Bret Robbins has been around the video games industry for a while. As the founder of EA’s new Ascendant Studios – and the boss overseeing experimental the magic-powered first-person shooter, Immortals of Aveum – he brings a lot of experience to the table. He’s done his time on Call of Duty over at Sledgehammer Studios, and he was the creative director of Dead Space. He knows how to make a big, bombastic triple-A game that gets attention. And now, he’s about to do it all over again.
“I feel like because I had an opportunity to start with a blank page and sort of do whatever I wanted to, I wanted to do everything,” he laughs. “And so, for Immortals of Aveum, there is a bit of just taking a lot of different influences and putting it into a blender and then seeing what comes out.” Robbins had the benefit of taking ‘about four months’ to himself to shape the story, the world, the feel of the combat, and the core shape of the game before bringing it to his team, and in that formative period, the very heart of Immortals of Aveum began to form.
In this early period, Robbins looked to a lot of the science fiction and fantasy that’s inspired him throughout his life and career, and drew on some of the projects he’s worked on, too. “I’ve been a fan of fantasy and science fiction my whole life, and I’ve been in games for a long time now, too!” he notes. The pillars of the world, how magic was going to work, the players’ main abilities, and the option of being able to combo those together using magic – per Robbins, that all came to the surface in those integral first few months.
But the key feel of Aveum – the magic, and the way it feels in your hands as you blast enemies to bits in a dense, high-fantasy world – wouldn’t come until a little bit later, when the development team started getting playable versions of the game ready.
“I didn’t realise we would be quite as much of an arena shooter until we really started getting the mechanics working and just, y’know, playing around with it,” he reflects. “I knew I didn’t want to make exactly a cover shooter – because that’s what Call of Duty is – and that’s something I want to sort-of do a little bit differently. Instead, I think there is a feeling of a bit of Doom or Bioshock in there, for sure.”
Doom, BioShock, Call of Duty – all these references make sense when you look at that trailer embedded above. They’re all genre stablemates, after all. But Immortals of Aveum is more than just a shooter; there’s an RPG element to the game, too. In the way you build your character, grow your arcane power, flesh out your place in the world. It may end up being the game’s key hook – an RPG shooter with a decent budget and spectacular visuals… it sounds like the sort of thing any publisher would like front and centre of its current IP catalogue, right?
To that end, it’s perhaps not surprising that there was one other reference Robbins mentioned that really stood out: God of War. “I have no problem with a game where you can crank it up to 11 and have a very fast-paced action sequence or very intense combat, and then, y’know, slow it down and allow you to explore, allow you to solve puzzles,” says Robbins (and you can read more about Immortals of Aveum’s approach to puzzle design at the link).
“It allows you to find gear or buy talents, and create a build that you like, all that stuff. I’ve seen some games do that very well; I think the God of War series does that in a great way. I think that’s something of an analogy to us, actually, even though we’re not a third-person brawler or shooter: that feeling of you can get into very intense epic fights, and then you can slow down and think, explore, and enjoy the world as well…”
And this all comes back to Robbins wanting to do a little bit of everything. He notes that, as a big RPG fan, he wanted to make sure the game included ‘a big dialogue system’ where you can walk up and talk to certain characters and get a lot of backstory via NPC interactions. He wanted to make sure there were meaningful differences in character builds, talents, and gear. And he wanted to make sure every gear item was unique, and didn’t rely on a randomly generated loot system.
The result? Robbins hopes it’s a game with a serious RPG heart, and the bombast and cinematic grit of a big, triple-A action game like God of War. It’s an intriguing proposition – especially when you consider all the Doom, BioShock and Call of Duty floating around in its DNA at the same time – but from what we’ve seen so far, Ascendant Studio certainly has the passion and vision to pull it off.
Let’s see if it can stick the landing when Immortals of Aveum launches for PC, PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S on July 20, 2023.