Immortals: Fenyx Rising Review

11/30/2020 - 12:00 | By: Dylan Wilby
Developer
Ubisoft
Publisher
Ubisoft
Release Date
December 3, 2020
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A Whimsical Adventure That Flies A Little Too Close To The Sun

Immortals: Fenyx Rising is first and foremost a whistle-stop tour through Greek mythology. As such, it's highly appropriate that its staff have sown the seeds for an origin myth of its own. According to an interview with Ubisoft Quebec's Scott Phillips in Game InformerImmortals was borne out of a glitch in Assassin's Creed Odyssey. "There was a bug at the time where you’d be sailing on your trireme and instead of having a normal human crew, you’d have a crew of cyclops," Phillips explained. They knew it wasn't right for Assassin's Creed, a series that has tended to ground itself in historical events.

The story goes that this curious code malfunction provided the spark for what eventually became Immortals: Fenyx Rising. The team at Ubisoft Quebec that worked on Odyssey wanted the chance to throw realism to the wind and dive headfirst into the mythology of Ancient Greece. Overall, I'm glad that they did. Immortals: Fenyx Rising may be rushed, repetitive, and derivative but, at its best, it provides a richly rewarding and enjoyable gameplay experience that functions as a foil to the Assassin's Creed franchise.

Still, even at this stage, it seems clear that Immortals' hallmark writing style has proven divisive. It was supposedly influenced by The Princess Bride. It definitely doesn't live up to this comparison and a lot of people that I've spoken to who played the demo actively loathe the dialogue. I actually liked it for the most part. I have to say, I think the writing standard of video games as a whole is so low that you can get away with a lot. The writing in Immortals can be clunky and stilted at times but so many games take themselves so seriously that the silliness and whimsy was a nice change.

Immortals' story is narrated by a quirky interpretation of Zeus and Prometheus. Prometheus is the earnest but pained storyteller and Zeus the cynical boor who interrupts him with barbed remarks. It's a tried and tested formula but it fits the bill here. Yes, some of the jokes are cringey and the writing is, shall we say, loose at times. But given the desire from the developers to immerse the game in Greek mythology, the narration style allows the fairly painless exposition of lots of tangentially-related mythical tales without it becoming too oppressive.

 
 
Zeus and Prometheus screenshot
This dynamic duo will amuse and irritate in equal measure.

As with any origin story, there's probably a kernel of truth in Phillips' story swaddled with exaggeration and romanticization. The Assassin's Creed glitch story sets the scene quite nicely but, like any good legend, there are competing narratives. If Zeus could interject at this point, he'd probably suggest that Ubisoft Quebec is trying to capitalize on Nintendo's failure to spill the beans on a sequel to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the WildGenshin Impact has managed to steal away a decent amount of the audience but I'm sure there's plenty to go around. Why else would they be releasing it on the Switch?

Immortals of Zelda: Breath of the Fenyx

The comparisons to Breath of the Wild are have been well-plumbed already. Nobody could deny that Immortals borrows heavily from the Switch masterpiece, from the art style to gameplay. The Golden Isle bears more than a passing resemblance to Hyrule. Even more striking is how similar the abilities of Fenyx, the eponymous hero of Immortals, are to those wielded by Link. Fenyx soars on the wings of Icarus much like Link glides through Hyrule on his Paraglider. Their so-called Godly Powers are modeled heavily on the Sheikah Slate of Breath of the Wild.

Considering all of that, the popular conception of Immortals: Fenyx Rising as a crossover between Assassin's Creed Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is obvious but pretty much on the money. Sadly, I don't think it's as good as either of its progenitors.

Cyclops and Fenyx screenshot
The cyclops isn't much of a looker but he really packs a punch.

By this point, some of you will probably be crying out for a crumb of context from the plot. I know, I know, that's usually a review's bread and butter. But the story isn't a strong point of Immortals and that's why I've taken so long to get round to it. Some of the dialogue is funny and the background info that Prometheus gives you about the mythical characters you encounter is nice. On the whole, though, I didn't pay too much attention during cutscenes and don't think I missed out on much.

I've put 40 hours into the game and it's so long that I'm still not sure if the story picks up more towards the end. I'd be surprised if it does but, as Fenyx themselves find out, stranger things have happened at sea.

Basically, the hero wakes up from a shipwreck on the mysterious Golden Isle to discover that the rest of the crew, including their brother, have been turned to stone. The culprit is generic bad guy Typhon who doesn't say much aside from variations of "grr, look how powerful I am". You then meet Hermes who tasks you with freeing various members of the Godly pantheon from Typhon's power. Each God or Goddess has a section of the Golden Isle devoted to them and the quests to release their essences. For instance, Aphrodite's area is lush, green, and beautiful whereas Ares' War Den is barren and fiery.

