When Immortals of Aveum was revealed last year, director Bret Robbins described Ascendant Studios’ first project as a “fantasy version” of Call of Duty, swapping helicopters for dragons and rocket-propelled grenades for fireballs. I initially thought this was just a clever bit of marketing, seeing as Robbins previously worked on Call of Duty at Sledgehammer Games, but after playing through Immortals of Aveum, I’m amazed at just how fitting this characterization turned out to be.
It’s not that Immortals of Aveum is a 1-to-1 replica of Call of Duty, of course. While the focus on elite soldiers influencing a larger conflict and several explosive set-pieces could have been pulled directly from Activision’s military propaganda simulator, doing away with real-world weapons of war in favor of magical spells allowed Ascendant Studios to expand the battle-tested formula both aesthetically and mechanically. The end result, however, winds up being yet another silly AAA mishmash of self-serious narrative tropes and tortuous Whedon-speak, only with shiny wizard gauntlets instead of traditional firearms.
Immortals of Aveum puts you in the shoes of Jak, an unforeseen — a magic user whose mystical powers surprisingly (and sometimes violently) manifest later in life rather than being nurtured from childhood — who finds his life as a teenage street urchin upended after he’s conscripted into the Everwar, an ageless conflict between the ruling nations of Aveum. Jak is special in that he can wield blue, red, and green magic rather than specializing in one color like most folks, and as such, he’s eventually promoted from the rank and file to the Immortals, a sort of wizard special ops team composed of the best and most powerful magicians in his home country’s army.
Jak is... a lot. At best, he’s a smartass who looks like the sons from Home Improvement were fused in a teleportation accident and swears with all the awkward abundance of an Angry Video Game Nerd sketch, but at worst he’s a prime example of what I call Cal Kestis Syndrome. Much like the Star Wars Jedi series, Immortals of Aveum surrounds its boring, just-learning-the-ropes protagonist with a cast of more compelling, competent, and diverse characters, and somehow expects you to get on board with Mr. White Bread being the only person who can save the day. I mean, why would a studio get someone as iconic as Gina “I was on Firefly, for crying out loud” Torres to be in its video game and not make her the hero?
The narrative issues don’t end there. About halfway into Immortals of Aveum (we’re entering spoiler territory), we learn that a gaping black hole in the planet, known as the Wound, was initially caused by and continues to grow with magic use. The game makes this out to be a very dire revelation akin to, say, learning that burning fossil fuels causes climate change, but at no point does the story back it up with a satisfying explanation as to why magic is so vital to the inhabitants of Aveum. Apart from warfare, the only other times you see people using magic are randomly floating NPCs and a drinking montage where Jak and his buddies play beer pong (yes, they literally call it “beer pong”) with a spectral ball. I couldn’t help but feel like Immortals was desperately trying to say something, only to fall flat on its face.
But sure, I can excuse a lot of dumb stuff in video games if, at their core, they’re still fun to play. Borderlands is one of my favorite franchises, and that entire series is brutally idiotic. Immortals of Aveum just doesn’t do it for me. The whole game is a Disneyland light show by way of Doom Eternal, providing a lot of different, visually bombastic mechanics with which to play around, usually to its detriment. Apart from the three main colors for magic weapons — blue magic handles like pistols and sniper rifles, red is your shotguns and rocket launchers, and green constitutes all manner of machine guns — Immortals of Aveum saddles you with so many special abilities that I never had confidence I was using the right tool for the job. And with each magic spell creating its own effects on the screen at once, it was all too easy to lose enemies and environmental cues in the copious layers of visual static.
Immortals of Aveum should be applauded for trying something unique and exciting. It’s not every day that a studio attempts to aesthetically reinvent the first-person shooter genre with its debut game, and it’s clear the folks at Ascendant Studios tried their damndest to make the “Call of Duty but with magic” concept work. But for all its overwhelming visual splendor and adherence to modern conventions like skill trees and stat-boosting equipment, Immortals of Aveum is just as soulless as the military shooters from which it takes inspiration. It’s a paint-by-numbers buffet of contemporary tropes, and even when regarded against the full scope of creative and moral bankruptcy in the AAA space, it somehow still manages to fade into the scenery.
Immortals of Aveum was released on Aug. 22 on PlayStation 5, Windows PC, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PS5 using a pre-release download code provided by Electronic Arts. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.