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Like many first-person shooters before it, Immortals of Aveum is a game about war. It stars a young soldier who fights across battlefields. Its plot revolves around a conflict between opposing nations, each fielding armies set on the destruction of one another. It is also a game in which all of these familiar martial themes are explored through a fantasy setting where stone citadels float high in the air, currents of rippling energy snake through the sky, and, most notably, players engage in combat not with guns and grenades, but by casting brightly colored magic spells from the protagonist’s outstretched hands.
The debut release from developer Ascendant Studios, Aveum is a fantasy take on the first-person shooter made by a studio with years of experience in the genre. Its director and cowriter, Ascendant CEO Bret Robbins, previously worked as creative director on several entries to the Call of Duty series and 2008’s sci-fi horror shooter, Dead Space. In a call with WIRED, Robbins described the creation of Aveum as his “first opportunity to really make my own game,” a break from the hardnosed militarism of more realistic war games.
“I knew I wanted to do a shooter,” Robbins said of the game’s origin. “I knew I wanted it to be magic and not guns.”
From this starting point, Robbins began to conceptualize what would become Immortals of Aveum through “a back and forth, sort of organic process of thinking about combat and thinking about game mechanics and then thinking about the [game’s] world as well.”
That combat, which sees players swapping between an arsenal of offensive and defensive magical spells, is Aveum’s most compelling feature, in part because it stands in stark contrast to the gunplay of so many first-person shooters. The novelty that makes its battles compelling also created difficulties, though. Robbins said that “getting the magic to feel as good as shooting a gun was challenging,” especially since he didn’t want players to “hide behind a bush and shoot over it,” waiting for their health to regenerate as in a Call of Duty game. The goal, instead, was to have players feel like a “gunslinger, bad-ass battle mage who could walk into an area, have [their] own protection with the shield, and be able to deal with anything in front of [them].”
Central to this approach is a method of fight design that encourages players to experiment with their entire arsenal of spells. The fantasy setting allows for various enemy types—some monstrous, some human—sporting color-coded vulnerabilities. To overcome them, the player has to think on their feet, juggling various spells in a manner not unlike the frenetic gunplay of the Doom series. Avoiding and casting streaks of blue lightning or bright green energy orbs doesn’t create the same sense of danger as the explosions and cracks of passing bullets found in many other shooters, but Aveum’s fighting is still an engaging, often rewardingly tense approach to a different kind of first-person combat design.