Immortal Unchained is unashamedly a Souls-like. Even the UI immediately screams Dark Souls, there’s no other way to describe it. A challenging and unforgiving third-person action game where you fight through locations full of enemies to a climactic boss fight. Sound familiar? You earn a currency from enemies that disappears forever if you don’t collect it after dying. There are obelisks instead of bonfires. You get the picture. In this case, the currency you’re gathering are “Bits”, and it’s guns instead of swords and sorcery. Immortal Unchained is Dark Souls-with-guns and it’s most certainly not trying to be anything else.
The game drops you into a world of sci-fi mystery and intrigue. It’s centered around the Monolith, a mysterious object that brought about a wave of scientific advancement for the different races of the galaxy. Some malevolent force has caused the dead to rise and reap destruction to all life in the galaxy and the Monolith is the source of it. Every planet has been ravaged by this scourge and you’re left with a set of ruined worlds. You’ve been unwillingly released by your warden and told you’re the only one with the power to set things right. The game’s story is totally serviceable, and it certainly has its moments, but it’s leaning on some pretty generic concepts and there are not many original ideas.
Shooting is the sole hook of Immortal Unchained's gameplay, so nailing that feeling is key. Unfortunately, the guns don’t feel that great. The manual aiming feels floaty and imprecise with an unpleasant acceleration. Free aim was added very late in development, and it shows. It feels awkward and unpolished. The lock-on provides a much better way to target enemies, but you sometimes want to aim for the head or a weak spot. The lock-on is pretty good at automatically hitting these key targets, however. You're encouraged to use the free aim to target arms so you can disarm enemies, or legs to stagger them quicker. This is all extremely difficult to take advantage of with just how poor the manual aiming is.
There’s a nice variety to your arsenal of guns and some cool weapon designs. There's a real Borderlands or Destiny thing going on with the variety in weapon aesthetic, as well as the variety of elemental effects they can produce. You’ll find weapons imbued with fire that immolate targets and dealing burning damage over time. Other weapons imbued with frost can slow your enemies’ movements and attacks. Unfortunately, Immortal Unchained just doesn’t play as well as its inspirations and so that variety just isn’t as rewarding. It’s fun and satisfying to find powerful new weapons, but that feeling is let down by the shoddy gunplay.
Furthermore, there are a number of strange limitations and frustrating restrictions on the gunplay. Reload time is a major part of the combat. Different weapon types come with faster or slower reloads and there’s even a stat that affects its speed. It adds an interesting combat dynamic, allowing you to only attack in bursts and requiring you to create and maintain some space for yourself. In reality, the way the game handles canceling your reloads can become quite frustrating.
Rolling or sprinting will completely cancel it out. Even if you’re 90% through a reload, you’ll immediately cancel it with one wrong move. In the heat of combat, this can be an easy thing to accidentally do. It can make the combat feel stilted and disjointed. There were multiple scenarios where an enemy would knock me down once, and I'd end up on the ground again before I could stand up and reload my weapon. This would rinse and repeat until I died. This kind of thing is especially common with weapons that have lengthy reload times like sniper rifles or grenade launchers.
These weapons also feel less than ideal because of their extremely limited ammo. In fact, this factor of limited ammo often disrupts the combat's pacing. Aside from limited one-time use consumables that refill some of your ammo, the only way to stock up is to return to an obelisk. This leads to instances of forced backtracking, particularly early on. As you progress further, you unlock the ability to carry more than two guns. This alleviates this problem a little, but it’s still particularly problematic for certain weapons. Sniper rifles, for example, hold very little ammo. This makes them feel a little useless, especially when compared to the much more effective and long-lasting assault rifles, SMGs and shotguns, which is a shame since you find some cool snipers and they can deal out major damage.
There's a simple but effective weapon upgrade system that allows you to improve any weapon up to six times. It requires a variety of materials you’ll find throughout the game and some Bits. The upgrade requirements aren’t too harsh, meaning you can quickly upgrade your latest piece of loot to make it immediately more viable. You can only perform upgrades at an obelisk, as well as only being able to equip and view your weapons at an obelisk.
This feels like a bizarre design choice for a game that is constantly giving you new guns. My guess is that they made it that way so you couldn’t just switch weapons when you run out of ammo, but it still seems like a poor decision. Not even being able to view your weapons on the go makes it hard to keep track of what you’ve got and what you’ve been collecting. Meanwhile, needing to back to an obelisk to switch weapons is needlessly laborious.
You also have a melee weapon for when you want to get in close and personal with your enemies. It can be satisfying and rewarding to mix ranged and melee combat up when fighting but the melee combat is extremely rudimentary. There is a button to swing your melee weapon and that's the extent of it. There's no heavy attack or charged attack. No combos or rewarding things you can do with it, you simply swing when you're in range. The range can hard to judge at times, too. Sometimes you'll miss when you think you're close enough, leaving you feeling unfairly open and vulnerable. It feels weak, clumsy and underwhelming and I spent most of the game not even using it. The melee also doesn't stagger enemies, making it practically pointless to trade blows with. The only time the melee is effective is when you have enemies staggered.
Enemies have a meter under their health that dictates this. Dealing damage will lower this meter, with weapons that deal more “stability damage” being more effective at this than others. Depleting this bar will cause enemies to stagger a little, making them vulnerable to attack. This momentary advantage allows you to get a better position on your enemies and focus on their weak spot. Every enemy has a weak spot (usually on their back) where your ranged attacks deal more damage.
