Immortals Fenyx Rising Review
Who wants to play forever?
Some games struggle with what they want to be. That isn’t the case for Immortals: Fenyx Rising. Unfortunately, what it wants to be is a game that already exists. Inviting comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild since its announcement, Immortals commits to this vision from the opening moments and lets the player know — almost with a wink and a nod — that it knows that we know exactly what it's trying to do.
Formerly known as Gods and Monsters, Ubisoft’s latest odyssey is bright, colourful and wide open. Its exaggerated, wide-eyed, animated style is a far cry (heyo!) from the more grounded open worlds we’re used to from the developer, but it works really well. Each area of the sprawling map is vastly different with the vibrant rolling hills contrasted against the dark and ominous volcano in the centre of the map — sound familiar? Each area is packed with landmarks to discover, monsters to slay, and collectables to find; Ubisoft seemingly falling back on their tired structure to support what in other ways is a huge shift in design and tone. On the surface, all appears well and it is for a while.
Attempting to balance the ‘gameplay first’ approach of a game like Breath of the Wild with a little more structure and narrative, Immortals: Fenyx Rising injects some much needed whimsy into a world that many will already be familiar with. Presented in an easily accessible way, this light-hearted lesson in Greek mythology is well narrated by the double act of Prometheus and Zeus. The back and forth of this odd couple works really well, guiding the titular Fenyx on his or her journey to defeat Typhon — the monster causing chaos from his volcanic lair.
Purely a cosmetic choice, the gender of the player character does nothing to affect gameplay, although a femme Fenyx seems to fit best. I found her voice acting to be better than her male counterpart, but that’s not saying much. A lot of the dialogue feels very forced and disjointed, with conversations between our hero and others feeling more like duelling monologues with the odd interjection. The way the game’s godly narrators exchange banter to fill the player in on the world and occasionally spotlight some more trivial tales is really good, but the story itself is nothing to write home about. As Fenyx, I set out to free The Golden Isles of the evil that has turned many of its people to stone and borne monsters and mythical beasts unto the world. Upon surviving a shipwreck and receiving a prophecy from a stoner mistaken for an Oracle, who sets the game’s comedic bar low from the beginning, Fenyx ventures out to restore The Golden Isles to their former glory.
Having battled a few monsters and climbed to a high peak, it falls to Hermes to — ahem — deliver the game’s initial story beats. Yet again the similarity klaxon sounds as the messenger tells me how Typhon has deposed the gods, locking away their essences, and how I must set out to restore them to power if I am to save The Golden Isle and turn its people back from stone. If it wasn’t clear already, it soon would be. Like a bad wig, Immortals’ mediterranean trappings only do so much to hide what has been plainly obvious for some time — Ubisoft wanted to make a game like Breath of the Wild and so they almost literally made Breath of the Wild. Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, however, unlike other games that have spawned whole genres (think Grand Theft Auto, for example), this one is just far too close to the original source material.
Almost every element of the game’s structure, its map, its puzzles, and you could even argue its art style are so close to that of another game that, through almost my entire time playing, that’s all I could think about. Playing Immortals is a bit like playing a direct to video sequel where the movie is the same but all the characters have changed. It’s a strange phenomenon and one I’ve never experienced this forcibly in a video game before. The first time I dropped into a ‘Vault of Tartaros’ — the game’s underworld — and was met with a puzzle in which I needed to move several large stone balls utilising my power to magically push and pull things (Herakles’ Strength) I was floored by the mimicry.
The puzzles themselves are mostly well done though, and there’s enough variety that they were at the least a pleasant distraction and at best were a perfect combination of fun and challenge. These scattered Vaults pail in comparison to those found at the end of a main questline. The best of them make good use of a variety of Fenyx's Godly Powers and mixed up the challenges, but they still often felt a touch too long.
To Immortals’ credit, the game grants you a good portion of its Godly Powers very early on. This streamlined approach is great and makes getting into the game very easy. Once I’d gotten over the audacity of what Ubisoft had done — and some say I still might not have — I was away to explore everything that I could and complete as many quests as possible. Having progressed steadily to a point, I was soon coming up against stronger enemies and Typhon had also set his first Wraith on me on more than one occasion. A miniboss of sorts, a Wraith is the corrupted spirit of a Greek hero (Achilles, Atalanta, Odysseus, Herakles) who needs to be vanquished at a nearby Wraith lair to stop Typhon continuously raining down fresh hell upon you. This small spike meant two things if I wanted to survive and actually enjoy the game: 1) I needed to complete more Vaults 2) I needed to scour the map for more loot, consumables and other collectables.
