Video games exploring the wonderful universe of ancient Greek mythology are few and far between. Those that do, however, are so focused on giving accurate representations of their shared universes that taking creative liberties with the wonderful mythologies surrounding them takes a back seat. It is a rather interesting point to observe given how Greek myths and tales are so deserving of some extra creative wit and embellishment. It is for this very imaginative reason why video games like Kingdom Hearts are so highly popular and adored by millions of players. In keeping with the idea of moving away from the historical to focusing more on wonderful creative freedoms, comes an all new title from Ubisoft called Immortals Fenyx Rising – and it is sublime!
Originally titled Immortals: Gods & Monsters and debuting at the 2019 Electronic Entertainment Expo, the now named Immortals Fenyx Rising has been likened to Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and for good reason. From the overwhelming number of similarities (art style, presentation, fantasy setting), it is easy to see why people would mistakenly throw it into the same court as everyone’s favourite sword-wielding blonde warrior. Just one hour with Immortals Fenyx Rising, however, and the similarities are quickly pushed aside to make way for the abundance of differences proving how the game is a title that stands out on its own, with no additional credit needed.
Right from the start, Immortals Fenyx Rising gives players complete control of what their protagonist looks like. After choosing from a body type, a cool hair preset, and a fair number of cosmetic options; the game thrusts you, and by extension Fenyx, into a world dominated by demons and gods; and a story wonderfully narrated by both Prometheus and Zeus. As the game begins, the two deities inform you about how the gods have been imprisoned and/or transformed into lesser objects by the demon Typhon and his infernal army of monsters from Tartarus. It is up to Fenyx, a reborn demigod with no knowledge of their godly powers, to reclaim the lands of Greece and eventually work their way through cleansing Tartarus from the land and allowing the gods free roam once more.
It is not all sunshine and roses, however. The story is being told, by mouth, by Prometheus and the occasional chipping-in from Zeus. Courtesy of this truly exceptional dichotomy, the narration takes a humorous turn where elements of the plot are, quite literally, made up as Fenyx moves from strength to strength. In fact, some elements require entire retellings when the two gods’ beliefs of the story intertwine and players have to explore both suggestions. This way, the story gradually opens up as Fenyx needs to travel from the evergreen glades of Aphrodite and her garden, through to the war-torn realm of Ares, the land locked machinations of Hephaestus, the Hydra filled landscape of knowledge with Athena; and even so far as Mount Olympus and even the realm of Tartarus himself (among a few other surprised along the way).
The narrative in Immortals Fenyx Rising is an absolutely wonderful romp through the various god-made realms of ancient Greece; and bears a somewhat striking familiarity to Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Unlike Odyssey, however, Immortals Fenyx Rising takes on a much more whimsical approach to its content. In this sense, the plot is governed by facets seemingly torn directly from a cartoon. It is very much like the good old Hercules Disney cartoon in this regard, and the effect is truly sublime for both the visuals and narrative arcs. Prometheus (Elias Toufexis) is an incredible character who, at the onset of the story, was subject to capture and torture by Zeus (Lionnel Astier) and the powers that be. To get out of his predicament, he sets out to tell a story that he promises will assist both himself and Zeus in ridding the world of Typhon. This is where Fenyx’s story comes into place.
The entire story is told in real-time by the two gods. As players explore the world and reach certain points, there will be accompanying narration. Even the simplest of acts, like entering a field, will sometimes prompt narrative cues and overtures from the two watching deities – often imbued with hilarious sexual innuendo. The effect is incredible, and truly allows players to use the narration to further bond with Fenyx and the lands they are exploring. It is also a neat way to introduce players to new concepts and ideas, as well as give players a quick rundown of secrets, realms, puzzles and various mythology.
The points of interest in Immortals Fenyx Rising are abundant, and the game hardly lets you go more than a few minutes without running into one of the many “myth challenges” dotted around the map. From mini lyres with secrets to unlocking the big lyres; navigation puzzles based on Hermes; Odysseus arrow challenges; celestial orb puzzles; block puzzles where you have to complete artworks; and much more – there is almost always something for Fenyx to keep busy with. The effect ensures gamers are never left wanting, particularly in terms of things to do.
Most players will come across the optional content at least once, and those who do seek them all out will be handsomely rewarded. Of these, the dungeon-like Vaults of Tartarus are the most prolific, enraging and rewarding. These Vaults take on many forms, from arena-type cage matches, all the way through to puzzle, endurance, and even speed dungeons. In them, Fenyx will have to fight through hordes of demons; complete platforming puzzles relying on unlocked gear and abilities; make clever use of abilities to traverse the map; or even be tasked to get from one point to another in as short a time as possible. While the dungeons mostly look the same, the layouts vary greatly and overall content shuffles between the various types frequently enough to make each experience feel new and different each time Fenyx enters through a newly discovered fiery hole [Zeus would have a lot to say about this statement, and Prometheus would probably sigh in exasperation]. Although I would have liked more ways to enter these dungeons (as they are mainly entered from the overworld after Fenyx has bested a demon or two) the good news is there are stronger versions of these vaults called Wraith Lairs, which generally have side entrances.
