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Immortals of Aveum might be one of the hottest debuts of 2023, and not simply because it’s set to be released on July 20. Does the sentence “Call of Duty, but with magic and dragons” tickle your fancy in any way? Are you perhaps simply interested in playing a story-driven, single-player, first-person shooter without an always-online requirement or any form of in-game monetization? Well, then Ascendant Studios and EA Originals might be cooking up the right game for you.

Immortals of Aveum is an original IP and a brainchild of Bret Robbins, the co-founder and CEO of Ascendant and game director of the studio’s debut work. Having worked on video games from Gex to Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Dead Space, and several Call of Duty entries, he first conceived the idea of a first-person shooter with battle-mages flinging destructive spells and dragons buzzing over the battlefield like helicopters while working on Activision’s iconic FPS series.

We’ve recently had the opportunity to attend a hands-off preview event for Immortals of Aveum and can’t deny that Call of Duty DNA when looking at the footage we were presented with – the game has all the bombastic spectacle, the theme of military comradeship, the dry soldiers’ humor, and the typical set pieces such as paradrops we are used to from CoD. Though Robbins’ initial premise was simply “Call of Duty, but with magic and dragons,” Immortals of Aveum evolved into something decidedly different and larger than any Call of Duty title. There are elements of exploration and puzzle-solving, there is an extensive gear and skill system inviting players to experiment with their playstyle and even start new runs, and then there is the part the developers are most proud of and passionate about, the story and world-building.

The game is set in the world of Aveum, which contains a variety of wildly different landscapes from grounded, Earth-like areas to regions ripped from fantasy and science-fiction novels – I’d describe it as a magi-tech aesthetic, as it freely mixes high fantasy with sci-fi visuals. The center of Aveum features a giant, bottomless crater, which seems to expand steadily and sports a giant statue in the middle. Some inhabitants even worship this mysterious effigy.

Naturally, this world is embroiled in a great conflict, the Everwar, which is waged with no less a goal than taking control of all of Aveum’s magic power. This conflict’s nature, the developers say, “could not be told in a contemporary setting.” Magic streams into Aveum in the form of Ley Lines from a second world below and comes in three colors: red, blue, and green. Magic users are usually only able to tap into one of these colors, but now and then some especially talented individuals come along who can control all three – these are called Triarchs and our player character, Jak, is one of them. As is the game’s antagonist, a man called Sandrakk.

Sandrakk is waging his war on the nations of Aveum for control of the Ley Lines and has almost reached his goal – only the Kingdom of Lucium is standing in his way now. Jak (played by Darren Barnet), whose magical powers only manifested in adulthood, is recruited by Lucium’s General Kirkan (played by Gina Torres), who leads the Order of the Immortals, the Kingdom’s most elite force of battle-mages, in a bid to stop Sandrakk. We follow Jak as he earns his way into the unit and attempts to bring the Everwar to an end. On the way we’ll learn a lot more about our comrades and the world of Aveum, which is littered with remnants of old civilizations and inhabited by other cultures besides Lucium and Sandrakk’s forces.

Battle-mages in this world focus their powers through devices called Sigils worn around their arms with protruding pieces that mimic the sights of guns – that’s a nice trick to immediately familiarize FPS players with the action.

The three colors of magic offer familiar ground as well: Blue magic behaves like a long-range sniper rifle, red magic offers close-range shotgun attacks, and green magic provides auto-fire with homing bullets. These are your base attacks and you can switch between them any time – and that’s necessary, because some opponents are immune to some kinds of magic, so you need to quickly identify their weaknesses and adapt. Making the basic spells so similar to what you’d see in a regular FPS game is another deliberate decision to make players of the genre feel right at home.

There is a lot more magic than that in the game, though. You get a shield to absorb damage as well, which slows you down a bit but provides mobile cover you can fire out from. You also get a lash to pull opponents towards you or drop them off cliffs, and a blink spell to quickly teleport around the battlefield. On top of that, you can float for a bit, double-jump, and unleash powerful explosions, beams, and whatever else you can think of magic attacks doing. These advanced spells need to be found on the map or purchased from other characters, and require mana to use.

Immortals of Aveum magic.

You can fire through your own magic shield, though activating it slows you down.

Each color of magic has its own skill tree, enabling you to go all-in on specializing in the use of one color or taking a wider approach to your understanding of magic. Gear, such as Sigils, rings, and totems further enhance your abilities and allow you to focus on a specific playstyle.

Exploring the map to find additional gear or spells and discover secret areas is another key part of the game. While it’s not a classic open-world adventure, you can revisit regions you’ve been to at any point, which allows you to unlock new paths and areas as you get new abilities to solve puzzles and problems with. The main story without side content is supposed to take around 25 hours to complete, so there likely is a lot of stuff to find in all those levels to customize Jak with.

Combat looked spectacular in terms of visuals – spells fly and explode everywhere or get absorbed by shields, you lash enemies towards you and send bodies flying, dragons circle above. Speaking of dragons, there seem to be some boss fights in the game, which will have you dodge and learn attack patterns to defeat them. Watching Jak fire spell after spell into a dragon and its HP bar only slightly move down, I can’t help but be a bit concerned about how this will actually feel in the game – being a battle-mage is cool and all, but if my flashy magic is just being eaten by bullet sponges, that would be a bit of a bummer.

The good news is that combat in the later stages of the game looks flashy and fluid – you jump, glide, blink, use a magic hookshot, unleash explosions, and lash around opponents in very natural combos, which seem satisfying to pull off. Robbins mentions that one of the foundation fantasies of the game is to essentially be a magic gunslinger, who doesn’t hide behind cover but is right in the action at all times, and the footage we saw from later in the game definitely supports this. Again, this was a hands-off preview, so it’s difficult to say how being at the controls feels, but those moves and combos looked like what I’d imagine a powerful battle-mage would use.

A multiplayer or co-op mode won’t be included at launch, but “may have been worked on for some time” according to Robbins, so it’s possible we’ll hear more on that some time after Immortals of Aveum’s release – from what Ascendant Studios is saying, Immortals is merely our introduction to the world of Aveum, and it looks to be a bombastic one.

Immortals of Aveum is being developed in Unreal Engine 5 and will launch on PC, PS5, and Xbox Series X|S on July 20, 2023.