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Immortals Fenyx Rising Is A Lighthearted-Yet-Familiar Open World Romp
Platform(s): Xbox Series X, Xbox One, PC, PS5, PS4
Genre: Greek-themed Ubisoft open-world odyssey, Breath of the Wild edition
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. In this 2020 and video game culture context, the Nintendo Switch hit Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is beaming with so much joy because there are a couple of titles apeing some of its tropes. We’ve talked about one of them and how enchanting it is, but what about the other one that’s made by Ubisoft and its Quebec team? The one called Immortals Fenyx Rising, formerly known as Gods & Monsters thanks to some foresight in avoiding a potential copyright issue with energy drink company Monster? Is it just a copy-pasta action-adventure title with a Greek flavour slathered atop it like cheap lamb gyros marinade?
Far from it. In fact, Nintendo could learn a thing or two from this 30-hour-or-so “imitation” game.
For starters, Greek mythology buffs and fans will get a kick out of how Immortals Fenyx Rising tells its tale. It’s focused on a warrior named Fenyx who has to restore major Greek gods to their former glory, turn folks back to flesh from stone, and rid the Golden Isle of the demon god Typhon who is spreading his corruption all across the expanse. The tale itself is narrated by Greek god chief Zeus and demigod Prometheus, where one plays the snide and boorish commentator while the other tells the story straight. While at first it may seem grating, there’s actually a character arc here worth paying attention to, as the narrative details how each of the gods have their own inner demons and issues with the lightning-in-chief. There’s a bit of off-colour meta humour here and there, but it’s written with genuine thought and isn’t as obnoxious with its quips and interjects.
The main quest narrative may not be that inventive, but its cast is entertaining. From the aforementioned narrators to even our hero Fenyx, who is basically a fanboy (or fangirl; you can choose your gender) of Greek stories & myths, suddenly being a fish out of water and being the hero he/she is born to be.
Still, that’s not what you’re here for most of the time. You’ll be exploring the whole of the Golden Isle in all of its colourful Saturday Morning cartoon palette-but-high-res-and-for-2020 glory. This is definitely one of Ubisoft’s prettiest and most saturated games by far; in a realistic sea filled with Ubisoft titles like Watch Dogs Legion and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (which still looks great), it’s nice to see Ubisoft Quebec enchants us with its bright pastels and lush island beauty, topped off with planar scape-esque dungeons. It’s so surreal and immersive, you just want to dive in and stay for a while, perhaps forever.
There’s a lot to do here, from collecting Ambrosia and other resources to boost your health and craft your potions respectively (for healing, buffs, stamina-replenishing) to climbing large cliffs and escalating heights. Your movement is governed by the stamina system. You need to fly and glide from one edge of a cliff to another? You need stamina. Want to climb upward to get that chest? You need stamina. If it gets dangerously low mid-climb or glide, just down a stamina potion. You can even creep up on animals and tame them, turning them into mounts in case you are sick of walking, running, and gliding.
There’s a lot to collect, and it can be daunting to keep track of at first. Need to boost your stamina so that it’s more than 5 bars? Go check out a Vault of Tartarus, solve the puzzles, and you get Zeus’ Lightning that will upgrade that resource. Need to upgrade your skills and get better ones? Solve the Mythic Challenges (from memorizing Simon Says puzzles in lyre form to time trials) to gain Charon’s Coins that will either buff up your sword attacks, give you better traversal options, or unlock area-of-effect moves for combat. More on that later.
Yes, your character will feel underpowered and weak at first, but the beauty of Immortals Fenyx Rising is that you get to improve your skills and whatnot, then eventually be a badass after 12 hours or so of playing, exploring, and taking your time with the main quests and its rewards. Said quests will tax your brain and your reflexes with puzzles and combat galore. There’s a good balance between the two: the game’s brain teasers will definitely stump you as more get thrown your way. The difficulty curve range from “oh that’s easy” to “goddammit what’s that one thing I’m missing here? It’s been 30 minutes!” ranging from memorization puzzles to guiding arrows through hoops in timed segments (via slow-motion arrow navigation from your bow and arrow) to physics puzzles involving blocks and balls.
There is no room for error for some of these puzzles; while some bouts have checkpoints in case you mess up the procedure, others like certain story dungeons with breakable crates and balls will require you to restart the segment if you so much as have them go out of bounds. Though that’s the appeal of Immortals Fenyx Rising: you feel very smart after conquering these hellish-yet-smartly-crafted bits. My favourite ones tend to be the ones where you change the direction of wind and figure out how to move certain crates and blocks to create a path for your giant-ass metal ball. And also the platforming bits that accompany said wind elements. Heck, this game made me appreciate the simplicities of mosaic puzzles, one of the many banes of my existence.
It’s a pity then that the other segment, the fighting, comes off as pretty simplistic and easy to barrel through. You have your standard sword attack, your heavy axe attack to break enemy defenses, your dodges that enables slowdown if you perfectly time it, and a parry that stuns enemies if pulled off right. All well and good, right? You also have special abilities you can unlock if you spend time exploring and getting the required materials for upgrades, from a tiny phoenix divebomb that stuns even the biggest foes to an upward spears-filled launcher that increases stun damage tenfold.
Once 12 hours of exploration and collecting has passed, and you are crafty with your upgrades, you can pretty much get away with mashing attack and dodge to get through battles unscathed. In fact, later boss battles are laughably easy once you’re halfway powered up. Combat isn’t terrible by any stretch of the imagination, butÂ Devil May Cry this ain’t.
Immortals: Fenyx Rising is not going to win any awards for originality. Nor is it going to hide its clear Nintendo-based (or Skyrim-based) inspiration from its colour palette to stamina system. But it is charming most of the time, features a lush Greek god island to explore that’s filled with secrets and discoverables, and contains a ton of brain-teasers mixed in with some light-yet-hearty combat. That’s more than enough to justify its existence within the open-world action gaming space, especially if it’s delivered with a genuine level of sincerity and beauty.
Plus, your weapons don’t break after 10 seconds of use and you don’t have to fiddle your JoyCon for a few seconds just to fire your goddamn bow. Already it’s superior to its inspiration in the ways that matters the most.