Immortal: Unchained (Xbox One Review)
The term Souls-like has been tossed around more times than a poor pickup line at a bar. Sure, the overly familiar term resonates with a great many, but if its poorly delivered you’ll be left with a red face. That is to say that Immortal: Unchained hit out with its best attempt and ended up picking up the tab rather than a hot date.
Immortal: Unchained follows the typical story arc of a defined “chosen one”, in this case an immortal being. Struck with amnesia, the player escapes from their cold prison confines at the beginning and sets out to discover who or what they really are. Pursuing the usual trends of hardcore RPG storytelling you are tasked with taking down a plethora of virulent bosses in order to prevent an apocalyptic event. Immortal: Unchained has a nuanced approach at conveying information to the player by letting NPC’s drip feed the player motes of knowledge. The information gained is never of any particularly use in the moment but could shed light on specific scenes down the line. While foreshadowing can be subtle enough to keep people’s attention, it can also backfire; failing to plainly deliver information when necessary. In RPG’s exploration and discovery are a key part of that storytelling but only when there is a grounded narrative to wrap these discoveries around. And it’s quite clear we are dropped into the middle of this one with the environment doing the narration for us.
The worlds of Immortal: Unchained are wrought with a mechanical malice; a virus of made of steel. Spreading organically throughout these worlds are robotic tendons — like a parasite taking control of a host — fusing mother nature and man’s creation. Even though the environments clearly convey the omnipotence of the machines, it still leaves the player wondering where exactly they stand. Various collectables, like Forlorn Idols, are on hand to help fill in the blanks of Immortal: Unchained’s backstory with snippets of lore. Despite grabbing these tokens, piecing bits and bobs of the story together remains problematic. Maybe an inclusion of some sort of index or glossary to help make sense of its jargon could’ve made all the difference. Sometimes the contextual storytelling made prominent within the Souls series just isn’t the right fit for the story you’re trying to tell and this is precisely the case for Immortal: Unchained.
The Souls-like storytelling formula isn’t the only thing Immortal: Unchained set out to embellish upon. Combat is likewise mimicked. It’s tough and unfair but fought with firearms over melee weapons. Controls are intentionally heavy with the ability to use special and standard attacks freely. However, special attacks remain largely ineffective unless you’re within melee range and as such will not be used quite as frequently as they should. Enemies have tons of health while your firearms do the bare minimal damage. Every weapon in your arsenal has poor range and accuracy compared to your enemies. This is especially noteworthy in tight and long corridors where there is only one route. It’s in these encounters that I feel level design is neglected to the point where environments are all one way tracks, with very few spacious areas to negotiate. The design is so claustrophobic as enemies can spawn in front and behind you simultaneously, leaving you feeling like a sitting duck. In the end, it’s hard to understand the intent of these situations as they often invoke a feeling of unfairness and anger. I wish I was missing a key something that would save me from these situations, but there was no obvious solution outside of levelling up.
The only workaround I found was to spend my ‘Bits’(experience) on the ‘Toughness’ trait to bulk myself up. Toughness is one of many skill traits that you character can invest in, all work of which work in tandem with either your proficiency with weapons or overall survivability. Unlike most Souls-like clones, Immortal: Unchained encourages you to put points into nearly every stat available. Rather than spotting certain skills and focusing on a specific build: level design, enemy placements and boss encounters all push the player to invest deeply in every stat they have. Blocking yourself off from using shotguns means you have less chances to stagger enemies in close quarters and not using sniper rifles makes it impossible to take out distant enemies. The ‘Bits’ needed to invest in stat boosts is staggering and failing to recover them after a death is heart-breaking – especially when you often feel cheated by the game’s poorly animated enemies.
Animations are way more constrictive than you’d like them to be. There are times where you’ll be knocked flat on your back and upon so enemies will barrage you with attacks, giving you no chance to respond. Similarly long staggering animations likes these usually offer brevity from harm, a brief state of invulnerability, but in Immortal: Unchained you’re more vulnerable now than you’ve ever been. The Game’s animations cannot be interrupted or cancelled by any means, not even with a dodge. Dodging does still offer a brief period of immunity, but it’s often wasted thanks to relentless enemy pressure that awaits at the end of your dodge. As shields are non-existent in the world of Immortal: Unchained and parrying bullets is just a tad too Sci-Fi for the game, there’s no other defensive options to play with. This means that there’s only one real way to play: aggressively. I’d often find myself charging towards enemies and hoping that my healing items could account for the damage suffered in the process.
And this mentality never changed throughout my time with Immortal: Unchained as every encounter is fundamentally the same. There were a few occasions where enemies that could teleport would vanish and appear inside walls and shoot at me from within them. Other times enemies would aggro throughout the level just to hunt me down. I’m not saying these encounters made Immortal: Unchained more enjoyable, but they brought a distraught smile to my face and all I could do was laugh off just how absurd these situations could be.
These little moments of glee are all that I could really savour from Immortal: Unchained. Usually moments of happiness and respite come from defeating bosses, but that’s not the case here. Boss battles are uneven trials of impatience and poor design philosophies. Bosses, like most enemies, are all fundamentally the same: hulking brutes with big weak points on their backs. Once you’ve faced one, you’ve seen them all. Spicing up these boss battles are a plethora of traps and/or enemies, turning non-challenging boss fights into near indestructible roadblocks. Most boss arenas will have enemies that shoot from afar to stun you and traps to hold you down long enough for the boss to get the deciding hit in. The idea behind adding more enemies to boss fights simply to make it harder is a flawed one. The silly setup detracts from any strategy involved and forces players to go going in gung-ho. It’s frustrating.
And that sums up Immortal: Unchained perfectly. A frustrating RPG where potential good ideas are skewed by the need to push a high difficulty curve. Honing my skills through poorly designed environments with constant battles of attrition became grating after the first couple of hours. Immortal: Unchained is a clearly flawed game that future patches probably couldn’t save without a dramatic overhaul. It is a perfect example where the Souls-like formula has failed and maybe it’s time to put it to bed.