Immortals Fenyx Rising review

By Luke Albigés,
It's extremely weird to hear the words "burn, baby, burn!" come out of the mouth of a Greek god. It's but one of many cultural references to things that won't exist for millions of years in a totally different, non-fictional universe made by the characters of Immortals Fenyx Rising. And you know what? We don't hate it. Just as it does with Assassin's Creed, Ubisoft is using existing source material — here Greek mythology, where AC uses landmark periods from history — as the basis for a new story, and for its flaws, Immortals manages to riff on the familiar characters and fables from one of the most famous pantheons of all, weaving a surprisingly novel twist on the tales of gods and monsters of old. And one where Zeus, king of the gods, quotes disco legends The Trammps. But hey, it's 2020. That kind of thing just happens now, apparently. While Immortals' writing might not exactly be the stuff of legend, its free-flowing movement, satisfying combat, and engaging exploration still ensure that the game has more than enough of the key pillars in place to support a fantastic experience nonetheless.

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Protagonist Fenyx's options start out incredibly simple — move, jump, climb — with the first hour or so of the game layering on new kit at a solid pace. Before you know it, you've got a sword for light attacks, an axe for heavy blows, wings for additional mobility, bracers that allow you to move heavy objects around... everything you need to get an adventure started, basically. Controls feel oddly assigned at the beginning, but it soon becomes clear why: there simply aren't enough buttons on the controller to map everything Fenyx can do in the most logical way. Things fall into place quickly enough in any case, but it does still feel a little unnatural for the first few hours having your basic attacks on the shoulder buttons, and some of the more complex commands can occasionally cause problems in more intense sets of inputs late in the game. When it works, though, it works. There's a glorious flow to everything once you get all your abilities unlocked — within the space of a few seconds, you can go from galloping along on your rainbow pegasus to launching into the air on the Wings of Daidalos, dive-bombing down a cliff with your feathered friend Phosphor as your wingman, launching off of a legion of Ares' warriors to bounce back up to head height on the towering cyclops that is approaching, then delivering a mighty wallop to the face with Hephaistos' gargantuan hammer. It all just feels wonderfully natural (once the controls click, at least, which they should have done by the time all those options are available to you), and the potential is near bottomless.

The core combat systems are simple enough, with sword attacks being reliable but not that powerful, while slower axe attacks can put out more damage and also stun enemies. Sword attacks also slowly recover your own stamina gauge, effectively building meter to power your stronger abilities, like normal attacks in a fighting game. Each foe (even the majority of bosses) has a blue bar beneath its health and when you inflict enough stun damage, they're out for the count for a good while, giving you an opening for some free damage. You've also got a bow for ranged attacks, and an arsenal of Godly Powers that can really turn the tide of battle, although they chew through stamina so can't be too heavily abused. How you put all that together is up to you and depending on what you want from the game, combat could be as simple as Dynasty Warriors or as flashy as Devil May Cry. In terms of defensive options, Fenyx doesn't have a shield (despite being called a shieldbearer repeatedly in the story, which is odd) so can't block attacks, although invulnerability on the dodge is fairly generous and there's even a parry which inflicts extra stun damage to attackers when timed perfectly — great for those who like a good risk/reward mechanic as much as we do. Fenyx's tool set is stacked, and encounters are every bit as thrilling as you want to make them. The mechanics are robust enough that skilled players will be able to punch well above their weight and still come away unscratched, and that's the sign of a really good action game in our book.

Immortals Fenyx Rising

Immortals is framed by having the imprisoned titan Prometheus regale good ol' Zeus with the tale of Fenyx, a mortal on their quest to become a hero of legend. Prometheus' storytelling is elaborate and flavourful (even down to him offering flowery descriptions of the various customisation options in the character creator as you piece together your own personal style for Fenyx), with Zeus largely played for laughs. He's quick to interject with snide quips, irreverent asides, and plenty of complaints, and while it's certainly an interesting framework, the writing just isn't strong enough for it to hold up most of the time. Most of the humour is as toothless as a straight-to-DVD kids' movie, which makes the dips into more risqué subject matter (pretty much unavoidable in the incestuous world of Greek mythology) just come across as crass and off-tone. It's not just the narration that suffers from this, either. Most of the dialogue falls into the same trap, and Zeus always having to have the last word even when he's got nothing of value to add quickly gets old, even if that's the point. Not every conversation needs a punchline, and there are plenty of exchanges here that would actually have been funnier without one. Still, it'll elicit the odd chuckle when gags do occasionally find their mark, and the few moments where Zeus and Prometheus impact gameplay with their unreliable narrator tangents are some of the best parts of their roles here.

The tame, hit-and-mostly-miss writing is the worst part of the game, then, but it's one of Immortals' few notable flaws. The only other thing that comes close is the art style, and while we were pretty down on it when the game first got re-revealed, it didn't take long for us to come around to it. As generic as it may feel at first, you quickly discover that the gameplay is so fast and fluid that this clean style really just makes it easier to keep up with everything that's going on — with a busier art style, the action would have likely been too messy to follow, which is one of the reasons similar games such as Breath of the Wild and Genshin Impact also opt for simpler visual styles. Human characters can still look a little awkward in slower scenes (as much due to some odd animation as to the models themselves), but everything else, from the rich, colour-drenched environments to the weird and wonderful cast of classic creatures, just looks great. Gazing out from the top of one of the gods' statues (which of course you have to climb to reveal the map, because it's a Ubisoft game) and being able to see for miles around really drives home the scale of the world. And not only is it huge, but it's packed, too.

