Now that I’ve played the game formerly known as Gods & Monsters, now Immortals Fenyx Rising, I come bearing both good news and bad. The good news is that it’s a lot of fun. The bad news is that I really can’t work out how the new title fits with the game I’ve just played. It’s only a name, certainly, but “Immortals Fenyx Rising” just sounds so sober. You’d expect it to be stuffed to the gills with stoic heroes, grim battles and gritty visuals, and that’s really not the case.
For the most part, I found myself exploring an intensely colourful world populated by mythological beasts waiting to be slain and secrets waiting to be discovered, in which the Greek gods Zeus and Prometheus bickered with one another as they narrated the action. Immortals is anything but po-faced; instead it aims to be playful, while still giving the player stakes that give their actions meaning.
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This is a duality that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of Immortals’ unmistakable inspirations, got absolutely right back in 2017. In Breath of the Wild, the enormity of the situation is very real – Calamity Ganon’s presence is inescapable, and the weight of the world is on Link’s shoulders. And yet, that overarching story really just sets the scene and gives the player an ultimate destination. The freedom to explore and to play is the point – not so much to be told a story but to create fertile ground in which to sow your own.
The parallels in Immortals are clear. Its mythological Greek setting is in chaos; the veil that separates humanity from the underworld destroyed. Typhon, a towering monstrosity who was imprisoned by Zeus for thousands of years, has escaped and now seeks revenge on the gods. As Fenyx, a warrior shipwrecked upon the game’s Golden Isle, you’re prophesied to save the gods and defeat Typhon. The threat, then, is certainly grave and often literally looming on the horizon – just like Nintendo’s classic, but also like Breath of the Wild, it’s ultimately the call of unfettered exploration that animates the experience.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=It%E2%80%99s%20the%20call%20of%20unfettered%20exploration%20that%20animates%20the%20experience.”]
The team has said you’ll be able to go wherever you like right from the start, but for my session I was restricted to The Forgelands – home of Hephaistos, god of blacksmiths and fire. This appropriately rusty and autumnal hued landscape with its towering fortress, rolling hills and stark cliffs was certainly big enough to get a sense for the possibilities of roaming across the countryside, so while I did do the main objective for the hands-on – relighting Hephaistos’s Forge of the Gods and then defeating its automaton boss – I was more excited by the possibilities of exploring.
Among other things, I flew across to an island off the mainland, where I fought beasts, took on a challenge in the underworld, and learnt a lyre’s melody. I ascended to the top of the imposing aqueducts, getting their enormous water wheels turning again. I climbed to the top of the central citadel and soared from its height to a valley far below. I fought a very large and disgruntled cyclops, who hurled rocks at me and attempted to pound me into dust. And I tamed a wild mount… which wasn’t all that exciting given all I had to do was sneak up to it then press a button, but hey, you win some, you lose some.
Flights of Fancy
Stamina drives a lot of what you do, determining how high you can climb, how long you can run and how far you can glide using the wings of Diadalos. So far, so familiar, but stamina also ties heavily into combat, which sees Fenyx wielding the weapons of Greek heroes and harnessing the powers of the gods. She has the Sword of Achilles, the Axe of Atalanta and the Bow of Odysseus, for instance, all of which – somewhat counterintuitively – come in sets and can have various perks. Meanwhile, the gods also assist, allowing you to pound enemies with a colossal ethereal hammer courtesy of Hephaistos or do a damage dealing dash thanks to Athena, to mention a couple.
I wasn’t able to customise Fenyx’s abilities for this hands-on, as she had a pre-selected loadout, but a glance at the skills and abilities trees was enough to get me interested in seeing how big the differences between character builds can be and how the gameplay evolves over the course of Immortals.[poilib element=”quoteBox” parameters=”excerpt=Fenyx%20wields%20the%20weapons%20of%20Greek%20heroes%20and%20harnesses%20the%20powers%20of%20the%20gods.”]
For my session, Fenyx was already quite powerful, with mid-late game health, stamina, skills and godly powers to draw on. Utilising her sword, axe and bow is intuitive – you may need to break an enemy’s shield guard with the axe, for instance, before quickly getting in some faster swipes with the sword. Stamina needs to be actively managed, as it’s utilised widely across combat and movement techniques, with the powerful special moves in particular eating up a lot of it. By the end of my time with Immortals it was all feeling quite comfortable. The marker indicating attacks coming from off-screen, in particular, turned out to be super useful, as was the dodge move, which didn’t just get me clear of attacks, but if timed correctly slowed everything down too, Bayonetta-style.
In this build the enemies weren’t what you’d call smart, and more than once I retreated behind an obstacle to let my stamina recover, while my opponents very slowly tried to make their way towards me. Enemies also telegraph their attacks quite obviously, but when you’re facing off against, say, a Minotaur and a couple of Medusas on the ground, with Harpies hovering above, it feels great to know how to dart out of danger, or to parry an incoming swipe to stun an opponent. It’s less about the inherent difficulty of a single opponent and more about dealing with different compositions.
Immortals is going for what I guess you’d call a “bestiary of” Ancient Greek mythology, so I expect the final game will be packing just about every iconic creature from that world. In my two hours alone I fought Minotaurs, Medusas, Harpies, Cyclops’ and Cerberus’, not to mention wraiths, towering automatons, otherworldly lions and undead soldiers. And when each was vanquished it was sent hurtling flamboyantly skyward, dissolving in a cloud of black ash.
Whatever Comes Our Way
Combat is a big part of the rhythm of Immortals, but so too is bespoke gameplay. I came across several small puzzles within the world itself, and I also ventured into a couple of the game’s Vaults of Tartaros. These standalone challenges take place in the underworld and are Fenyx Rising’s equivalent of Breath of the Wild’s shrines – there are a heap of them spread across the map, and they tie directly into upgrading your stamina. One had me playing a gigantic pinball table by triggering flippers to send a large stone ball careening around an angled play space, so hopefully that’s an indication that there’ll be plenty of variety.
I can definitely see players prioritising these Vaults to kick their stamina pool into gear, and they can generally be spotted by getting to a good vantage point and using Fenyx’s Far Sight. And that’s ultimately what I found most engaging in my time with Immortals – picking a spot in the distance or setting a marker on the map and making my way there, looking for adventure.
Contrary to what its rather stern-sounding title may suggest, Immortals is driven less by its epic tale of gods under threat, and more by a desire to give players a sandbox in which to play and in which to have fun. The portrayal of Fenyx ties into this through subtle touches like the idle animation where she plays with her mythical bird companion Phosphoros by raising her leg for it to fly beneath, or the exaggerated way she brews a potion and then triumphantly showcases the result.
Perhaps the best indication of the tone Ubisoft is going for, however, can be found in the fourth wall breaking narration from Zeus and Prometheus. It’s genuinely amusing, and not only did I love their exchanges, I also enjoyed the fact that Fenyx is a voiced character who can respond to them too. I’m looking forward to seeing what the team does with this unlikely double (triple?) act in the final game, as it’s certainly a promising way for Immortals to step out from the shadows of both Breath of the Wild and Ubisoft’s own stable of open world titles and carve out its own distinct identity.