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Immortal: Unchained - Dark Souls Without the Soul

By Robert Baddeley on September 17, 2018 | Columns | Comments

Immortal: Unchained - Dark Souls Without the Soul

Dark Souls created waves when it first released for being unrelenting in its difficulty and guidance of players experiences.  Hard games had become increasingly difficult to come by and it opened up a door for developers to create unforgiving AI and really test players skill levels.  In the wake of Dark Souls we got titles like Lords of the Fallen and Nioh – both great games in their own right.  They took the Dark Souls formula and made it work for them.   All this brings me to Immortal: Unchained.  A game that on paper should be everything I’d want: Dark Souls difficulty? Check. Guns? Check. Fantastic graphics? Check.  But it was missing one thing for me that would have really brought everything home: a soul.

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Graphics

I do want to start off by talking about something that the developers knocked out of the park – aesthetics and graphics execution.  The environments you’ll explore in Immortal: Unchained are simply stunning and I don’t want to take away from that accomplishment.  While in the first level you do notice a lot of similar looking assets I personally feel it fits with the nature of the environment for that particular level.  It’s dark, gloomy, and scattered with a hint of the ethereal.  I don’t want to spoil the environments for anyone planning on playing the game but I found the frosty, snow-covered environment to be particularly well executed.  Unfortunately, these environments can be overshadowed by some pretty stiff character and NPC animations.  In addition, I found the character models you’ll see in the creation screen to be oddly sub-par compared to the care that seemed to be put into the environment assets.

Gameplay

This is where we start running into trouble.  Soulsborne games are known for their difficulty levels in fighting simply enemies to the extreme difficulty of fighting bosses.  After a few blunders of learning what normal enemy attacks and animations are you become fairly proficient at powering through them but it’s never really boring because the combat carries weight.  Immortal: Unchained lacks the weight in combat.  Your melee weapon doesn’t feel impactful against an enemy and the same goes for your firearms.  In this sense, it feels more like playing an action RPG or third person shooter than the Dark Souls-esque game it was clearly trying to emulate.  Combat fails to interact with enemy animations in quite the same way, either, which wouldn’t be a problem except that it further draws back from the feeling of combat carrying any weight.

When it comes to boss fights the majority of the ones I took part in lacked the complexity that makes them fun, engaging and challenging.  I remember the first time I played Dark Souls and arriving at the Asylum Demon (the first boss) and getting romped. Over and over again.   When I finally beat him I was left with a wonderful sense of pride and accomplishment that made me want to see what was in store next (spoiler: I died).  I’m going to follow this up by saying, despite having become pretty decent at Dark Souls I and II (at least by my own metric) the same situation occurred arriving at Iudex Gundyr in Dark Souls 3.  Death, more death, triumph and accomplishment, and finally more death.  I say all this because the experience at the first boss of Immortal: Unchained is just about as far away from these experiences as you can get.  I didn’t die, not once, nor did I get hit.  The boss lacked complexity and repeated the same two moves over and over again.  It felt choreographed in a way that a game like this shouldn’t feel and, sadly, this wasn’t going to be the only boss that felt this way.

But…

That’s not to say there aren’t gameplay mechanics that I didn’t like.  I enjoyed the bits (souls) systems which were used for upgrading your stats and I had fun experimenting with the different weapons that I could.  You’re not going to be able to use any gun you come across because you have to have the correct stats to use it – in this way your starting “class” is important just like in Dark Souls.  You can eventually become whatever you want, however, given enough time and investment.  There were also a few cool touches that I thought were great additions by the developers.  First among them is the ability to cripple your enemy by aiming at the legs as they move towards you.  This will stagger them in a way and slow them down thus giving you more time to fill them with lead before you have to bust out melee weapons.  Along the same line of thought is my second enjoyed feature: the ability to dismember your enemy.  You aren’t going to be blowing off legs (at least I never did) but I did find that aiming at the arms would either disarm them of their weapons or disarm them of… well, their arm.  It’s a fun mechanic and welcome addition, even if some enemies have the magic ability to regrow those lost limbs.

Wrapping Up

Immortal: Unchained takes all the hard parts about Dark Souls and plops them into a gun-wielding sci-fi setting but fails to capture the satisfaction of Dark Souls combat.  I never realized it at the time but the combat system in the Souls game is what makes the diabolic difficulty tolerable in the end and once that’s stripped away you’re left with a frustrating game that doesn’t have enough redeeming qualities to convince me to play.  All the ingredients are there and I hope the developers work on adding impact and weight to the combat system because it’s likely the only thing that’s going to draw players in and convince them to stay.