Sing, O Muse, of the journey of Fenyx, the hero who conquered the Golden Isle and returned the gods to their true forms by breaking the curse of Typhon. Sing also, O Muse, of... two angry old men providing color commentary every step of the way?
Immortals Fenyx Rising is Fenyx's story. Right? After all, it's right there in the title, isn't it?
Well...actually, it's not that simple.
In open-world adventure games, the issue of narration is a difficult one to address. How do the games' writers convey the story of a singular protagonist, who achieves their goals in no particular order, spends long stretches of time accomplishing side tasks unrelated to the main narrative, and more often than not travels alone, without convenient party members to have backstory- and lore-rich conversations with? Different writers have experimented with different solutions. The Witcher has his bard, the Assassins have their modern-day descendants, Breath of the Wild's Link has photographs that gradually restore his missing memories... and Fenyx has the back-and-forth banter between Zeus, King of the Gods, and the chained Titan Prometheus.
Iliad, Odyssey, Aeneid... Fenyx-iad?
The framing narrative of Immortals Fenyx Rising begins with a bet. Zeus, disillusioned with mortals and convinced they are weak and useless, challenges Prometheus to prove him wrong. Prometheus, humanity's staunchest champion ever since he defied the gods and brought humans fire, rises to the challenge with the tale of Fenyx. Zeus even agrees that, if the Titan can change his mind about humans, he'll free Prometheus from the less-than-pleasant fate of having his liver endlessly devoured and re-devoured by eagles. So no pressure, right?
From there, Prometheus goes on to spin the tale of a low-ranking shield-bearer who discovers that they have washed ashore on the Golden Isle, home of the gods. Their entire crew has been turned into stone by Typhon, the father of monsters, who wishes to see the era of the gods brought to a brutal end. Aided by the weapons and relics of heroes long past, Fenyx must free four gods—Aphrodite, Ares, Athena, and Hephaistos—from Typhon's curse, solving puzzles, and taking down monsters along the way.
It's an inspired choice, one which brings the narrative to the forefront during key plot-related scenes and allows it to take a backseat when Fenyx is simply exploring or completing side quests. Every so often, even outside the main plot, Prometheus and/or Zeus will pop up to explain the context behind the myth-themed puzzles and challenges scattered around the Isle. These asides are genuinely informative, discussing some lesser-known Greek myths and revealing facts about the gods and heroes which the player might not have previously known. Even a lifetime Greek mythology fan will probably come away from this game with at least a little bit of new knowledge.
Something For Everyone, A Comedy Tonight
Prometheus attempts to spin the tale in a proper heroic fashion, with lots of flowery language and poetic phrasing. Zeus, however, is not so patient. He constantly interjects, begging Prometheus to get to the point. He complains when the Titan points out one of his many flaws. He childishly demands more fight scenes, more thunder and lightning, and more monsters. When Fenyx embarks on a side quest, he delivers a rather meta plea to "get back to the main plot already, Fenyx!"
The end result is something between the framing narrative of the film The Princess Bride, in which an old man reads a fairy tale to his grandson, and an ancient Greek Statler and Waldorf of Muppets fame. Zeus and Prometheus are an extremely effective comedy duo, with the King of the Gods acting surprisingly like a whiny child and Prometheus growing more and more frustrated as the story continues. It's effective and informative, true, but it's also absolutely hilarious.
The decision to make Immortals Fenyx Rising's narration so comical is a good one. Greek mythology is a dark topic, filled with death, betrayal, war, and revenge. The game does not shy away from addressing topics such as infidelity (Aphrodite's affair with Ares while being married to Hephaistos), discrimination (Hephaistos' poor treatment by the other gods), and even assault (Zeus's various conquests, particularly Europa, and Helen of Troy's lack of autonomy when forced by Aphrodite to fall for Paris). The humorous tone makes these darker myths bearable, without trying to cover them up completely.
Even crass jokes, so easily made infantile and disgusting, are handled surprisingly well. One of the game's funniest scenes comes when Prometheus learns that the other gods and Titans had hidden the secret of Aphrodite's birth from Zeus. He is convinced that the goddess of love and beauty was born from a pearl and sea foam, while the true components of her creation were a severed testicle and... well, not sea foam. Rather than coming across as gross, as it easily could have, the scene is essentially one fully grown adult giving "The Talk" to another and (both metaphorically and literally) banging his head against the wall at just how naive and sheltered Zeus can truly be.
Unfortunately, not all of the humor lands. Zeus's repeated reference to Hera as the archetypal "nagging sitcom wife" grows stale after a while. As Hera herself does not make an appearance in the game, and thus cannot defend herself, this comes across as particularly uncomfortable. However, this is one small misstep in what is genuinely an extremely funny story, so it is definitely forgivable.
Zeus Won't Be Getting A "#1 Dad" Mug
By far, the greatest triumph of Immortals Fenyx Rising's decision to handle narration in this manner is not its educational nature or even its humor. It is the way in which this choice humanizes the Greek gods, especially Zeus. Although Fenyx is the protagonist and gains confidence and skill as their journey continues, Immortals is just as much Zeus's story. While his role is that of a narrator, he undergoes a surprising amount of development throughout the story.
It is no accident that the four gods Fenyx is tasked with rescuing are all gods Zeus has not treated particularly well. He realizes as Prometheus' tale continues, exactly how he has failed each one of them. At the beginning of the game, he prides himself on choosing to marry Aphrodite to Hephaistos, claiming he killed two birds with one stone by "satisfying" his disabled son while keeping the flirty Aphrodite away from other men. It is only when he realizes how miserable the two are, and how genuine Aphrodite's feelings are for Ares (and to a lesser extent Hermes) that Zeus is forced to admit that he may have made a mistake.
Hephaistos' section of the story is the most tragic and emotional, with Zeus forced to admit just how badly he has treated the god of the forge simply for his disfigurement. As Fenyx progresses through Hephaistos' dungeon in order to regain the master craftsman's godly essence, Zeus starts out by insisting that his cruel treatment was a good thing, as it made him a "tormented artist" who created many wonderful things. It is only when Hephaistos is forced to choose between regaining his essence—and with it, his memories of pain and despair—and continuing life as a simple automaton without his powers, and Zeus sees how hard the choice is for the conflicted god, that he is finally able to admit just how badly he has failed.
Even Athena, Zeus's favorite child, is not spared the suffering. Zeus realizes that he and the other gods had relied too much on her wisdom and knowledge. When said wisdom is stolen by Typhon, Athena is tormented and feels helpless and useless, quickly turning to false prophecies and unwise strategies to guide her just to prove that she is still worth something. Zeus's genuine sorrow at what Typhon has done to his beloved child is heartbreaking to hear.
Overall, Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of the most human portrayals of Zeus in modern media. He's not just the all-powerful king of the gods; he's a selfish, naive, less-than-successful father who neglected both his own children and the humans he helped to create. At the climax of the game, Prometheus reveals that Typhon was able to gain control of the Golden Isle because Zeus had lost faith in humanity, which weakened the equally faith-based powers of himself and the other gods. It's a truly heartbreaking moment for both Zeus and the player, and one that stays with you long after the game has been completed.
"How to handle narration" is a question that the developers of each and every open-world game will have to address. Not all attempts will succeed, but Immortals Fenyx Rising certainly has. It's a well-mixed blend of humor and both heartwarming and heartbreaking moments. Best of all, the narrators Zeus and Prometheus are not just there to play the role of a storyteller but receive genuine character development of their own along the way.