 

From The Ashes

The game starts well with a decidedly modern approach to character creation. Fenyx can have a masculine or feminine body. Whichever you pick, you can then choose a masculine or feminine voice. Customization isn't limited according to gender, so you can have a feminine character with a beard and deep voice or a masculine character with androgynous features and a high voice. This sounds similar to the approach taken by the hotly anticipated Cyberpunk 2077 and hopefully, will set the standard for character creation in the future.

Sadly, the Afro-Caribbean hairstyle options are limited but you don't get a big selection to choose from full stop. I couldn't give my character the lush golden curls that I have in real life, for example.

Anyway, once you've got Fenyx looking how you want, you dive right into life on the Golden Isle. The graphical compromises in the Switch adaptation that I personally played are obvious compared to the PC footage I've seen over the past few weeks. The cutscenes are particularly poorly rendered, with an uncanny valley effect making the characters look and move like humanoid robots. The rest of the game looks good but isn't quite on the level of Breath of the Wild, given that was designed with the Switch's hardware in mind. Still, the animated and colorful graphics match the light-hearted tone of the game nicely.

The Labors of Hercules (or in This Case, Fenyx)

Most of the 40 hours I spent in the Golden Isle were occupied by just traveling around. This is a good thing, given that traversal in Immortals is an absolute joy. Fenyx is a very able climber who can quickly shimmy up any cliff or mountain as long as you have a large enough stamina bar or a couple of stamina potions handy. Once you've scaled the nearest big rock, you can use your wings to glide around at your leisure. Ubisoft Quebec clearly put a lot of effort into making traveling around as enjoyable as possible. Once you've got past the game's introduction, you can pretty much go wherever you want, and exploring the mountains, valleys, and temples of the Golden Isle is great fun.

 

On your travels, you'll frequently encounter enemies who you can battle to complete quests, gain resources, and sometimes unlock chests. The enemy variety is pretty limited but, other than that, combat is richly complex and satisfying, treading the line between player empowerment and challenge very well. You get a wide array of weapons and abilities to choose from and success in battle stems from using the right equipment at your disposal, reading your opponents’ attacks, dodging, strafing, and parrying. It's actually the one area where Immortals significantly improves on the gameplay of Breath of the Wild.

Coins of Charon, who you might recognize as the boatman who ferries souls across the river Styx, can be collected by doing various tasks around the island. You can then exchange these coins to increase and improve your abilities. You get a sword, ax, and bow to start with but, after a few hours of exploration, I'd saved up enough coins to be able to send enemies flying with Hephaistos' hammer and assault groups of foes with Ares' thicket of spears.

Fenyx and a harpy screenshot
Not an ideal range for a bow, let's be honest.

Like the Sheikah Slate, Herakles' gauntlets allow you to pick up and throw heavy objects. This ability comes in very useful when fighting some of Immortals' larger enemies like cyclops and minotaurs. Some foes will actually pick up and throw boulders at you and, if you're fast enough, you can catch them in mid-air and throw them back at them. This feels incredibly cool and is a testament to the effort Ubisoft Quebec has put into the fighting system.

The other key gameplay element is puzzles. You'll need to gather a lot of resources in Immortals to upgrade weapons and abilities and increase your health and stamina. A good source of resources is Vaults of Tartaros, Immortals version of Breath of the Wild's shrines. Each vault has a unique series of puzzles or enemies to overcome in order to get the treasure at the end. There's always a secret chest in the level which will require a bit of lateral thinking or exploration to unlock. I'm a sucker for a good puzzle and Immortals has them by the bucketload. Some of them are a little too obtuse and require a lot of trial and error to succeed but, on the whole, I found the puzzles to be equal parts challenging and rewarding.

So far, so good: the gameplay of Immortals really is great. It's outside of the gameplay that it starts to fall apart.

A Chore Called Quest

First of all, the quest system is a total mess. I couldn’t find a quest log anywhere in the inventory. The closest I could get was a list of active tasks but this was more a series of weekly and daily challenges, like ‘Complete seven Vaults of Tartaros’, rather than unique quests. The only way to look at your current quests is by finding them on the map and tracking them. You can also only track one quest at a time and can’t look back over quests you’ve completed. Oh dear.

