The difficult but fulfilling gameplay of Dark Souls forged the series into one of the most popular modern RPGs, and spawned its own niche genre of challenging titles – often described as a Souls-like game. Now, Swedish developer Toadman Interactive has put its own spin on the Souls-like genre, resulting in the action-RPG known as Immortal Unchained.
Diving into Immortal Unchained, you'll immediately spot the similarities of a Souls game, but what makes it stand out? Time to find out!
Immortal Unchained departs from the fantasy setting of FromSoftware's titles, taking place in the stars amongst a group of planets being infected by an “evil undead” army, tearing down the galaxy’s post-war golden age. You wake up imprisoned in The Core, and it is up to you to help rid the galaxy of these undead, and restore what is left for the remainder of the population. If that sounds like a vague and unclear premise; you would be right.
The game – much like the Dark Souls series – doesn’t ham-fistedly shove story dialogue and exposition down your throat at every turn, leaving a lot up to the player’s interpretation. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, as action-focused RPGs like this don’t need a lot of story to make them enjoyable. Something as simple as “saving the galaxy” is enough to give the player motivation to take down whatever comes their way, so while the story isn’t going to win any writing awards, it isn’t inherently bad.
With a bigger Sci-Fi focus also comes a much broader spectrum of what can be done with the game’s looks, and for the most part they are pretty good. Immortal's many planets provide much of the game's environments, and there is plenty to like about them. While the neon blue lighting for medieval-futuristic blends isn’t groundbreaking, there are still many worlds to explore. You will travel across many landscapes, escaping steel prisons, trudging through swampy ruins, and even braving icy tundras.
It's nice to see a wide variety of aesthetics, and it helps keep the game from feeling sluggish while providing a sense of progression. The character and weapon models all look decent enough too – without looking amazing – and while there is the occasional texture glitch, it's enough for a game that is more about its gameplay than anything else. The same goes for the soundtrack, with much of the game’s music being atmospheric and ambient, playing steadily throughout the game depending on which world you’re in. Again, it’s good without being great.
As mentioned previously, Immortal Unchained fits easily into the Souls-like genre, with the added element of ranged weaponry through gun combat. This could have made for some really interesting changes to gameplay and level design, with enemies taking advantage of new weapon mechanics that resulted in awesome strategies and experiences. However, there is very little that makes the gameplay in Immortal Unchained great.
The typical Souls-like tasks a player with travelling through levels, dispatching enemies littered across their path, and progress onward to a particular goal. In Immortal Unchained, that goal is to revive “Nexus Orbs” in order to help power the core and help fight back against the undead.
As you defeat enemies, you gain experience points that may be used to level up your character or weapons, giving them better buffs in whatever category you choose. What makes other Souls-lies more challenging in this aspect is that you may only spend these points at certain checkpoints, known as “Obelisks” in Immortal Unchained. If you die before reaching said checkpoints, you drop all of those points where you died and return to your previous checkpoint. This causes the player to be intensely focused on strategically taking down enemies, rather than just charging head first into battle. In games like Dark Souls, this is done very well, but Immortal Unchained hasn’t been able to replicate it effectively.
Differing types of guns do make for a customisable experience, allowing the player to equip themselves with whichever gun suits their play-style best. However, guns can’t be used in different ways since combat is always the same. Why? Because every enemy has the exact same weak spot: a glowing stone right in the middle of their back.
While there are different types of enemies with different attack styles and weapons of their own, every enemy has the exact same weak spot. The resulting strategy to taking them down becomes routine; wait for the enemy to come charging at you, dodge to get behind them and unleash your arsenal. Even boss battles – which do provide some variety to fight – still need to be hit in their back to take them down effectively.
Another flaw in Immortal Unchained is its level design. While the aesthetic design offers some visual diversity, the actual pathways and areas in the game leave a lot to be desired. The levels always have you fight your way through to the boss, take them down in their big arena, then you have to hot-foot it back to the start of the level in order to get back to the hub.
In addition to this, many enemy spawn locations are placed in really odd spots, and their AI is too ruthless. Sometimes an enemy will pounce on you as soon as you walk out of an “obelisk” area, or you’ll be fighting one big enemy when a bunch of smaller ones stroll in to ruin your run. Some paths are long, thin, winding walkways high above the abyss, meaning you can’t dodge enemy attacks or you’ll just go tumbling to your doom. Don’t get me wrong; I like a challenge in my games, but there is a difference between a game being hard and a game being impossibly difficult due to poor enemy AI and bad level design.
It can't be missed that I've mentioned Dark Souls a lot in this review. Unfortunately, a lot of the time spent playing Immortal Unchained found me thinking about how much I wished this was more like the iconic series by FromSoftware. Developer Toadman Interactive seemed to focus too much on how to put their own spin on the Souls-like genre by adding in their guns, while other major factors seemed to fall by the wayside and didn’t get enough love and care. Immortal Unchained was an intriguing look into what “Dark Souls with guns” could be, but unfortunately, it’s probably best you look elsewhere.