Immortals Fenyx Rising, formerly known as Gods and Monsters, is the latest Greek myth-inspired open world sandbox liberation-thon from French developer Ubisoft, available on PC and all consoles, and is a game with many hats on. Like a great post-Thanksgiving (or Christmas) turkey salad, it blends the best parts of its forebears into a gratifying, charming experience, one hindered only by an absolutely hideous title. Immortals takes direct inspiration (direct inspiration meaning it peeked into Nintendo’s notebook during class) from games like Breath of the Wild, placing a focused lens on player directed exploration and organic puzzle solving.
STORY – FOR THE IMMORTALS
Story wise, Immortals is a pretty mixed bag. While it doesn’t quite achieve the completely barebones narrative of BotW, its story is still pretty light. The game is narrated by (two!) unreliable narrators, Zeus and Prometheus, whose back and forth quips comprise the majority of the game’s humor, of which there is a surprising amount. Yes, this game is a comedy, and it’s actually pretty funny at points. There were a couple 4th-wall gags that caught me off guard and more than a few risqué jokes. As far as the actual story, Typhon, a fallen titan from ages past, has decided to take over the Golden Isles, home of the gods, dethroning them and stealing them of their essences, transforming them into shells of their former selves in order to create a utopia free of whim and deceit.
You play as Fenyx, a plucky young underdog tasked with saving the Gods and fulfilling a prophecy. There’s an interesting dynamic at play with Typhon, one that caused me to question my own motives at multiple points during the story. For example, Typhon changes Aphrodite into an Apple tree, one concerned not just with her own beauty but with preserving the beauty of the world around her, a complete 180 from Aphrodite’s character. Yet, this is treated as a negative thing and as soon as Fenyx returns her essence to her she snaps right back into her old, vain self. Was that really the right thing to do? The game fails to reach the levels of introspection on human nature it sets up in these moments, disappointingly so. It paints Typhon as a mortal-loving beast concerned with mortals over gods, making him almost sympathetic. This was clearly intentional, but the game never dives into the meat of what that could mean.
The game’s setting, however, is where the writing truly shines. The game dives deep into the Greek pantheon and mythos. Many of the world’s locations contain some reference to some myth or another, one humorously retold by Prometheus and Zeus. I often found myself tabbing out of the game to dive into Wikipedia and read up on the myths that game referenced (that’s a good thing, I think). I’ve always had a fascination with Greek myths, and between this and Hades I’m certainly spoiled for choice and quality. Immortals’ devs clearly had a passion for the source material and undoubtedly had fun writing them into the world. Overall, the story is fine and only let down by the fact that it could have been so much more. The narration, humor and abundance of Greek myth more than make up for the lackluster story, however.
GAMEPLAY – ZELDA MAY CREED
While the game may appear to take a majority of its gameplay from BotW, and at points it does, it also does quite a bit to distance itself from the Zelda formula. As for the similarities, there’s an abundance of puzzles and dungeons, as well as smaller dungeons iterating on the same puzzle that reward stamina upgrades, much like BotW. The world design, however, is much more focused. Unlike BotW, the world is packed with things to do and see. While there’s much to be said for BotW’s emptiness and the emotions that evokes in the player, Immortals’ more cramped design allows for a more immediately digestible experience, something I find more than welcome after Ubisoft’s latest hundred-hour experiences.
The world invites exploration, interesting landmarks loom on the horizon, enemy encampments are visible from miles away, pomegranate orchards where you replenish your healing items glisten softly at night. It can be unbelievably fun to just turn off your compass and glide around the world, picking out points of interest to land at or large enemies to fight. The world is peppered with enemies, both normal ones and legendary bosses that are usually tied to a quest or have an accompanying chest. Speaking of bosses, this has some of the best boss fights I’ve seen in years, ranging from incredibly difficult to complete pushover depending on how much you’ve upgraded. I love the feeling of just barely scraping by in a boss fight, of punching above my weight through skill alone in order to get loot that massively out-levels my character and the title nails that feeling perfectly, requiring a satisfying blend between skill and upgrades to really succeed at the game.
Combat in Immortals is surprisingly in-depth, taking a lot of its ideas from jugglers like Devil May Cry. You toss enemies around, tossing them around in the air to build up damage and combos, using the occasional stamina-sucking god abilities to deal massive amounts of damage or gain other advantages. One marked difference from the character action formula is the inclusion of the stun meter, much like the one from later Assassin’s Creed games. While the stun meter is fairly useless in the early game, as you progress, unlock more skills and upgrade your abilities, stunning enemies becomes a crucial way to both heal and deal massive amounts of damage. Other than combat, the game consists of Zelda-esque puzzles and exploration.
There’s a large variety of puzzle types, which range from clever to completely obtuse. Some puzzles are more straightforward, such as ones where you guide an arrow through hoops, while others are a bit more convoluted and could use some context. This issue is ameliorated by the fact that you can solve many of the overworld’s puzzles your own way. In one instance, I found myself tired of searching for the final metal block to solve a weight puzzle and instead dragged some boulders in from outside, using those to weigh down the pressure plate. While I never had to resort to googling a solution, I came uncomfortably close. Take the action of Assassin’s Creed, the exploration of Breath of the Wild, and the combat of Devil May Cry and you’ll have a pretty good picture of what Immortals is like.
VISUALS AND AUDIO – SLIGHT EXHALE OF THE WILD
Immortal‘s visual style, like many other elements, draws straight from the BotW playbook. It doesn’t lean quite as heavily on the high-contrast cel shading of the latter, instead opting for a more cartoony, almost toy-ish look, one lending itself well to the game’s whimsical tone. That’s not to say the game is any slouch, however. While some character models look a little dated and the animation could use some work, the overall character design is rather charming. The game’s world and particle effects are where it really shines. While the lighting and shadow effects are rather basic, the particles that spray out of your weapon when you parry an attack or send one to its doom look fantastic.
The visuals are elegant and clear, a welcome departure from the increasing visual clutter of the Assassin’s Creed games. Performance was mostly okay on my GTX 1070 TI and I7-7700k at 1440p, mostly hovering around 50fps but dropping sharply when around multiple light sources. The game’s sound design is fine, nothing to write home about but completely adequate. The same goes for the soundtrack – despite having heard the main menu music countless times, I still can’t quite call it to mind. That being said, the music sounds fantastic in-game, swelling majestically as you swoop across the world or shifting into a bumping battle ballad as you beat on a boss.
Immortals Fenyx Rising was reviewed on PC. A key was provided by Playman.