In a clever twist, though, it only ever feels as packed as you want it to feel. Optional activities aren't flagged up on the map by default, but can be added by either stumbling upon them on your travels or by using Far Sight from a vantage point to mark them. Players who enjoy the thrill of exploration can simply choose not to use Far Sight at all, completionists can spend minutes at a time documenting every last chest and activity within range, and those who don't like feeling overwhelmed can just mark up a few at a time, which typically end up replacing themselves naturally as you chance upon another discovery on the way to or from the last one. It's a fantastic solution that lets players decide how their experience is presented and plays out, and even the story waypoints aren't always made as simple as 'follow the dot.' Immortals definitely feels like it's pushing you to explore its dense world, but to do so at your own pace. You'll likely want to anyway, just because all of the themed biomes — from Ares' war-torn battlefields to Aphrodite's lush forests and gardens — feel significantly different and even present their own unique challenges.

Immortals Fenyx Rising leak

There are plenty of ways in which open world games can fall down with regard to their settings, from being bland, barren, or boring, to cramming in a needless amount of repetitive busywork. Fenyx deftly dodges all such pitfalls (a benefit of having wings, we suppose) and shows off an impressive diversity in terms of puzzles, challenges, and other activities. Although the 'what' is often similar — be it switches, pressure plates, torches to light, or whatever else — it's the 'how' that makes these interesting. Some examples require you to think well outside the box, while others can be overcome with manipulations that feel almost like cheating, even when they're not. This allows these general world puzzles to feel organic and enjoyable before you even get to meatier tasks such as Myth Challenges (harp melodies to memorise, time trials, archery challenges, and all manner of other tests of mind and might) or the Tartarus Vaults.

These vaults are self-contained dungeons of sorts, with the variety and imagination on display across them all being a thing of beauty. Better yet, most are even themed around myths and legends that don't feature prominently in the main narrative, so you might find yourself tackling gruelling ball-rolling obstacle courses in the names of Sisyphus and Atlas, soaring through a laser-filled gliding maze while trying to avoid sharing poor Ikaros' fate, or working out a way to see through Dolos' devious trickery. A handful are just combat arenas, sure, but even these are lots of fun, especially if you go in a little underpowered and have to use environmental hazards and fleet footwork to get through in one piece. Most vaults have optional objectives that offer additional loot, although rewards are the one bad thing about these subterranean challenges — each offers a bolt of Zeus' lightning (which can be used to upgrade your stamina) so that's great, but once you've got a little bit of gear under your belt, subsequent drops of the same items just give you new palette swaps for them. There's little worse than toiling away for an hour to reach a well-hidden chest only to find a red version of a green hat you will never wear.

Immortals Fenyx Rising

Said gear is handled in a pretty interesting way. Base attack and defence figures are tied to Fenyx rather than the individual weapons and armour pieces, which instead offer unique perks and abilities that get upgraded as you boost Fenyx's inate stats. This allows for a great degree of flexibility to mix and match as the situation demands, and without having to worry about any particular piece of gear falling behind the others. Swap to a bow-boosting set for dealing with tricky ranged opponents; use gear that buffs you after dodging to get bonus damage against predictable opponents such as minotaurs; change into a set that offers stamina recovery if you lean on Godly Powers more than weapon attacks. Whatever your play style and whatever you're faced with, looting enough chests means you'll eventually be kitted out to deal with all of it.

As for the achievements, Immortals seems like a pretty standard open-world game list so far, although the actual list isn't live yet. Our sister site TrueTrophies does have the list, however, and it's not looking too scary. We popped around 600G in a single 30-hour playthrough, with only a handful of the unlocked achievements being for things that wouldn't be pretty much guaranteed to happen over the course of a standard run. These skill-based ones are pretty cool, and there will likely be gear perks that can be used to tame even the trickiest of them. Seems like it can all be done in one (long) run so long as you pretty much sweep the map, and thankfully there's nothing tied to the unlockable Nightmare difficulty. Which, as the name suggests, is quite challenging. Even Hard was no cakewalk, especially towards the end, although the exponential power boosts allow Fenyx to put out ridiculous damage by the end, which could potentially trivialise any of the lower difficulties.

Summary

Questionable writing aside, Immortals Fenyx Rising represents a strong start for Ubisoft's new IP. There's plenty more that could be done with the archives of Greek mythology left relatively untouched here — some of which will no doubt be covered in upcoming DLC — but the same format could easily be applied to other pantheons, just as Assassin's Creed uses different iconic time periods as its backdrop each instalment. Mechanics are fast, fluid, and flexible, while visuals are crisp, clean, and colourful, even if the art style might not be to everyone's tastes. The density and variety of activities packed into this gorgeous open world is undeniably excellent, and the freedom to approach it however you like helps you make your adventure your own. It's not the most original of games, with its basis being literally one of the oldest in the book and its gameplay coming straight out of the Breath of the Wild playbook, but there's a degree of creativity displayed in the storytelling and the activities themselves that really does let Immortals stand apart from its inspirations.
4 / 5
Immortals Fenyx Rising
Ethics
Luke took a little over 30 hours to battle his way to the credits on Hard mode, and spent a few more hours playing around with post-game content and mop-up. He unlocked most of the achievements in the process, although the list isn't live at the time of writing. A review copy of the game was provided by Ubisoft.
Luke Albigés
Written by Luke Albigés
Hey, I'm Luke! I've been playing games since way back in the 8-bit days, and have spent the last 15+ years writing and talking about them professionally for anyone and everyone who would let me. Monster Hunter fanatic, wearer of many fine hats, and always up for a raid.