the General.
Our time with the hands-off demo culminated in what can only be described as a God of War caliber epic boss battle. I don’t want to ruin any of these big emergent moments, but it’s clear that the studio is happily taking inspiration from some of the best games out there.
I was impressed with what I saw of Immortals of Aveum thus far. The combat, the pace, the puzzles, the adventure – it has the makings of another surprise hit from the EA Originals team. While we haven’t gotten hands on time with the game yet, we won’t have to wait long for it. Ascendant Studio’s first game is setting a very high bar, but by all outward appearance, they just might hit it.
Immortals of Aveum is headed to Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 5, and PC on July 20th, 2023. Stay tuned right here at GamingTrend.com for more info on the game as we get closer to launch!