Immortals of Aveum is an eagerly anticipated upcoming fantasy first-person shooter developed by Ascendant Studios and published by Electronic Arts. Set to release on August 22, 2023, for Windows, PlayStation 5, and Xbox Series X/S, this new IP promises to deliver an exhilarating gaming experience.
Played from a first-person perspective, Immortals of Aveum features a robust arsenal of around 25 spells split between offensive and defensive magics across three varieties — red, blue, and green. Complementing these spells is an expansive talent tree boasting over 80 unlockable nodes that allow players to customize their gameplay style. With a campaign confirmed to last at least 25 hours, fans can expect an epic adventure.
Leading up to the official reveal at The Game Awards 2022, details have steadily emerged about this mysterious new title by Ascendant Studios, founded in 2018 by veteran Dead Space and Call of Duty developers. As their debut project, the team aims to craft an engrossing game that strikes a balance between fun, challenge, and compelling storytelling with memorable characters.
In the following interview, we gain intriguing behind-the-scenes insights from two key creatives at Ascendant Studios, Senior Art Director Dave Bogan and Lead Combat Designer Jason Warnke. They discuss the conceptualization process for Immortals of Aveum‘s distinctive art style and combat mechanics.
We also learn about how the art and combat teams worked synergistically to produce game elements that not only look fantastic but integrate seamlessly into the gameplay. With its release imminent, no better time to dive into the creative journey behind Immortals of Aveum.
Let’s just get started with the concepts for Immortals of Aveum. It has a unique look. How did the team come up with how everything would look, and how would it all work and play in the final product?
Dave Bogan: Well, I have to go back to the very beginning. When Brett Robbins was interviewing me, he handed over a 60-page design document. He had a clear vision of what he wanted. I had an interview with him, and we hit it off. When I started, and we began to explore things, his first charge for me was: we had to create a new art style. It has to stand out. It’s a fantasy product, but we didn’t want to go with the norm. We didn’t want it to look like Lord of the Rings or anything similar.
Our word that we aligned on as a pillar for the art vision was “unpredictable.” We began exploring thumbnails for our characters and silhouettes. Ones that jumped out to us right away from a concept artist we were working with had these strange shapes. One had a shovel-shaped head. One had a hammerhead shark-type head, and they just leapt off the page at us.
That immediately reminded me of inspiration from my past of all the sci-fi stuff that I loved as a kid: old Japanese robot shows, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and others. We made some simple rules like no chains, no dragons, no fire, no spiky armour, etc. When you say the word fantasy, my head automatically goes to Dungeons and Dragons, even though sci-fi is fantasy. That’s how my brain works.
We set some pillars like that to stay away from those themes and to try something different. It was a constant building, an organic process of injecting sci-fi shape language into medieval-esque armour and weaponry. That’s how it started. It kept evolving. It’s like Asgard, where old Norse gods live in space with spaceships, and their magic often blends with technology.
It’s a good way of thinking about our planet, our world. It has its own timeline, its own world, not related to Earth, and is fuelled by magic. The only rules for us were to avoid being too predictable. That’s how the art style evolved.
Jason Warnke: To touch on the other part of your question about the gameplay and how they act. We wanted the hero to be extremely powerful. Jak the Magnus can cast multiple types of magic. There are three types of magic. He’s a triarch and pits you against many. We aimed for powerful Magnus versus Magnus duels, but most of Immortals of Aveum involves fighting hordes of enemies. Many design styles feature enemies with basic weapons. We have the swordsman with two swords and powerful characters. You’ll see many swordsmen and archer enemies.
As the game progresses, we introduce stronger characters. We have a multitude of enemies in Immortals of Aveum, which is exciting. Each is colour-coded by a play style. We have our red, green, and blue magic. These colours indicate behaviour. It’s not a strict rule like red versus blue, but if you encounter a blue enemy, a blue spell probably best defeats him. We designed based on that and developed an array of enemies and player spells.
How tightly integrated were the art and combat teams working on Immortals of Aveum? It’s one thing for an element to look visually impressive, but it also needs to seamlessly fit within the game mechanics, ensuring engaging combat experiences. How did you achieve this harmony?
Jason Warnke: Dave’s probably sick of me at this point. We talk a lot. One of the coolest things about this project, and Dave can attest to this, is our constant communication. Brett has a strong vision of what he wants, but games are best built with a combination of ideas. The combat team might say, “We need this new enemy,” or “Brett wants this new enemy.”
