Immortals Fenyx Rising Review
If there’s one thing that the start of a new year is good for, it’s clearing out your massive gaming backlog. Although I had quite the shameful list of some of 2020’s biggest open-world games on my backlog, for me there was one title in particular that I wanted to take the time to finish- Immortals Fenyx Rising. As a big fan of both the new direction of Assassin’s Creed and Breath of the Wild’s design that has so clearly influenced this game, as well as a lover of the wild world of Greek mythology, I thought this was a match made in Elysium.
After putting more than 25 hours into the game and finally hitting the credits, I wouldn’t go as far as calling Immortals the equivalent of Greek heaven, but I would certainly go as far as calling it Ubisoft’s best open-world game in quite some time. It’s a heartfelt, passionate open-world game set in a vibrant world that mostly manages to avoid the typical Ubisoft trappings whilst combining elements from some really great games. It might not ever reach the lofty heights of the games that have so clearly influenced it, but considering the pedigree, I'm more than happy with what it manages to achieve.
Immortals sees you playing as the customisable protagonist Fenyx as they explore the Golden Isles and attempt to recover the lost essences of four Greek Gods. Although that may sound pretty standard, the way in which Immortals presents this story is actually pretty interesting, coming from a real-time conversation between Prometheus and Zeus. Beyond being an interesting set-up, it means you have a constant narration from the pair and constant references are made to the fact that this is a story that Prometheus is telling.
Overall I’d say it landed quite well with me. It’s definitely not for everyone, but there’s a lot of good humour mixed in with some more lame jokes. The marketing and trailers have gone for a very modern feel, and whilst a lot of that does persist in dialogue, there’s an impressive reverence for Greek mythology throughout too. For every dumb joke, there’s a reference to deep Greek lore that really impressed me. It’s a messy tone for sure, but by the end of the game it comes across as more heartfelt than I expected, and I came to actually care about the characters involved. Fenyx is a greater protagonist than I expected with a genuine personality and character arc, whilst the Gods are their usual flawed selves but beefed up to the highest degree. Fenyx isn’t greatly customisable by any means, but even having the ability to change gender and style goes some way to make him or her feel like your own.
Speaking of looks, the Golden Isles is easily one of the most beautiful locations in a game of this style I can remember. There are times where it looks like a watercolour painting in motion, and it’s all accompanied by some stellar orchestral music throughout. The character models are a little bit stiff and uncanny-valley-esque at times, but the look works overall and creates one of the most memorable looking Ubisoft games in quite some time.
The combination of this unique look and presentation gives Immortals a really unique energy of its own, and it’s far and away more preferable to me than the usual History Channel realism of the Assassin’s Creed games. Going more whacky and stylised creates a more interesting world and allows for the game to portray strange characters like Kottos the Hekatonchires without worrying about realism.
If you’ve watched any of the trailers for Immortals, you’ve no doubt noticed that Immortals gameplay is a hodge-podge of elements from several different games, including Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed for the combat and world-feel, and more notably and perhaps obviously, Breath of the Wild for the exploration and movement. I wish I could jump to Immortals’ defence and say it has plenty of its own things too, but honestly, there’s not much else to the formula than these elements, even if they’re mixed around a little.
Let’s start positively and talk about one of my favourite parts of the whole game - the world and exploring it. The Golden Isles are fantastically beautiful and stuffed to the brim with content for the player to find. The Isles are split into four main areas, and although they’re not exactly unique, they’re all distinct enough to make it a fun map to explore. My favourite parts were the smaller islands tucked off in the corners of each region, as each of those made me feel like I’d made the effort to explore as well as containing some really cool boss fights. I’m also very happy to report that the map here isn’t focused on being massive and open-ended, but instead goes for a comfortable size that is still filled with stuff to do and discover. Although the story went on a little bit, there was no point during my playtime that I felt like my time was being wasted, which is a big bonus considering the aforementioned backlog.
This positive experience is only slightly ruined by some of the Ubisoft staples that find their way into the game, such as microtransactions for cosmetics and some online service stuff. It’s surprisingly tame compared to some of their other titles, but I did cringe every time Hermes asked me to spend currency at his shop or to complete daily challenges within the world. It’s simply not needed, even if it’s pretty harmless here. Thankfully, there’s a lot of great armour sets and looks available simply from playing the game, so hold back on buying anything if you can.
