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Here’s what ‘Call of Duty, but with magic’ looks like in action

Sometimes the simplest description is the awesomest

There’s a lot of lore coming with Immortals of Aveum; you’d expect that when the game and the story blend science fiction technology and powerful magic, and the characters are dressed in a slightly high-fantasy manner. It’s also an old-school, single-player narrative, so heck yeah, there’s going to be a big story behind it.

There will be plenty more discussion of that later. The ball players should keep their eye on is this: Immortals of Aveum is a magic-powers first-person shooter, launching in July for PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.

We got a taste of Immortals of Aveum’s spell-powered shooting during a reveal trailer at The Game Awards 2023 in December. A gameplay trailer out Thursday, and a closed developer presentation we saw last week, shed a lot more light on what that really means.

“It’s a type of game we haven’t seen for many, many years,” Bret Robbins, chief executive of Ascendant Studios, said during the presentation. Probably the closest comparison most FPS fans will make is to Raven Software’s Quake engine Heretic and its two sequels, published more than 25 years ago.

Developers at Ascendant, which Robbins founded in 2018, prioritized a rich story and world, and of course crisp, fast-paced single-player shooter gameplay with lots of visual payoff to the player. But foremost, Ascendant’s creators wanted to create a powerful battle mage that everyone would want to become.

“Everything about the game had to be the fantasy of being this powerful, awesome, gunslinger of a wizard,” Robbins said.

From what’s been shown, Ascendant seems to have pulled at least that off. Our demonstration began with what looked like an early mission to repel an invasion, borne in on futuristic airships. Glyphs and wards popped up around the player’s hands, somewhat Doctor Strange-style, as the main character (named Jak) raised a shield or fired off a rapid-fire burst of “green magic.”

Jak’s story is somewhat the standard up-from-nothing tale, using a rare means of harnessing all three of Aveum’s “lines” of magic to become a military savior. The factions in Aveum have all been duking it out for more than 1,000 years in a conflict called the Everwar. The Immortals are more or less the top military unit, “almost a team of superheroes,” according to Robbins. Jak is on his way to becoming one himself.

In combat, Jak’s standard ranged weapons (what would be guns in another FPS) are on his right hand. His left hand is for defensive moves, powerful attacks called Furies (which drain mana), or using an energy lash to drag enemies in for an up-close finisher. (Yes, it did remind me a little of 2011’s Bulletstorm).

Naturally, Immortals of Aveum will serve all of this with a library of spells, special abilities called talents, plus other gear customizations that both progress Jak and fit him to a player’s style. For example, that thing at the end of Jak’s right arm projecting magic is a Sigil. There will be other Sigils players may use to remain a generalist working all three forms of magic, or a specialist in one. Robbins gave the example of a “Javelin” Sigil, which allows Jak to power up a huge shot.

“Because it’s magic, we can do quite a bit more than you could with standard modern guns,” Robbins said.

first-person view in Immortals of Aveum, the player has projected a blue shield and is firing through it with blue energy at a large enemy, who is knocked back and on fire Image: Ascendant Studios/Electronic Arts

Without bogging this down too much in detail, Aveum has three ribbons of magic rippling through it: Chaos (red), Force (blue), and Life (green). In basic weapon terms, Chaos is like a shotgun, blue is a more accurate, longer-range rifle, and green is akin to an SMG. The sound supporting all this is definitely more FPS than magical, with explosions, and the thudding report of your “guns” resembling energy weapons from sci-fi shooters.

“We made a lot of decisions around magic, and how we wanted it to feel different than traditional guns,” Robbins said. “For one thing, I didn’t want to make a traditional cover shooter; I didn’t think the fantasy that I was trying to create involved you hiding behind the bush and firing the wand over it.” Hence the shield, which can be fired through while raised; it just slows the player down some. It also has its own health and can be broken when depleted.

Robbins added that the “Call of Duty but with magic” label, while a good shorthand or elevator pitch for its appeal, leaves out some other gameplay aspects that Ascendant wanted to implement in Immortals of Aveum, which is developed in Unreal Engine 5.

“We have a lot of world exploration, a lot of puzzles and puzzle mechanics,” he said. “It’s a huge game. If you’re just trying to play it straight through, it’s well over 20, 25 hours. And if you want to really explore and do a lot, it gets quite a bit longer than that.”

Immortals of Aveum is the first game from Ascendant, a Bay Area studio whose alumni come from the old Telltale Games and have tenure on projects like the BioShock, Borderlands, and Call of Duty series. Robbins himself has credits on three Call of Duty titles and was part of the team at Visceral Games that brought Dead Space, then an all-new, story-heavy action-adventure, to consoles in 2008.

Robbins has frequently cited the inspiration for Aveum as coming from a stray thought he had when he was designing a Call of Duty level — basically, what if all of its elements were swapped for their fantasy counterparts. Ascendant Studios was created to finally make that game, whose concept had lingered with Robbins since that day.

Ascendant Studios now has more than 100 developers, and Electronic Arts, under its EA Originals label, will publish Immortals of Aveum for PS5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X on July 20.

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