This review contains major plot spoilers.
Immortals Fenyx Rising is the latest release from Ubisoft Quebec, the Canadian studio behind Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and AS Syndicate. Emerging from a bug that cropped up during the development of Odyssey, Immortals Fenyx Rising is another game set in Ancient Greece – this time deeply tied to the myths of ancient Greek culture. Playing as the shield-bearer Fenyx, you’ll explore the open-world of the Golden Isle – solving puzzles, delving into the Underworld, and fighting great mythical monsters.
Typhon, the devastating Titan previously locked away by Zeus, has risen from Tartaros and defeated Aphrodite, Athena, Ares, and Hephaestos. Not content to simply have beaten the gods, Typhon removes their essences – the very cores of their behavior and being – and locks those essences away in Tartaros. The storm caused by this battle shipwrecks Fenyx’s military unit on the Golden Isle, and all of the soldiers but Fenyx are turned to stone. Fenyx, with the help of Hermes, must set out across the Golden Isle and reclaim the essences of the gods. The main story content, if played straight through with no sidequesting, would probably only take about 25 hours – but all of the side puzzles and mysteries dotted across the island are what make Immortals shine.
Don’t let the slightly cartoony proportions and faces deceive you – the world of Immortals is absolutely beautiful. The rolling hills, the waterfalls, the sunrise and sunset – all of these natural features are rendered exquisitely throughout the game. The supernatural features are where the aesthetic really shines – anything related to the Gods, including Fenyx during a power-up, is covered in little glowing constellations. It’s honestly breathtaking, and it never gets old. It makes the Gods and their moments feel huge and deeply entwined to the cosmos. The fine detail across nearly everything makes the world feel distinctly alive – the turning gears on puzzle-connected torches, the murals inside treasure rooms, the way Fenyx’s wings unfold – it’s an excellent example of art style and direction creating an evocative world without the need for stringent aesthetic realism.
Immortals takes a lot of guidance from Breath of the Wild, and of course the more recent Assassin’s Creed games. You’re able to climb nearly all surfaces, and you’re encouraged to get up high, use your far-sight to reveal objectives around the open world, and then jump off that peak and glide there using your mechanical wings. Upgrading your health and stamina is done by collecting bits of Ambrosia and Lightning, respectively. Ambrosia is littered around the world, while Lightning is locked away in Vaults of Tartaros – puzzle worlds in the depths of the Greek underworld.
Other tasks around the Isle include traversal challenges, slow-motion archery courses, image-assembly puzzles, and “Constellation” challenges, which involve scouring an area for puzzles that spit out shiny orbs of starlight, which you’ll connect on a grid to complete a constellation. These all reward you with Coins of Charon, which you’ll use to unlock and upgrade your combat skills. Aside from all these are the various chests, guarded by puzzles worked into the very environment, hordes of monsters, or both. In these chests you’ll find new weapons and armor, which each contain different perks and behaviors to go along with different playstyles. My favorite set was the Harpy armor, which makes you look like a giant bird. The perks, appropriately, buff your damage done while mid-air.
The combat in Immortals is overall pretty tight. Fenyx has a sword, an axe, and a shield, with different versions of those items each giving different perks. Sword attacks are quick and restore stamina, while axe attacks are slow and apply stun damage, tracked in a smaller bar underneath the enemy’s health meter. If you can fill an enemy’s stun meter, they’ll stop attacking and take increased damage until the meter runs out. Aside from your main attacks, you also have 5 Godly Powers, each of which has a combat application. The Godly Powers are great ways of doing stun damage while also moving around the battlefield, which you’ll need to do a lot of.
The enemies in Immortals all behave very differently, which can either keep combat interesting or become overwhelming when there are too many things happening at once. Fortunately, Fenyx also has a dodge and a parry. The parry is very forgiving and nearly always blocks damage, with the added bonus of reflecting an attack if you time the parry just right. However, enemies will occasionally glow red and perform an unparryable attack – in this instance, you should dodge. If you can time the dodge right, time slows down for your enemies, and you can get some extra hits in while you move at full speed.
The rhythm of combat feels solid. Godly Powers use a huge chunk of stamina, so if you want to keep using them you’ll either have to chug a potion or get in close with some sword attacks. This cycle of landing a big hit, dodging, stocking up on stamina, parrying, and then slamming back in again works really well – until the game gets rid of it.
As you improve Fenyx’s abilities and upgrade their gear, all enemies in the world become stronger, shifting colors from red to blue to purple. They get more health, they do more damage, and most importantly – they stop using blockable attacks. By the end of the game, nearly every attack is glowing red and demanding a dodge, and your parry is completely useless. Their health pools are simply too big to rip apart with your sword, and you’re required to switch up your playstyle to emphasize your axe hits and Powers to stun enemies and make them vulnerable. This makes combat less of a tense dance and more of a frantic rush to get rid of all the small enemies as soon as possible, so you’re not constantly dodging blasts of energy while you’re trying to topple a whole minotaur.