We then assemble a design document. Dave suggests, “I have these concepts in mind. What do you think?” And we begin to integrate the ideas. This may hint at potential spoilers, but elements you observe in cutscenes are also gameplay elements. You don’t just witness a massive attack in a cutscene and never see it again; it reappears later in boss fights.
Based on the trailers and details shared, the Immortals of Aveum world seems vast. How did you strike a balance, ensuring it didn’t become overwhelming with the sheer volume of content while maintaining a diverse range of enemies and challenges?
Dave Bogan: You do it out of necessity. Many ideas that we had were cut because the world was even bigger than what we have now. Levels, enemies, and cinematics were cut. We just kept cutting. The game has been in development for five years. If you were to experience Immortals of Aveum now, to truly grasp the imagination of Brett Robbins, double what you see because there was so much more.
As Jason mentioned, we’re in constant communication. A staple in game-making is that while everyone has grand ideas in the project’s early stages, you must eventually align and decide on the project’s strengths. Then, cut what’s underdeveloped or less exciting, regardless of the time invested. Sometimes, after investing much time into something, you decide it’s not working.
“If you were to experience Immortals of Aveum now, to truly grasp the imagination of Brett Robbins, double what you see because there was so much more.”
Jason Warnke: That’s been one of the coolest parts of this project. Early on, we tried a bunch of stuff. We tried things that we thought were cool. How do you make a first-person shooter with magic without guns? There are a lot of ways to answer that question. We tried a bunch of answers, and certain things did not work. We cut them out. We reel them back in. And then, we found the best answers for our game. It’s easy to say, oh, we cut a bunch of stuff, and there are certain things that I really wish we kept. But at the end of the day, the final product is really cohesive and really quite fun.
Dave Bogan: Yeah, some of those mechanics or spells on their own are super cool. But you also have to think about how it works with everything else together as a gameplay set. Something we added in may feel overly powerful and doesn’t jibe with everything else, or some ideas that were super fun were totally wacky.
But I don’t know if I’m going to talk about those. They just didn’t feel they all belonged together. Sometimes you have to veer away from ideas. There were very sandboxy, the whole first two years of Immortals of Aveum were just experimenting and coming up with crazy, cool stuff.
Regarding your point about avoiding dragons in Immortals of Aveum, among other elements, can you elaborate on the challenges faced in creating unique concepts?
Dave Bogan: I think the point of that exercise was not to start there. If you end up coming back to it, it’s because it’s cool, people want it, and you need it. But. I think it was a blessing, actually, for Brett to say, “We don’t want to do that stuff. There are no goblins and elves. Let’s not do that.” Something that may have happened organically over time, the otherworldly sci-fi influence, as well as that Immortals of Aveum is really colourful.
It’s not Mordor. It’s not dark, and it’s not colour graded with blue and black. It’s a very colourful planet, even almost like Guardians of the Galaxy or something. You go to each of those worlds, and things are just vibrant and cool. So that was one thing that made Immortals of Aveum stand out as a different kind of fantasy experience than what you might be used to seeing.
Jason Warnke: I think there’s something that this touches on is the intuitive nature of our game. It was a high pillar. It has to be intuitively a first-person shooter. You pick up the controller. It feels like a shooter. You got the gun spells on your trigger. Jump is on A, movement is your left stick. We wanted to challenge everything.
We don’t have a crouch button on purpose. We don’t have ADS on purpose; it’s just we’re challenging certain things, but most of the things should feel intuitive. And even on the fantasy elements that Dave is talking about, let’s not have dragons, let’s not have laser swords. Let’s not have certain types of elements that make fantasy.
But then, as we developed, we made decisions that eventually brought us back to a thing that kind of looks like a dragon-ish. It feels intuitively fantasy, but there are these sci-fi elements, and that’s okay. It really works well for our game. But that initial pose of let’s not do these things that are second nature to fantasy and shooters and see what works for us was a really great process, and it made some really interesting decisions with our gameplay.
I will say one thing I really love about our combat style is that we’re a shooter. We don’t have guns. We have spells that feel like guns. We put a lot of effort into that.
The words are escaping me, but that feeling of pulling the trigger, and the hand recoils back a gun, even though it’s a spell, and you see the effects of your hand, you see the hit scan or the projectile, and you see the burst, and you see the enemy’s reaction, and you get that whole sound effect and that whole experience. And then, eventually, you reload your sigil and reloading a spell is almost kind of silly, but it feels perfect. And our animators are incredible.
It has that Doctor Strange feel to it, and it’s really important for gameplay to have these pace breaks where you’re shooting, and then you have to pause for a second. And during that pause—depending on the sigil you have because all the sigils are different—you have to have that pause of “Okay, now what do I do during this time? I have to make some tactical decisions with my other spells,” which feels really great.