As Fenyx explores the map on the way from their main tracked objectives, cool little hints and narrative deviations will notify players of newly unlocked side content. These come in various flavours as well: Heroic Tasks are generally quick and easy missions based off the areas players are in, while Quests denoted by the question mark are longer side quests resulting in ongoing unlockable content, and quests with circles around them generally denote main content eventually leading to the redemption of a hero of old or rescue of a god. Similarly, players also need to look out for literal Points of Interest, Vantage Points, and Cauldrons of Circe locations. These reward Fenyx with a plethora of experience, amazing new dialogue and narration between Zeus and Prometheus, or unlock new opportunities for Fenyx to interact with the various gods they can come into contact with. Cauldrons, specifically, improve the potions Fenyx can craft at the Hall of the Gods.
There are times where it can be quite overwhelming with just how much stuff Immortals Fenyx Rising lets players lose themselves in. Fortunately, the game introduces gamers to most of the content in a steady cadence and leaves several myth challenges alone completely for players to stumble across at their leisure. It also helps how there is a central hub players can return to at any time if they need to take a breather. This hub, the Hall of the Gods, is where Hermes hangs out and where Fenyx can improve gear, upgrade health and stamina gauges, brew new potions, and level up abilities. The Hall of the Gods is a nice spacious area with all of the aforementioned elements listed above, including any and all rescued gods. When players first enable these features, Hermes tells Fenyx a quick story and gives them a rundown of what the feature does (all incredibly well animated). Want to improve your stamina? That is what all of those bolts of Zeus Lightning are for whenever you finish a Vault of Tartarus. Want to improve your gear? Better go and collect all sorts of gems and flowers that are scattered throughout the map – bonus points for finding chests and opening those!
For the most part, experience is earned as you do things in Immortals Fenyx Rising. While mostly true, “experience” in this sense is not an arbitrary number linked to a level. Rather, the game showers you with everything needed to progress and level up. One of these is in the form of the occasional Coin of Charon. Historically, Charon’s Obol refers to coins placed in the mouths of dead loved ones during burial. In the game, however, Coins of Charon are found within little tears in reality whenever myth challenges are completed. These shiny rewards need to be collected and tallied up to unlock brand-new skills or to enhance abilities already unlocked. Pro Tip: try to unlock the additional skills as soon as possible, and only focus on enhancing already unlocked abilities thereafter. The number of things Fenyx can do, and combos you can pull during combat, will far enhance your gameplay as the opening hours transition into mid-game playtime. It also beats repetitively mashing buttons in the hopes that something fancy happens… which, spoiler alert: will eventually happen, so long as Prometheus or Zeus declares it so.
There is honestly a massive amount of variation in the combat Immortals Fenyx Rising offers. From the ability to shoot enemies into the air with ground-piercing spears, to squishing demons with the unholy slam of the axe, or even filleting creatures mid-air; there is a lot that can be done. Of course, the game also caters to players who would much rather mash buttons in the easy mode as well. The sword of Achilles and the bow of Odysseus are but two tools I can foresee many casual gamers using endlessly as they coast through the wonderful story. The narration is so incredible, I can see why many players would make it as easy as possible to just immerse themselves in the beautiful voices of Elias Toufexis and Lionell Astier and get lost in the great story of the game.
Granted, for the story to work well, one would think the game would also need to look the part. Thankfully it does. Where Assassin’s Creed Odyssey took on a photo-realistic approach to its design, Immortals Fenyx Rising looks a lot more cartoonish, and in the best way possible. This cartoon approach lends itself to the kind of storytelling featured in the game much more easily than any other – this is particularly true for the over the top voice acting and often puerile humour featured in the narration. Honestly speaking, when I first saw the game I scoffed and called it a Breath of the Wild copy. I am thankful to report that I was incredibly wrong! Although the game looks like an animated film, the overall design, colours, and feeling are truly exceptional. From the way it incorporates elements of its narration, down to the cartoonish nature of the game and how that aesthetic allows for much more over the top gimmicks and easily explained away narrative loopholes; the game is truly gorgeous!
The game is also exceptionally well optimised. Apart from three major crashes, I did not experience any drop in frames at all while playing. The game also comes with two separate visual modes for current-generation console owners: Maximum Performance turns off certain graphical settings in favour of a solid 60-frame-per-second approach, while Maximum Quality turns on additional particles and pushes the textures to their extremes while locking the game to 30 frames only. Playing on Xbox Series X was a breeze as well, since logging back into the game was a matter of launching it and waiting ten seconds for Quick Resume to do its thing. Even without Quick Resume, loading never took longer than about 15 seconds.
Immortals Fenyx Rising is an incredible title. While the aesthetic might not be for everyone and its open-world nature will eventually become repetitive, the game is so chock-full of optional content and beautiful vistas that this eventuality will take a long time to reach. The story is wonderfully narrated and crafted to work incredibly well with the graphical design of the game too. Better still, the humorous approach to ancient Greek mythology alongside the bold and colourful aesthetic; all wonderfully complement each other in ways that only Legend of Zelda games have been capable of in the past. It is rare for any company, let alone Ubisoft, to bring out a brand-new Intellectual Property and for it to reign supreme right from the start. However, Immortals Fenyx Rising certainly manages this seemingly impossible feat with aplomb. Fenyx is a relatable character, and the incredible narration between Zeus and Prometheus are wonderfully nostalgic for any lover of Saturday Morning Cartoons. The gameplay constantly makes players want to come back for more, with countless secrets, puzzles and story elements to keep players engaged for hours and hours of enjoyment. Immortals Fenyx Rising is very near perfect, and ticks all the right boxes for a game that is gorgeous, enjoyable, addictive and highly entertaining.
|Time Played||>25 Hours|
|Platform||Xbox Series X|
|Acquisition||Review code courtesy of Ubisoft|