I love the concept that all side quests are taken straight from Greek myth. As someone who studied a lot of classical literature at Uni (I know, get me), I had high hopes. Sadly, the source material often doesn't stretch far enough for satisfying gameplay. Some of the side quests just consist of finding a cave or fetching an item and are basically an excuse for Prometheus' ramblings to start up. There were a few where I didn't even get a reward at the end. This might have been mitigated if the storytelling was engaging and poetic but don't expect anything rivaling Homer or Sophocles here. Considering Ancient Greece has such a strong and influential literary tradition, it was a shame to see that this isn't really capitalized on in Immortals. Some of the references are nice but barely any scratch the surface of myth.

The lack of a proper quest interface and limited scope of side quests is illustrative of a game that ultimately feels rushed. Ubisoft Quebec has clearly invested time into making sure the core gameplay loop is polished which is great. However, a lot of the game doesn't feel like the culmination of a labor of love and years of work. The storyline is generic, the writing is sometimes lazy and the quests are repetitive and lacking in imagination.

A distinct lack of polish becomes more evident the longer you play. Some of this might be unique to the Switch: issues like stuttering framerate, character models clipping through surfaces during cutscenes, and blocky textures. It has been a weird year. I can kind of forgive that sort of thing. Technical hitches aren’t the end of the world as far as I’m concerned. Still, there are some things that indicate the game was rushed.

Aphrodite and Fenyx screenshot
If you like big women, you're in for a treat. Aphrodite is absolutely massive.

For instance, one puzzle was located next to a battle encounter with a Legendary Beast. This meant that a colossal boar charged into me while I was trying to fit some fractured pieces of a huge stone fresco together. Not ideal.

Another thing that bugged me is that enemy AIs don’t seem to know how to respond to your verticality. By this I mean that a lot of enemies are completely confounded if you stand on a ledge in front of them. As I played on Hard mode, often the best way to overcome the artificial difficulty of the enemies was to just stand a little bit higher than them. It’s over Achilles! I have the high ground!

The Illusion of Choice

Ultimately, it sometimes feels like Ubisoft Quebec have missed the point in their emulation of Breath of the Wild. Its joys don't stem from prettiness or a complex battle system. You keep playing Breath of the Wild because of the irrepressible feeling that there's something new just beyond the horizon. Some hidden but deep and rich part of the world waiting to be discovered. You never get that sense in the Golden Isle and that's Immortals' greatest downfall. You can't fault the subject matter: it's no overstatement that Immortals' source material is the foundation for a lot of modern culture. What you can fault is the time that has been invested into this game.

Medusa screenshot
The one creature uglier than cyclops. What happened to games catering to the male gaze?!

In the end, it feels paradoxically like Immortals tries to do too much but it also doesn't do enough. There are so many different abilities, weapons, so-called Godly Powers, collectibles, and enemies that it crowds your brain while playing. It's also fair to say that a lot of the quests are just the same battles and fetch quests, repeated again and again and again. Nothing you do feels truly urgent or meaningful. The Golden Isle is sprawling and densely populated with points of interest but also feels strangely empty. You want an open world to feel lived in and bursting with secrets.

In an age of endless remakes, spin-offs, and, even worse, remasters - something especially prevalent on the Switch - I take my hat off to Ubisoft Quebec for taking a risk on a completely new IP that grew organically as a daydream bastard child of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. It succeeds more than it fails but I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a lot of areas for improvement. I hope they look at the genealogy of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as a source of inspiration. The first game was deeply flawed but held a lot of promise. Ubisoft addressed its shortcomings with the fantastic Assassin's Creed II and haven't looked back since.

There’s a lot of good stuff in this game that I want to see more of: the rich but accessible combat mechanics, the delightful exploration of a stunning world, the immersion in ancient mythology. I’d love to see what Ubisoft could do with Norse mythology or the Hindu pantheon in the future but there's a lot to sort out if this series is going to have any longevity. It's a fun game but there's not a lot of reason to buy it if you can just play Breath of the Wild again instead.


TechRaptor reviewed Immortals: Fenyx Rising on Nintendo Switch with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on Xbox One, Xbox Series S|X, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, PC, and Google Stadia.

Review Summary

7.0
Immortals: Fenyx Rising is a vast and entertaining adventure with excellent gameplay. Unfortunately, the storyline and quest system are weak and the game feels rushed. It's a fun game but one that lives in Breath of the Wild's shadow.

Pros

  • Satisfying and Rich Combat Mechanics
  • Traveling Around The Huge Map is a Joy
  • Rewarding Puzzles

Cons

  • Terrible Quest System
  • Distinct Lack of Polish
  • Repetitive Gameplay

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