Luke spends his time playing video games, binge-watching TV and hanging out with his German Shepherd, Ziggy and Bernese Mountain Dog Pandora.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, , PS5, Xbox Series X
December 3, 2020
What’s in a name? It’s not very often that we see an announced title go through an identity crisis, but that’s what happened earlier this year when the previously announced Ubisoft title Gods & Monsters was re-revealed as the newly titled Immortals Fenyx Rising. Like many, I scoffed initially at the change, seemingly generic and not particularly linked to the ancient world of Greek gods and mystical creatures that were so captivating in the first place. Having spent more than 20 hours in the colourfully captivating world presented here, I’m thrilled to report that the title of the game doesn’t matter at all. In fact, the titular Fenyx is such a fun character in their own right that I’m glad they are front-and-centre in the name of the game itself. Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of the most enjoyable and breezy open-world games Ubisoft have ever created, full of puzzles, mysteries and bucket-loads of charm that make it stand out amongst its more serious counterparts, with a new hero that proves deserving of their own ongoing series.
The story of Immortals Fenyx Rising starts with stranded Greek soldier Fenyx who finds themselves on the Golden Isle. They quickly get swept up into a huge quest where they must rescue the Greek gods from the titan Typhon, who seeks revenge after he was banished by Zeus to Tartaros. Exploring a large open world with lots to do, you must help save the Gods one by one, learning more about them – and yourself – along the way. It’s a simple setup but the (literally) larger-than-life Gods that feature here are all captivating in their own right, and Fenyx makes for a wonderful addition as someone who wants to be a hero but doesn’t quite know how… yet. Their story arc builds in a way that has you truly rooting for them, as they not only become heroic but ask poignant questions around what it takes to truly become one.
What makes the narrative move along is the charm and silliness that the writing and the characters themselves all exhibit. There’s a wonderful self-awareness to proceedings, with some genuine laugh-out-loud moments to dialogue; it’s nice to see an adventure with such high stakes not take things so seriously for a change. Fenyx is fully voiced (whether you choose a customisable male or female protagonist), and their interactions with the other characters are very entertaining across the board. In many open-world games, I find myself eventually tiring of dialogue and skipping through, but that wasn’t the case in my time with Immortals.
This is helped largely by the game’s narrators, Prometheus and Zeus. While Prometheus does his best to share the tale of Fenyx and the other Greek gods in all of their wonderment, Zeus provides comic relief as the unreliable narrator, adding flavour to the story and chiming in regularly with quips and corrections as if filling in the hazy blanks of a story being told at a local pub. Their squabbling about what really happened is always entertaining, and they speak like modern-day characters, referencing current language and millennial-speak in a way that is clever, and not cringe. This constant running commentary really sets the up-beat and light-hearted tone for the whole adventure.
“…a more stylised cartoon-like approach that works incredibly well, allowing them to create visual effects and vivid details that give the map a distinct personality that captivates.”
Visually, Immortals Fenyx Rising is stunning, with the world filled with as much charm as the dialogue. I reviewed the game on the Xbox Series X, and found the colourful open environment popped off the screen more than any other new-generation title I’ve played so far. Fields and hillsides are green and lush with flowers blossoming through while butterflies flutter around. Giant Greek structures and statues loom in the distance as the light bounces off the glistening water. They’ve opted for a more stylised cartoon-like approach for Immortals and it works incredibly well, doing away with realism and allowing them to create visual effects and vivid details that give the map, and each area within it, a distinct personality that captivates. I’m a sucker for bright and colourful art, and Immortals has that in spades. The soundtrack is also fantastical and wondrous, making exploration feel epic and exciting.
Once you’ve gotten through the opening area that serves as a tutorial and introduction, Fenyx is able to access a large map, with the Hall of the Gods acting as a central hub for upgrading your character and gear. Once there, the DNA of Ubisoft’s love-it-or-hate-it open-world systems comes into the forefront. Collecting Ambrosia littered across the map can be used to upgrade your health. Zeus’ Lightning is acquired so that you can increase your overall stamina. Potions can be crafted to refill health and stamina. Coins of Charon get stockpiled to be used for upgrading skills, while other materials picked up can be built up to improve your weapons and armour. This is all fine in an expected sort of way, but the most tedious part of the experience comes from ascending to a high point, entering into sight mode and then slowly combing the environment off in the distance for points of interest. When the controller vibrates, you can reveal what it is and it’s marked on your map for later. It’s just not the most compelling way to find cool stuff to do. I much preferred stumbling across fun distractions and letting the world take me in a direction I was vibing rather than the more formulaic, gamey approach of “adding things to the map and adding a waypoint”.
Luckily, exploration is almost always rewarded, so much so that I spent my first several hours of Immortals Fenyx Rising not even touching the main questline. The world is absolutely filled to the brim with exciting mysteries to unfold and secrets to unearth, and it’s all revealed with visual indicators and audio cues only so that solutions are never just spelled out for you. An early example of this was an old Olympic sprint track, where running through it within a set time limit gave you a quick prize. Another, a giant Lyre (harp) sits proudly on a mountain-top, and you have to find melodies throughout the world to then replicate for a reward.
There’s such an entertaining mix of things to do. Traversal challenges (which aren’t marked with obnoxiously large waypoints – such restraint!), shooting arrows in creative ways to hit targets or guide them through a series of checkpoints, solving sliding-block puzzles, and activating perplexing switches by completing constellations of large pearls in specific combinations. These are just a few examples of activities you’ll come across, all with the promise of being able to make Fenyx stronger in some capacity. Even the most basic challenges like defeating the enemies in the area to be able to unlock a nearby chest are still entertaining enough; there’s lots of variety with each of these mini-mysteries that keeps the experience from ever feeling stale, even during long play sessions.
