Ubisoft’s long-delayed open-world romp through ancient Greek myth pushes all the right Zelda buttons. But there’s more cleverness here than you might think.
In a year where video game delays have been a constant thing, it’s not going to come as any surprise to learn that Ubisoft’s latest open-world opus is arriving a lot later than expected. Announced over a year ago as Gods & Monsters and set for release last February, it’s finally made its way into stores with the benefit of a lot of extra development time – and a new name. Now, with the more unwieldy title Immortals Fenyx Rising, its previews have shown a lush, stylised and colourful open world with big blades of green grass swaying in the wind, instantly bringing to mind The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And if you have any doubts that it’s deliberate, they evaporate moments into the game as you climb your first cliff, stamina meter by your side.
Developed by the same team that did Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, this multi-platform, cross-generation semi-RPG quite shamelessly borrows from Nintendo’s acclaimed game in multiple ways, from the oil-painterly visual style and abundant cliff-climbing to the giant monuments you scale to open up the world. But fear not – this isn’t a wholesale rip-off by any means. Ubisoft has been doing open-world collect-a-thons for a good long time now, and their design DNA is what’s at the core of this game.
The premise is simple, but the setting is not. The deliciously evil monster Typhon has defeated the great Greek gods of myth, kidnapping the souls of four of them and putting the pantheon of the Gods in jeopardy, with humanity turned to stone. Fortunately, low-ranking soldier and sole survivor Fenyx washes up on the shore of the Golden Isles where it all went down, and soon sets out on a quest to liberate the trapped gods… and solve a whole bunch of puzzles along the way. The story is narrated in the past tense by Zeus and Prometheus (the latter still chained to his rock), giving things a bit of a fable feel, with frequent droll humour as the pair banter and argue (early in the game, they even pull a fast one on the player with some fake end credits!)
The light-hearted tone along with the colourful and cartoony game world and characters might suggest this is a game aimed at kids. But while it’s certainly a great one for younger gamers to dive into, there’s plenty here for both seasoned players and Greek mythology enthusiasts (we know you’re out there!) alike. Freed from taking itself anywhere near as seriously as the Assassin’s Creed games do, Ubisoft’s clearly had a lot of fun mixing up their usual formula with Immortals.
The core gameplay is triple-sided – exploration, combat and puzzles. It excels at all three, although the exploration side of things involves a rather tedious “scanning” process at the top of each area’s Big Tall Thing, a process that makes the dreaded planet-scanning in Mass Effect Andromeda seem positively speedy by comparison. It’s very much an Ubisoft thing, though – they want to get a whole bunch of stuff glommed onto your map, then have you set about going to find it. Helping your ability to go places is a pair of “Broken Wings” (cue the song) which act as a double-jump and glide.
For combat, you wield a sword, axe and bow (with steerable arrows!) and the mechanics are wonderfully fast and fluid as you smush everything from monsters to killer bears into a shower of sparks and glitter, dodging and weaving as you go. While there are some rather imposing bosses along the way, they don’t feel unfair or overly tedious, and as you gear and skill up they start melting.
“…the mechanics are wonderfully fast and fluid as you smush everything from monsters to killer bears into a shower of sparks and glitter.”
The key to the game, though, is its puzzles. A combination of 3D platforming and environmental puzzle-solving, its this element of Immortals that’s the most satisfying and, often, challenging. There are plenty of puzzles scattered around the open world, but the really clever and challenging ones are found inside the Vaults of Tartaros, mini-dungeons dedicated to puzzle-solving (and occasionally combat) with the reward of a permanent boost to stamina at the end – which in turn means longer climbing, swimming and gliding. One annoyance with the platforming puzzles, though, is Fenyx’s tendency to keep on running for a bit after landing on a surface. If what you’re landing on happens to be a tiny platform, you’ll soon learn to fear that bit of unwanted momentum. It’s not game-breaking, but it’s a frustration that leads to many an untimely visit back to the last checkpoint.
Graphically, the game looks gorgeous. Putting aside the Zelda similarities, the world designers have obviously enjoyed being let off the leash a bit, taking a holiday from the period-accurate worlds of the Assassin’s Creed games and conjuring up some truly weird and wonderful things. We played on an Xbox One X where it ran smooth as silk and looked especially nice in HDR. The PS5 and Xbox Series X versions should look and play even better (one benefit of the game being delayed so long has been that next-gen versions are ready to go).
Despite its clumsy, generic-sounding new title, Immortals Fenyx Rising is a cracker of a game, an escapist surprise of a thing that owes much to the game that obviously inspired it, but has a ton of personality and cleverness waiting behind that Zelda-like framework. With superb combat, clever puzzles and a wonderfully crafted world to climb, swim and jump over, it’s one of the year’s best surprises.
Immortals Fenyx Rising is available now on PS5, Xbox Series X|S/One and Switch.