And depending on how you build out your character, maybe you put all of your focus on that spell, or maybe you put focus on other parts of your kit. It’s very cool. I’m really excited about the YouTube videos of people figuring out how to play Immortals of Aveum differently.
Dave Bogan: Yeah, when you’re recharging your magic or your ammo, I don’t think it is silly, actually. I think it’s a wonderful way of representing magic differently. Brett always wanted this game to be different. If you talk about a wizard or a magi or something, your head jumps to a wizard on top of a mountain that spends 30 seconds conjuring something up, and then hell rains down on everything.
But Brett really wanted what are the special forces of magic someone who’s in the trenches. Someone who’s getting close and personal in the thick of it. In danger. High adrenaline, high octane, moment-to-moment spell casting. I think those things, the way Jason said, we married into the first-person shooter gun aspect into our magic is the recipe for being different and getting to that. You just haven’t had this experience before. And I think that’s really cool. We internally, we’re always talking about it.
But the sigil people are born with magic. Whether they’re able to use it right away or it develops later on, or not and never develops. People are born with it. But the sigil, the thing on your arm, is really what helps the magnets focus it into a particular spell.
We’re always having constant conversations about, well, why are there crystals everywhere? What crystals mean, or crystals batteries that contain magic. Do they amplify them? Is it a lens? So there were all kinds of constant talking about how magic can be married with tech in this world? And I think that’s an interesting recipe. Magic tech. We say that a lot—magic tech.
How did the design and combat concepts merge to maintain this balance and keep the gameplay in Immortals of Aveum engaging?
Jason Warnke: But we certainly come back to the intuitive conversation regularly because we are new. We’re doing something different. We have to teach people how to play our game. It took FromSoftware ten years to get a mass audience to figure out how to play their games. And they hit that with Elden Ring so well. A lot of our enemy designs and combat discussions revolve around. You see the silhouette of this character. That silhouette needs to imply everything about them right away because the person might not understand that.
We’ve had varied success on that, of course, because we still have to show you cool, unexpected things. But the silhouette diversity is very nice, and when you see a swordsman, you know they’re probably going to run up to you and hit you with a sword. You see a dude with a big mace. He’s probably going to come in and smack you with that thing.
Our combat team has done a really good job of working with the VFX artists and animators to get those nice silhouette poses for each attack. You see that pose. The next thing that happens is predictable, so the players can react with their defensive spells or offensive spells accordingly.
One last question, just to kind of touch on inspiration. Immortals of Aveum does have a very unique look, as you’ve mentioned. Were you inspired by the properties of movies, comics, and games that kind of bring this concept to life?
Dave Bogan: I don’t think there are any direct references. I touched on this before. All the inspiration I had growing up as a kid reading Marvel Comics, watching Avengers or Japanese-English translated cartoons. Grendizer and Gaiking were some others that I really liked back then. And those guys were masters of designing shapes that were incredibly appealing and memorable.
I think that very much spilled into our armour and helmet design stuff. I was just fascinated with helmets. I was the type of kid that I went to the store and bought football figurines, but only because I liked the helmets and the little logos on the side of the helmets. I didn’t care about football ever. But I was kind of a dream project to help build all that armour and the masks and stuff.
Jason Warnke: Similar answer. I played 1600 hours of Destiny over the years. Hexen has a deep inspiration: Doom, God of War. There’s just we’re looking at everything that we like and seeing what works for us and try to put that all together. Also, one of the guys that we have on our team who’s just an absolutely incredible combat designer, Patrick Jalbert, worked at Schell Games for a long time.
He spent a number of years doing VR, sword fighting games and a lot of that learning helped us quite a bit to make the enemy encounters really legible because a first-person melee experience is pretty rare, and it’s tricky to get the enemies right. You have a gun. They have swords, and making sure that the distances and the poses and the motions imply what the action is going to do is very tricky. He helped us quite a bit with that.
Anything you want to add that I might not have touched on that you want people to know before jumping into Immortals of Aveum?
Jason Warnke: I hope you love it [Immortals of Aveum] deeply. I hope you like it as much as we do.
Dave Bogan: I think we have found a unique recipe for a new fantasy experience and a very kind of. Enjoyable universe kind of thing. It’s very modern and in ways from everything: the writing, the editing, the music. Everything. It truly does feel fresh, I think. We’re quite happy with where we ended up.
Thank you so much for your time. I’m excited to see more of Immortals of Aveum.