“These Vaults are really the showcase of what Immortals Fenyx Rising does best. As soon as I spotted one on the map I couldn’t help myself but to jump in…”
Capping this off are the various Vaults you can travel to, which take you to an otherworldly area with constellations and clouds swirling around the sky while you tackle puzzle or combat challenges, at a larger more intricate scale than the rest of the map. These Vaults are really the showcase of what Immortals Fenyx Rising does best, taking a concept and fleshing it out in a complex manner so that you can make it to the end. They range from using various weighted objects to activate platforms, moving large balls through courses, solving arrow puzzles, navigating some tricky platforming or just testing yourself with a tough combat challenge. As soon as I spotted a new one on the map I couldn’t help myself but to jump in and see what it entailed, and each has bonus treasure worth hunting for as well.
Vaults are by far the most exciting and captivating part of Immortals Fenyx Rising. They’ve really nailed that feeling of accomplishment, starting off simple enough to teach you the core concepts but then ramping up the difficulty in later areas by mashing them all together in truly devilish ways. Some veer into slightly frustrating territory, but I felt a wave of satisfaction wash over me when I figured them out, akin to beating a tricky boss in something like Demon’s Souls (albeit with far less controller throwing). The team at Ubisoft Quebec have done a stellar job of balancing difficult and achievable, and being aware of your surroundings and learning the visual language of Immortals Fenyx Rising is a treat.
Beyond that, the major questline makes things even trickier by incorporating God Vaults, which are essentially beefier and tougher versions of the regular Vaults, so much so that the game recommends you take a break and come back later if you’re stuck, saving your progress along the way. These include some of the more annoying portions, as they often add tricky navigation into the mix along with controlling other elements such as wind. There is one particular Vault that requires you to place blocks on precarious moving platforms, but this particular mechanic of carrying and dropping blocks isn’t as precise as it could be, which can result in many fallen blocks, silly deaths and needless resets. The exclamation point on that particular vault also gave me a boss battle that I had to fight multiple times over and over. Yay. I don’t mind a challenge, but puzzles should be hard because they are well-thought-out, not because the mechanics of the gameplay make completion a pain. Immortals juggles this with a 90% ratio of “good puzzling fun” but it’s worth calling out the other annoying 10% that exists.
I’ve spoken a lot about the puzzles and exploration, as they are by far the best parts of Immortals Fenyx Rising, but the combat is at the very least serviceable, venturing into “good” territory. Quick attacks with your sword chip away at an enemies health, strong attacks also contribute to a stun bar that, when triggered, causes them to pause for maximum damage. Parrying an attack also contributes to stun, but strong attacks from enemies must be dodged. Perfectly timing that dodge causes all foes to move in slow motion for a moment, allowing for more attacks. Overall, it’s a fun battle system that is fast-paced and satisfying, and when you combine it with the different abilities you unlock throughout the course of the game, there’s a great rhythm to fighting and chaining combos together as you progress. There’s not a lot of enemy variety in the game, however. I felt like I’d seen the template of each within my first few hours, with some rare boss additions that tweak the formula slightly.
Some of the systems on show in Immortals Fenyx Rising are reminiscent of another very successful open-world game you may have heard of, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Immortals has definitely taken some inspiration from one of the best games of all time, with a similar stamina bar for climbing and flying, and the Vaults reminding me of the Shrines littered around Hyrule. But while similarities might be found, this puzzle-platforming open-world adventure has done more than enough to inject its own sense of personality to the point where the references to Zelda begin to fade away. If anything, Immortals puts even more focus on the parts of BOTW that I enjoyed the most, and this world is filled with a lot more to do and a lot less open empty space.
It’s worth noting that there is some great accessibility options within Immortals, too. An effort has been made to allow players to customise their gaming experience to their liking. Combat proving to be too difficult? Adjust the difficulty whenever you want. Stuck on a tricky puzzle? You can adjust the visual cues that you get to help you out, adding waypoints to your compass if you need and allowing the game to nudge you in the right direction. Cleverly, you can do this on a per puzzle type basis, so if you have just one style that is your Achilles’ heel, you can add hints just for that particular one and leave the rest. I tried to reduce all hints and directional cues entirely for a bit of an extra challenge, but absolutely can see how handy this feature is for those looking for a more cozy experience, and I think it’s fantastic they’ve thought about this carefully, rather than forcing you to find answers online when you’re stuck.
It’s genuinely thrilling to see a game like Immortals Fenyx Rising, which has taken the often discussed and sometimes criticised Ubisoft open world, and taken full advantage of it, with a light-hearted tone and so much charisma from its cast and script that it’s impossible not to crack a smile when playing. Considering the darker and more adult tone of their other recent releases, this is a captivating breath of fresh air. There are a couple of minor shortcomings, but overall I can’t find a lot to fault about Immortals Fenyx Rising. Its biggest flaw is that it may not be the most original take on open-world design, but Ubisoft Quebec has filled this tale of Greek gods with more puzzles, mysteries and exciting exploration elements than you can possibly handle.
Even after all the time I’ve spent on this giant adventure and finishing my quest, I’m itching to go back and discover more of this incredibly colourful and charming setting. Immortals Fenyx Rising is a wonderful game, and one of the biggest pleasant surprises of 2020.