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Immortals: Fenyx Rising Review – Sleeper Hit of 2020?

Immortals: Fenyx Rising Review

Immortals: Fenyx Rising shares a lot of DNA with Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, like its use of Greek mythology and its open-world packed with distractions. But it’s more like a streamlined Odyssey – a smaller, tighter world that tempts you with wonderful views and things to explore. It’s a tale of Gods and Monsters, of action and comedy. And it’s the best thing Ubisoft have put out in a while, possibly even enticing folk who have gotten soured by the repeated Ubisoft template. There’s a little dash of Zelda, too, which is great if you don’t own a Nintendo platform but want to feel what Breath of the Wild is all about, and if you squint there’s even a little bit of Darksiders. This might just be one of the year’s sleeper hits.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising (should have stuck with Gods and Monsters for the name, Ubisoft) isn’t as absurdly huge as its Assassin’s Creed cousin, either. I put in 25-hours before calling it a day, with the main storyline wrapped up somewhere around hour 20. Completionists will probably get another 5-10 hours out of it, making this a modestly sized title compared to the 100+ hours of Odyssey. Sure, there’s a lot to be said about absurdly huge games overflowing with content, but I’d argue that the new Assassin’s Creed games are getting too fat for their own good. They need to eat a salad or two. Maybe go on a run.

Available On: Xbox, Playstation, Switch, PC
Reviewed On: PS5
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Publisher: Ubisoft

Review code provided by Ubisoft

You play as either a female or male Fenyx, a shield-bearer who washes up on the shore of the Golden Isle, home of the Greek Gods. The rest of your shipmates have been turned into stone, including your brother, the perfect Greek warrior who single-handedly wiped out a fleet of ships and probably wins a medal every day before lunch. Turns out some ancient evil by the name of Typhon has escaped his captivity and appears to be responsible for your current troubles. Plus, the giant douchebag has stripped the Gods of their essences, turning the once mighty Ares into a cowardly chicken and transformed the logical Athena into a child who can’t make her mind up about anything. So, with the help of Hermes you’re going to rescue Athena, Aphrodite, Ares and Hephaistos by travelling to their respective area of the Golden Isle and finding their essences. Along the way, many puzzles will be solved, many monsters will be slain and many jokes will be told.

If Odyssey was a Greek tragedy with some humour thrown in, then Immortals: Fenyx Rising is a Greek comedy that loves to play around with classic mythology. It pokes fun at how Zeus is a dick to his kids, sort of skirts around the whole incest thing (Greek mythology is crazy shit) and even has a laugh at the story of how Aphrodite was born when Prometheus whispers the actual story to Zeus who lets out a sound of disgust. Yes, Prometheus, the Titan who gave fire to the mortals, acts as the story’s narrator, gamely attempting to tell an epic story while Zeus constantly butts in with wisecracks and comments about everything. For some people the constant flow of jokes and puns might grate, especially if you aren’t a fan of Borderlands, but personally, I was chuckling and smiling the whole way through. Not every joke lands, but most of them do and its such a cheerful, airy take on Greek mythology. Its best described as a series of Dad jokes, which is fitting since Zeus; parental shortcomings are a large part of the plot.

As for Fenyx, she’s a little underdeveloped but still very likeable. She arrives on the island having lived her life under the shadow of her heroic brother, and is more than happy to help out the Gods. She goes full fan-girl, losing her shit over the fact that she’s talking to Ares and doing quests for Athena. She actually reminds me of Kamala Kahn from the recent Avengers game, happy to be in the presence of her heroes and revelling in the chance to prove her own worth. There’s no development over the course of the story for Fenyx – she starts as a happy person who is always willing to help out, and ends as a happy person who is always willing to help out, but can now also kick some serious arse and has an armoury the size of a house. While I would have liked for Fenyx to get a more nuanced characterization, it works for the style of game Immortals: Fenyx Rising.

The Golden Isle is a wonderous place filled with colour, puzzles, temples and towering statues. It’s split into different zones, each reflecting the God that lives there. Aphrodite’s Valley of Spring is full of lush gardens, beautiful greenery and an elegant palace devoted to the Goddess of Love and Pleasure. On the other end of the spectrum, the land of Hephaistos is dominated by a massive forge which you’ll spend an entire questline trying to restart. Each area of the Golden Isle is visually distinctive, a little world in itself. And those visuals…ooooooooooh, baby! There’s a sort of classic Disney vibe to the colours and designs at work in Immortals: Fenyx Rising. Almost everywhere you go there’s something lovely to look at like a waterfall that leads into a valley, a bear sitting on a cliff edge or an epic vista that stretches out before you.