Exploring that world is a lot of fun, in many ways thanks to the Breath of the Wild influences. Funnily enough, though, I found the ability to climb everything a bit empty at times in comparison to Zelda, which might be because of the double-jump and vastly improved gliding ability. Thankfully, there’s a lot of cool stuff to see and do in the world, whether it be finding the equivalent of puzzles shrines, or climbing to the top of massive statues and peaks. The Golden Isles are full of secrets to discover, challenges to complete, and bosses to battle and the variety on display here meant that I actually ended up completing a good number of the side quests and content. That said, climbing and exploration never quite reach the heights of what it's trying to ape, but it’s a close second in many different ways. I think that the world justifies the relative lack of inspiration here, even if I did wish there was a bit more different.
Saying that, there were several ways that Immortals managed to surprise me. I didn’t quite expect just how important puzzles and movement are to the general gameplay. Coming from Ubisoft I expected light puzzles and a higher focus on combat, but there’s definitely a bigger leaning towards the other gameplay elements. For players who love completing puzzles, this is going to be a big win as the game is absolutely packed with them, even if I personally don’t love the type of puzzles that are on display here.
To compare this to something like Breath of the Wild, I’d argue this composition was much more balanced there, as more of the puzzles were side-content that the player didn’t have to complete. Things like Korok seeds and shrines were all over the place, sure, but if the player was much fonder of exploring or following the story then they didn’t have to spend hours moving blocks. I’d also argue that Breath of the Wild’s fantastic world rules meant that messing around with the systems in puzzles were a lot of fun. I’d argue the opposite here, with the rules of Immortals being a lot more rigid and less experimentative. It lacks that magic factor that was present for Zelda.
A frequent issue I had with these puzzles is their lack of consistent rules and guidance. For example, there are a lot of puzzles in the game that require you to put a metal crate on a weight sensor in order to open a door or continue a puzzle, but some of these puzzles actually require you to use items in the environment as substitutes such as boulders. This meant that every time I did one of these puzzles, I was always half sure of whether I was even doing it right or if there was a nearby rock that I was supposed to be using instead. Immortals never defines how free these puzzles are, in this case not stating what can be used as a weight, and it makes some of them feel a lot more confusing than they should be. This only tends to happen in the open-world puzzles, as the ones set in vaults are usually more clear-cut in what you can and cannot do. It’s not like these puzzles are incredibly challenging or in-depth, but there were a few instances where I found myself stuck or frustrated without a way forward or wasn’t sure how far I could take the game’s systems. As it turns out, the puzzles are rigid and can really only be done how the game wants them to be.
Despite my complaints with the abundance of rigid puzzles, one element of Immortals that is undeniably better than any of its influences is the combat. The most immediate comparison is Assassin’s Creed, but it’s a lot more arcade-y with a combo counter and all. It starts off simplistic with a heavy and light attack, but as you continue through the game you’ll unlock more combo modifiers and special godly moves that deal greater damage at the cost of stamina, as well as armour sets that modify your moves. As soon as you unlock the wings, you’ll never need to touch the ground again. This is going to lose me some gamer points, but I actually found a decent amount of challenge in Immortals, especially with some of the late-game bosses and challenges. There’s a lot of healing and helpful items, but Fenyx can only take a few hits before falling, so it’s a good thing that there is a range of difficulties to play around with.
After finishing the main campaign in 26 hours, I thought I'd be relatively done with Immortals, especially considering that I'm not really one for deep dives into singular games. When the credits have rolled, that's usually when I check out. Surprisingly I'm still playing Immortals as I write this, chipping away at all of its puzzles and extra boss fights. It's a relaxing game to scratch away at and explore, giving me the same sort of feelings I had when exploring all that Hyrule had to offer. I haven't given this much time to a Ubisoft open-world since Watch Dogs 2, which stands as one of my favourite open-world games of all time, so Immortals has definitely made some sort of impact on me.
Immortals Fenyx Rising was a game that I wanted to play to finish and put to the side, but it’s one that has stuck with me a lot longer than I thought it would, and given me one of my favourite Ubisoft open worlds in memory. If you can look beyond a lack of originality in some of its formula and some rigid puzzles, you’ll find a beautiful world that’s well worth exploring.