Now these are not abnormal tasks by any means. However, with a map this vast and resources — some more than others — seeming remarkably scarce, progress often seemed minimal. There were whole sessions of my time with this game dedicated to gathering resources and doing puzzles. Sometimes it was fun, others it felt incredibly frustrating. I often felt like I was treading water when all I wanted to do was get to the next quest. And I could have: there’s no arbitrary ‘level gate’ or anything. However, the game’s guiding hand often pushed me in the direction of hours of grinding and it was here I started to lose interest.
After completing my first questline, freeing my first God, tackling plenty of Vaults, and picking the area clean of chests and other collectables, I found myself in a very familiar position: atop a huge statue of another god scouting another area of the map. Using the game’s Far Sight mechanic to uncover the treasures beneath, I began the loop again. And then again. And again. Immortals kind of shows you everything it has to offer in the first few hours and, aside from a few minor additions, that doesn’t change — so if it doesn’t get its hooks in early, it never will.
A big game like this not drawing me back to play is a huge red flag, and so it should be. What good is a map loaded with content if the player doesn’t actively want to play it? If you have the time to spend with it, exploring The Golden Isle in Immortals can be an absolute blast. Its ‘checklist’ style of gameplay is another Ubisoft staple and when it's paired with a vivid and fantastical world like this one it’s even more appealing. In shorter bursts, however, I found that the game tested my patience on one too many occasions. Knocking out a Vault or two and dropping out is all well and good, but unless I was moving the story along, rarely did it feel like any tangible progress was being made. This duality is not uncommon in Ubisoft sandbox games, and the issue of respecting the player’s time is certainly not new for the developer. I’m all for a well-paced game with plenty of extra content, and that’s what Immortals often is. Properly rewarding players for completing quest steps and a small alteration to the core gameplay loop would have gone a long way, because dropping all the interesting stuff to grind for potion ingredients and upgrade points was the last thing I ever wanted to do.
This is a little unfortunate because, despite everything I’ve said above, at its core Immortals is incredibly fun to play. The gameplay loop may be lacking in certain areas, but the moment to moment action is solid and it’s from this foundation that everything else is built. Each of Fenyx’s abilities feel unique and useful in their own way, with varied upgrade paths. Traversal feels good, especially with a few stamina upgrades under your belt, allowing you to climb almost anything and fly from A to B with ease. Combat is fast-paced and fluid with quick sword combos and more deliberate axe combos that are easy to execute but hard to master. The bow and arrow deals decent damage from range too. Thinking fast is your best asset though, as a perfect dodge or parry can lead to much more damage. This is especially important in larger monster encounters or in boss fights but, in all likelihood, if there’s a gap in your skillset you can likely put together a build for Fenyx using the wide array of abilities and gear that will suit your playstyle. The game does a great job of making you feel invincible after a while, which is great. On the odd occasion I got absolutely eaten alive by an enemy I knew it wouldn’t be long before I could come back and claim victory.
The one area Immortals falls down in this regard is once again down to its biggest inspiration. Despite its best attempts, Immortals systems are far more limited. Of course, a game should absolutely be judged on its own merits. However, in constantly wanting to emulate something else, it’s hard not to be disappointed when it doesn’t quite behave in the same way. The game being so heavily inspired by Breath of the Wild should not be the stick to beat it with, but it’s hard not to compare the two games when Ubisoft is almost taunting us with how similar they are.
Never before have I played a game that seems so desperate to imitate or remind me of another that has come before it. Still, Immortals: Fenyx Rising can be a lot of fun. The gameplay and systems are sound despite its core gameplay loop forcing me to do too much busy work to get to the good part. The new ideas it brings to the table are positive and well presented, but there just aren’t enough of them. I enjoyed the comic takes on Greek myths and legends but, unlike Hades, its narrative isn’t strong enough and it often struggles to find its voice.
In taking the path they have, Ubisoft put themselves in an unenviable position. It would have taken a Herculean effort (sorry!) to create a game that would surpass one of the games of a generation. The result unfortunately feels more akin to an inferior cover version than anything close to the smash hit that inspired it.
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