This becomes an integral strategy for fighting most enemies. Circle around them until you can either stagger them or simply dodge an attack that leaves them open. The majority of the opposing forces are fodder enemies that you can generally just spray down. Larger foes require you to make liberal use of this strategy. A lot of the more powerful enemies have a quite a bit of health so it can take a while of circling and shooting before they fall. It can get a little tedious but it helps that the dodge-dash has a pretty tight feel to it.
Immortal Unchained has a Bloodborne-esque dash move instead of a roll. It’s pretty swift and makes circling around enemies feel pretty good. Your dash quickly becomes your best friend, often being the only thing separating you from life and death. This speaks to its effectiveness - sliding to the side of a charging enemy feels effortless and smooth - but also to the lack of alternative defensive options. There is no armor to find and equip, no shields or parries to utilize. Aside from consumable items that can help you to temporarily mitigate damage, evasion is your only way to avoid death. These consumables are useful and the game frequently encourages you to use them. However, the sluggish nature of the menus coupled with the bizarre fact that you can’t shortcut these items when you can shortcut others makes them less-than-ideal to use.
Your only other form of defense comes from permanent bonuses you gather throughout the game. During your explorations, you’ll come across Armor shrines that grant you flat buffs. Examples of these include +10% damage reduction or increased ammo capacity. You can also find and equip up to three Aspects, which offer small bonuses to either defense, offense, or utility, such as increased stamina regeneration or increased SMG damage. These buffs are certainly handy, but they aren’t particularly rewarding to find. This speaks to the larger flaw of Immortal Unchained’s level design, which is bland at best and confusing and misdirecting at worst.
They aren’t rewarding to find because much of the level design is extremely linear. Most of the time, you’re following a narrow hallway or a straight path with little variation. There is sometimes a chest off to the side or slightly out of sight, but you could quite easily find everything there is to find in this game without having to put much effort in. The level design is predictable, boring, and only made worse by the die-and-repeat formula. Every area in the game gets tiresome and uninteresting before you’ve even finished exploring it the first time. When you’re dying and repeating these areas multiple times, it doesn’t take long for them to become tedious.
Furthermore, the environments themselves are extremely bland and unappealing. Apart from aesthetic changes in the different areas - of which there are only three - everything just looks the same. It can be far too easy to lose your way since nothing stands out. Aside from occasional flairs of color and lighting, the environment generally sticks to a single color throughout any given area. Most of the time, said color ends up being a dull grey.
On the other hand, some of the enemies are actually quite colorful. They often glow and pulse with light, or wield armor or shields of various colors. As do your guns, which can fire a variety of colorful and vibrant elemental ammo types. They look quite nice, and it certainly helps to make your guns feel unique. However, the color and vibrancy of these things only further highlight how incredibly bland and lifeless the game's environments are.
Like all Souls-like games, the gameplay on offer here is unforgiving. If you aren't paying attention you're going to die. Make one wrong move or mistime a dodge and you could be in trouble. You should expect this level of difficulty from the genre, but Immortal Unchained's brand of gameplay can feel unfair at times. Most enemies do unreasonable amounts of damage to you, which feels like a frustrating inevitability because there’s no armor to equip or shields to use. Enemies will also often fire in deadly bursts or powerful shots that can kill you in one or two hits. If you find yourself in these you'll find yourself pretty abruptly dead.
It’s more than that, though. Immortal Unchained isn’t just challenging, it feels like it’s stacked against you in a big way. Enemies can shoot you while your down, or while you're climbing a ladder, which both feel extremely unfair. The amount of time it takes to get back up only exasperates this. There were a large number of times when I was knocked down and just had to accept that I was dead and there was nothing I could do about it.
Enemies also seem to have a much longer range and they never have to reload, while you’re reloading every few seconds and have an arbitrarily limited range. Snipers will often cut you down before you can even see them, whilst shotgunners will teleport on you, blast you to the floor and then kill you while your down. When its difficulty works, Immortal Unchained is challenging, tense, and exciting. Most of the time, however, it’s just really frustrating.
There’s also a weird inconsistency with the difficulty. Annoying snipers or tough enemies provide a strong challenge in some areas. You could spend multiple hours slowly slogging through an area only to reach its boss - the climactic payoff to your struggle. Save for maybe two examples I can think of, each of these encounters was underwhelming and a total breeze. I won most of these fights without even thinking about it. With these kinds of games that are directly influenced by Dark Souls, the quality of the boss fights is an important detail. Whilst some of the bosses had some cool designs, the encounters themselves were far too trivial.
Immortal Unchained Review | Final Thoughts
Ultimately, Immortal Unchained is a mess on all counts. Its promising and occasionally interesting narrative is let down by clunky controls, bad level design, poor boss fights, and a generally uninspired world. Dark Souls-with-guns may sound interesting, but Immortal Unchained proves that it’s most definitely not. It fails as a both a Souls-like and a third-person shooter, leaving only a frustrated, bewildered and disappointed feeling in the player’s mind.
Our Immortal Unchained review was conducted on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. Immortal Unchained is also available on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.
- Engaging Narrative
- Gun Design Variety
- Imprecise Guns
- Boring Environments
- Lackluster Melee Combat
- Underwhelming Boss Fights
- Poor Level Design