I love how the world is unabashedly a video game world. Let me explain that one: a lot of open-worlds want to look and feel real to immerse you into the action. It’s an admirable goal and we’ve seen lots of amazing developers craft intricate worlds that seek to immerse you through things like crowds of NPCs and realistic graphics They are worlds that just so happen to have video games take place in them But Immortals: Fenyx Rising eschews that and takes delight in the fact that its world is designed first and foremost for a game. It’s a lush landscape that’s peppered with inexplicable puzzles and chests that have no logical reason for existing. It’s like someone ate a puzzle-cookie and couldn’t be bothered to clean up the puzzle-crumbs. There’s no time wasted on useless NPCs who have lives to live or on trying to justify why there’s a magical laser puzzle right there. Nor is it some gigantic world where the size becomes so vast and cumbersome that its boring. Too often open-worlds are just space and nothing more. Big swathes of space that exist for no other than reason to be huge and to make travelling a pain in the ass. The world of Fenyx Rising is big but not overly big, meaning you can glance around and see a dozen different places to explore. The hills and dips of the land are strategically placed so that you can always be spotting something. And when you climb up up the world stretches away into the distance, and you can spy dozens upon dozens of things to check out. It’s an addictive place to spend time in because there’s always something just over the hill to do.

Getting around the island is a lot of fun, too. You can climb almost anything, the only major limitation being your stamina. Admittedly, the climbing is annoyingly slow, but the map makes plenty of use of verticality thanks to massive statues and forts and temples. Each of the four zones boasts a statue with a special viewpoint that unfogs the map, and it’s a joy to clamber up the inside of Aphrodite’s legs to get there*cough*. Climbing around is worth it because you can use the wings of Icarus to glide around, merrily cruising the Golden Isle from on high. There’s an optional upgrade that lets you hold down a button to fold in your wings and put on a burst of speed, really letting you cover long distances before your stamina runs out. I never got bored of gliding around, and some of the missions lean in to your ability to fly when it comes to the platforming.

Speaking of the missions, Immortals: Fenyx Rising consistently managed to tweak things to keep the story entertaining. Each of the four God’s has their own questline. There’s no limits on where you can go from the start, so you’re free to tackle the Gods in whatever order you want. The only speedbumps you run into is some enemies being strong, but the way combat is designed you can still take down powerful opponents without bothering to upgrade your kit, stamina and health. In each sequence of quests the developers find fun ways to play around with their mechanics, be it rolling a pearl into the sea or a slog up a massive mountain.

In typical Ubisoft fashion there’s a first-person mode that lets you scan the world and then pull R2 to highlight chests and challenges and more. Weirdly the game implies you can only do this from each zone’s major vantage point, but you can actually do it whenever you want. It even lets you scan through the word, so you can magically spot a chest through a hill a mile away. But you should just turn this stuff off or ignore it, because the world is so fun to explore without needing to scan it all. Using this scanner is like a slap in the face to whoever patiently designed the world to gently nudge players towards the next cool thing.

At first glance Immortals: Fenyx Rising looks like a straight action game. But there’s a lot more puzzle solving in Immortals: Fenyx Rising than I was expecting. Nearly every chest or activity or mission requires some blocks to be pushed around or fires to be lit, and that’s not counting the puzzle-heavy Tartaros Vaults or the massive God Vaults that act as the climax to each God’s storyline. There’s about a dozen mechanics to play with, from guiding arrows and levitating huge blocks to shooting triggers and blocking laser beams. Most of them are things you’ve done in other games, but that doesn’t matter because Fenyx Rising uses them to craft entertaining scenarios that are challenging without being frustrating. At most I would get stuck on a puzzle for 10 or 15 minutes before discovering what I was missing, and when I did figure it satisfying.

The more complex puzzles are saved for the mostly optional Vaults of Tartaros, and the mandatory God vaults. These arw where the developers stretch their thinking muscles a tad, lashing together their mechanics into new and exciting ways to give you a headache. You’ll unleash a rolling ball and race it to the finish so that you can shove it into a recess, or you’ll coral levitating blocks by throwing them or guiding them into air currents, even occasionally riding them around. You’ll shoot switches to swap the direction of the wind to try to move three crates on pressure plates, or work out that concrete blocks can be broken down into smaller pieces to activate multiple triggers. A lot of these challenges can even have multiple solutions, and a couple of optional upgrades make certain puzzles a breeze. Top-tip: the upgrade that lets you lift heavier objects is dead handy.

I love this heavy focus on the puzzles. They feel like they’re given just as much time as the combat and the story, making them an essential, rewarding part of the whole game and making Immortals: Fenyx Rising stand apart from other Ubisoft games.

