The Game Awards is full of world premieres but it’s rare that one of them looks quite so different as Immortals of Aveum does right off the bat. The game’s first trailer appeared during the show on Thursday night and revealed a sprawling fantasy battlefield with enough explosions, effects, and combat to make a Call of Duty game blush. But none of that necessarily answered what exactly this new game really is.
To help get a better sense of Immortals of Aveum, Polygon spoke with the game’s director, Bret Robbins, ahead of The Game Awards to talk about the idea behind the game, how he started Ascendant Studios just to develop this game, how the game will play, its world, and why it’s not quite like any other shooter out there.
The first game ever from Ascendant Studios, and released in partnership with Electronic Arts, Immortals of Aveum is a single-player, first-person magic shooter that combines the kind of fast-paced combat you might expect from Call of Duty with spell casting and an expansive, wholly original fantasy universe. According to Robbins, the idea behind Immortals is one he’s had for years, especially during his time as the creative director of three Call of Duty games. But it’s the uniqueness of the idea that’s helped it stick with him.
“I remember in particular, one time I was reviewing a level that we were working on, and it was a very standard Call of Duty level,” Robbins told Polygon. “And I remember thinking it’d be cool if instead of a helicopter that was a dragon, and if instead of RPG rounds blowing up walls, it was fireballs. And instead of having an assault rifle, I was a battle mage casting these spells. You know, a fantasy version of that. Where’s that game?”
This “where’s that game” idea stuck with Robbins for the next several years. When he eventually left Call of Duty studio Sledgehammer Games, Robbins was still turning the idea for Immortals of Aveum over in his head. He eventually decided, “I want to play that game. I want to make that game.”
So, in 2018, Robbins founded Ascendant Studios, where he’s been working on Immortals of Aveum and putting together its development team ever since. As for a publishing partner, Robbins and Ascendant chose to work with EA, who Robbins had worked with previously when he was the creative lead on Dead Space — the last original IP he worked on before Immortals of Aveum — and would give the studio complete creative control over its new game.
For Robbins, much of Immortals of Aveum’s overall design flowed straight out of that original battle mage premise. In order to let players really feel like a battle mage, a phrase that Robbins often uses to describe the player character as a sort of fast-paced magician that uses magical projectiles and spells in large-scale conflicts, Robbins and his team had to make sure the magical combat and shooting felt just right. Mages in games are often slower classes with long cast times on their spells and limited mobility. But Robbins is adamant that what the team at Ascendant is creating is more of a shooter than a fantasy RPG game.
“I think there’s been some difficulty in people trying to make magic into something that feels like a shooter,” Robbins said. “What we’re making is a first-person magic shooter. [...] I think we sort of cracked the code on how to make that feel really good and make it feel familiar to players that play shooters, but also bringing in something new. You’re not seeing the standard weapons that are used in a shooter, you’re seeing something new, and that to me is really exciting.”
Of course, to develop a new fantasy IP, you’ve also got to create an original fantasy world, and Robbins and his team of writers has been hard at work on that front too. And while he couldn’t give away too many specifics about the world, Robbins did give us a few hints about it, and most importantly described Immortals of Aveum’s primary weapon: The Sigil.
The Sigil is the device we see the camera exploring at the beginning of Immortals of Aveum’s premiere trailer. According to Robbins, it’s how battle mages focus their magic and how players will fire their spells. “Instead of having an assault rifle or a magic wand or something, you have the sigil and it can change the shape it has and you can find different types of Sigils,” he explained. “We really wanted to showcase that as something unique to the game.”
As for the second part of the teaser, after the doors open and the chaos erupts, Robbins says that’s designed to serve a couple of purposes. For one thing, it gives viewers a brief glimpse of Aveum — the name of the game’s world — and the bright fantasy landscape and crackling magic and warfare they can expect. But it also helps differentiate the game from the shooters that he’s already compared it to. Rather than the corridors that dominate games like Call of Duty or even Dead Space, Immortals of Aveum’s scale is, as Robbins puts it, “epic.”
It remains to be seen if that means players will be slinging spells around a Lord of the Rings-sized battle or not, but the grandeur and chaos of the teaser’s final battle is already pretty promising.
Immortals of Aveum doesn’t have a firm release date just yet, but is set for sometime in 2023 and will be released on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X.