Another day, another Souls-like. This time, it’s the independently-produced action-RPG Immortal: Unchained, a fawning adaptation of Souls tropes fused into a third-person sci-fi shooter. Reusing many of the raw systems in the original Souls series with shameless abandon, the game is an ambitious, somewhat misguided attempt that shoots for a AAA level of quality. In the right light and its finest moments, the intention feels genuine and worthy, but those snapshots are fleeting when considering the game as a whole.
Maybe the shoddiness stems from the aspects that are most specifically taken outright from the Souls games — the opaque narrative that is yet delivered matter-of-factly, the lore-heavy item descriptions, the ethereal currency that can be rescued after death, and the unexplained array of systems and techniques that are only intelligible after spending considerable time in its world. It doesn’t help that first impressions are dull, with Immortal: Unchained doing nothing to ingratiate player attention right off the bat, offering a starter prison-like area that is boring to both look at and explore; there seems little impetus to scrape through its barren architecture, which will take most new players at least two hours to complete.
It’s a shame, because there does seem to be considerable thought put into the world around the game. Immortal: Unchained tells a fractured story featuring alien technology and a conquest over multiple planets, all evoked through a gloomy sci-fi lens. The graphical design isn’t exactly eye-popping — if anything, it’s eye-squinting, with poor lighting frequently muting its more colorful environments — but there are occasional flashes of detail and novelty. The game world works best when it leans on its strange machinery and monolithic alien architecture, where even the simplest treasure chests are bizarrely shaped hissing machines that slide to life like Hellraiser’s Lament Configuration.
The biggest bullet point (no pun intended) is, of course, the reliance on gunplay, featuring a few functionally uninteresting weapon varieties that won’t impress anyone: SMGs, sniper rifles, shotguns, and the like. Sure, they all possess dramatically embellished names and even glowing ornamentation but, in practice, this is a game where you run around shooting things, breaking line-of-sight to reload, and maybe tossing a few hopeful grenades at relentless waves of DPS-sponges.
The action gameplay is serviceable on its own as a new wrinkle to the Souls-like formula (especially considering the generally downplayed projectile combat in Hidetaka Miyazaki’s series), but the concept continually fails to grasp its full potential. Why aren’t there bizarre, terrifying magical weapons and artifacts? Why are the individual pickups and overall item selection predictably common to any other third-person action-adventure game? Why establish a constant scarcity of available ammo for the game’s most attention-grabbing mechanic, forcing players to resort to an unreliable single-button melee attack?
Even the character creation suite feels half-baked, lacking any precision controls for creative-minded gamers. While you can choose a gender binary and alien race for their avatar, the rest of the available options are fairly nondescript, allowing a few variations of tattoos or hairstyles but absolutely no facial sliders at all. This is probably just another indicator of the team’s meager budget, but it definitely compromises the potential for any “Souls cosplay” or meaningful attachment to the silent main character.
With all that being said, there are fewer cut corners than Immortal: Unchained’s independent pedigree might imply. NPCs are fully voiced, most biomes are massive (maybe even too big in most cases), and there’s a sizable, time-consuming campaign with numerous routes, shortcuts, and secret areas. Unfortunately, with nary any multiplayer mechanics to be had, its world can’t help but feel lonely and inert, robbing it of one of the most profoundly engaging characteristics of Souls-likes. That means no bloodstains, player messages, fight clubs, surprise invasions, or desperate team-ups against bosses. Again, it’s an independent game, so its hard to fault Toadman Interactive for skimping on the resources required to implement and test reliable netcode, but its inclusion might’ve uplifted the experience, or allowed an online community to develop new reasons to return to it after completion.
In the end, Immortal: Unchained doesn't have the conceptual boldness of a game like The Surge or the gloss and mechanical competency of something like Nioh and, in terms of direct Souls entries, the comparison is hollow. What’s left is an emaciated by-the-numbers Souls-like that would have benefited from more systems and surprises. Still, for gamers devoted to the increasingly common tropes on display, there are a few dozen hours in a play-through, some mysterious systems and NPC quests to experiment with, as well as a handful of memorable vistas and storytelling opportunities. As an independent project it’s impressive, without a doubt, but Immortal: Unchained looks undignified in the shadows of its peers.
Immortal: Unchained is out now on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 for $49.99. A digital PC copy was provided to Screen Rant for purposes of review.