Fighting in Fenxy Rising borrows a bit from Assassin’s Creed, too, in terms of the controls. R1 unleashes a light sword attack that also regenerates your Stamina, which in turn powers your God powers, while R2 is for heavy axe attacks. These build up the enemy stun meter, and when that’s filled foes enter a dazed state and take extra damage. For defending you have a dodge and a parry. A perfect dodge provides a brief moment of slowed-time, and parries can open up room for a counter attack. It’s a very simple system that’s all about mastering your timing of block and dodge. It’s a little too simplistic and the enemy variety isn’t very good, but it also feels nice, is responsive and never wore out its welcome, even after pummelling hundreds of foes.

There’s a small selection of God powers to play around with too, accessed by holding down L1. You can call on your feathered friend to unleash some fireballs, or you can summon up a mighty hammer to smash some foes. All of them use up your stamina, so you can’t just spam them.

There’s a bow…but it’s kind of useless. Maybe it was just me, but the draw time on the bow and the damage it dealt made it a slow and cumbersome weapon stuck in the middle of quite fast combat. It can be useful for dealing with flying harpies and such, but there are other, better tools for those.

Strewn across the Golden Isle like a trail of Skittle stolen by a grinning toddler whose running away from their mother after a successful sweetie heist are chests packed with resources and gear. Instead of a never-ending stream of loot ike what was seen in Assassin’s Creed; Odyssey, though, Fenyx Rising takes it cues from Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla. Loot isn’t hurled at your face all the time, instead it’s dished out at a reasonably slow pace unless you deliberately go on a spate of opening up chests. And each piece of gear has exactly the same stats as another of the same type. In other words, one sword does the same damage as another. One helmet offers exactly the same protection as another. That’s because when you spend resources upgrade, say your sword, you’re upgrading ALL of your swords. So what makes it worth hunting down gear? Perks. Aside from just looking different, every item comes with perks like increasing your damage when you’re in the air, tripling headshot damage or adding extra stamina.

I’ve got mixed thoughts on the loot. On the one hand, I liked hunting down new armour simply to see what there was. There’s even new skins for weapons and armour to find for extra customisation. I like to look my best, and if that means having to raid more ancient temples than Lara Croft on a bender, so be it. As for each piece of loot having a unique perk that sets it apart, I like that to, at least in principle. In reality, while the perks were a nice bonus they weren’t enough to keep me considering different gear. I usually just whacked on whatever armour I liked the look of and left it at that. The perks rarely offered enough of a difference in how I’d play the game to justify them.

Considering how Fenyx Rising feels like a lighter, fitter version of Assassin’s Creed it’s a little odd that one specific area its weirdly bloated. I speak of the dozen different currencies. There are four different colours of gems for upgrading weapons, four different coloured ingredients for potions, Zeus’ Lightening for increase stamina, Ambrosia for health, Coins of Charon for buying skills, and finally there’s Elektrum for buying premium items from Hermes. You get used to it quickly enough, but it’s still odd that in a game which feels so refreshingly streamlined by Ubisoft’s standards that the developers opted to have so many different forms of currency.

Even side-quests are kept to a minimum. There’s just a few optional questlines to tackle, each of which feels worth doing. That isn’t to say there isn’t other stuff to do, though: the island has loads of optional activities that earn you the resources to upgrade Fenyx and her gear, plus there are Legendary and Mythical monsters to find and fight. There’s even mounts to locate and tame.

On PS5 you get the option of a 60FPS performance mode, and a second mode that halves the framerate in exchange for some prettier visuals. Other than that and the fast load times, there isn’t a whole lot to talk about when it comes to the PS5 version of the game. The visual mode does look nice but it isn’t worth sacrificing half the frame, and the adaptive triggers and haptic feedback of the Dualsense barely get used. Hopefully, companies like Ubisoft that develop multiplatform games will support these features more down the line.

The building blocks of Fenyx Rising are all recognizable. It isn’t a game that sets out to reinvent the wheel or even show off the power of the new consoles. It’s a comfortably familiar blend of various ideas that have been done in other games, and that’s perfectly fine. Not every game needs to innovate, and Immortals: Fenyx Rising takes all those familiar mechanics and executes them with style. The Gold Isle is a beautiful place to explore, cleverly laid out to constantly entice you with another puzzle, another chest, another vault. The puzzles themselves are fun, inventive and satisfying to complete, while the simple but fluid combat manages to remain fun over the course of the story. And speaking of the story, it’s surprisingly engaging, riddled with Dad jokes and delightfully cheerful. This is the best Ubisoft game in a while, and perhaps a perfect remedy for those tired of the standard Ubisoft formula.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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