The boss fights, however, are consistently great. They provide a significant combat challenge in a game that is mostly filled with puzzles by becoming combat puzzles themselves. The first overworld boss I encountered was a mythic boar, which constantly rolled up into a ball and hurtled at me. Dodging worked to get out of the way, but the boar just kept moving out of my range. Working out a rhythm of parrying, bow shots, and dodging slightly too early so I could still get in a swing turned out to be the recipe for success. Much later, the full-scale Medusa boss on her island proved to be a very engaging boss fight, as she’s constantly teleporting around you and slowing Fenyx down with her gaze. Constantly moving and being ready to parry her poisonous orbs eventually brought her down.
As mentioned before, the Golden Isle is covered in puzzles. Many of them live in the Vaults of Tartaros, in little puzzle pocket dimensions. But the rest are worked into the environment, cleverly placed, concealed, and incorporated into cliffsides, ruins, and waterfalls. The level designer’s fingerprint is fully visible, but that’s not a bad thing – the developers are playing the part of the long-departed Daedalos, the architect of the Golden Isle, carving each and every rock face with deliberate intent. The biggest sign of their success is that I found myself seeking the puzzles out not for their reward, but for the sheer joy of getting to do another puzzle. And while the puzzles in the overworld may be fairly simple, the beautiful way they’re worked into the landscape makes each one a small piece of art.
If you want some real puzzles, you’ll have to jump into the Vaults of Tartaros. The puzzles here can either be traditional block-moving, jump-timing, arrow-order-shooting puzzles – or they can be puzzles where you use one of your Godly Powers to play minigolf with a boulder. The Vaults of Tartaros are closed environments, disconnected from the Isle – they’re much harder to cheese because the world is controlled. If you want to solve a puzzle, you’ll likely have to do it the way the developers intended, which makes for a nice complement to the more free-form solving happening in the overworld.
Each of the gods you’re tasked with restoring has had their essence sealed in a special God Vault, and these four vaults have their own unique puzzle mechanic. The mechanics don’t come back until the final vault of the game, which is too bad because some of the mechanics really open up the potential design space. I understand that the developers didn’t want to prescribe an order in which the player engages with the game content, but it does feel like a bit of wasted potential. Regardless, I enjoyed my time in the God Vaults, and was glad to see each mechanic make a valiant return at the end of the game.
Overall quality of life in Immortals is very high, and I was impressed by the amount of polish that’s been put into the UI. The map is very customizable, boasting the ability to filter which icon types you want to display, a bunch of custom pins, and quick turning on/off of icons for tasks you’ve already completed. Potion crafting can be done in bulk with the hold of a button. The game regularly reminds you when you can upgrade your gear and just as easily allows you to turn those reminders off. If you really want to futz with the UI, you can even resize where the HUD goes on the screen. You can even use gear as a costume over the gear you’re using for perks, if you’re a big fan of a certain armor set’s aesthetic.
My expectations for the plot were surpassed, much to my surprise. Fenyx is a mortal and hardly even a warrior at the start of the game. Despite their fear and trepidation, they grasp their destiny and fight to save the Gods – each of which have lost the traits that make them “them.” Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, who throughout the Greek myths has sown chaos and tragedy with her flirting and love spells has become a generous apple tree concerned about the well-being of others. Athena, Goddess of Wisdom and Strategy, a vindictive and ruthless commander as a god, has become a rash and fearful child. Ares, God of War, bringer of pain to armies, has been turned into a weak and vulnerable chicken, pecking the ground for worms. And most tragically of all, Hephaestos has turned into one of his own robots, not even able to remember his own name.
Athena and Ares obviously want to be returned to their former glory, but are both deeply afraid, and feel suddenly responsible for the suffering that their misuse of power has caused in the past. But Aphrodite and Hepheastos are special – they don’t want to be turned back, because they’ve realized they were making things worse. Aphrodite has to be convinced by little Fenyx, a mortal with all their flaws, that to have flaws is what makes a person real. The Greek gods have never been perfect, and trying to be perfect now during this time of great strife under Typhon won’t solve anything. Fenyx’s emphatic love of the myths the gods played a part in is surprisingly moving, and the use of the God Vaults as a way of exploring the gods’ inner feelings works really well. Fenyx proves that to be whole, we must accept our failures, and learn to grow with them.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t stick the landing. It turns out that Prometheus, who has been narrating the story of Fenyx’s quest to Zeus, has been lying about Fenyx being mortal. They are in fact Zeus’s child, a demigod through and through, inherently better than any mortal. How foolish it would have been to have thought that a mere mortal could have ventured to Tartaros and back and convinced the gods to rise up. This quick turn, right at the end of the game, discards the whole moral that it seemed the game was building towards – the idea that even mortals can turn the tides of despair, and save powers greater than them, and be the heroes of new myths. No, it turns out you had to be born great. Immortals seems confused about its own power-fantasy.
While the ending of the game stings, it doesn’t ruin the experience. I really enjoyed my time exploring the Golden Isle, flying around and solving puzzles and fighting big monsters. If you’re looking for a beautifully engineered world to explore, Immortals Fenyx Rising has it. Exploring every nook and cranny for a new challenge kept me hooked, and overall I would recommend trying Immortals for yourself if you like open-world adventure games but don’t want too much role-playing. There’s a lot of wonder hidden around the game – just don’t let the final message get to you.
GameRev was provided with a digital download of the game for the purpose of this review.
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