At a time where we’re all seeking a bit of fantasy escapism from the ongoing pandemic hell, Immortals Fenyx Rising swoops in and whisks you away on a wonderful mythical Greek adventure filled with terrible history-based puns and throwbacks to platformers of old.
In our preview, Immortals Fenyx Rising was compared to Breath of the Wild due to a similar art style and its equally vast and mysterious open world. It’s easy to see that Nintendo's modern classic has had a heavy influence on things, but what’s even more interesting is how it pulls inspiration from retro favourites like Spyro the Dragon and Black and White 2. Let me explain:
Much like Spyro, you waltz into an area that you’re free to explore as you please, with chests to find, items to collect and evil creatures swanning around looking for a fight. Instead of finding and unlocking a bunch of dragons, you have some Greek Gods to rescue whose essences have been locked away by the Titan, Typhon. Fenyx, a storyteller by trade, has been thrust into the limelight rather unfairly, much like poor Spyro, but nevertheless assumes the mantle of responsibility and cheerily, if a little unknowingly, goes around saving the world single-handedly.
Everything in Immortals Fenyx Rising is colourful, musical and a bit extra - some of the puzzles are infuriatingly difficult and obtuse, with the Odysseus Arrow challenges reminding me of chasing the wee blue guy carrying an egg in the Spyro titles. You’ve almost got it then at the last second your thumb spasms and you’ve fucked it by sprinting headfirst into a wall.
Rather than reading walls of text via letters or stone carvings, your story and any lore you find is narrated by Zeus and Prometheus in a way that’s reminiscent of God and the Devil in the Black and White franchise. They’re like a bickering old couple as Prometheus tries to make Zeus wise up to the trouble he’s caused over the millennia with his ever-expanding family, while Zeus’ head is quite firmly in the clouds.
Zeus is quite determined that Fenyx will fail in her endeavours to save the world and that everything is a bit shit, whereas Prometheus wants to wax lyrical and have Zeus seek out some poignant messages from the myths of the Gods. If you’ve played The Stanley Parable, you’ll be familiar with the style of fourth-wall-breaking rebukes towards the player than you can expect from Zeus.
There’s also a cool wee bird pal, Phosphorus, who will fly alongside you, give you bonuses and attack enemies in battle, which makes things even better. Not only have you got top quality banter from the Gods, you have a pet bird and you can tame a deer and ride it around - what more do you want in 2020?
After a series of games that have been gore-heavy, apocalyptic-themed and what are essentially misery porn, the Gods provide a welcome bit of comic relief to the end of 2020 where we’re worried about accidentally culling family members because we want a bit of dry turkey and to laugh about avoiding your maw’s boiled sprouts as you’ve done for the last 29 years.
What’s unexpected about Immortals Fenyx Rising is the very obvious dedication to story and theme that’s gone into its creation. There are wonderful snippets of lore about various Greek Gods, historical battles and other myths which, if you’re a big Greek mythology nerd like me, you’ll absolutely lap up. It’s clear that the team leant on Assassin’s Creed Odyssey here, but that isn’t a criticism; between their own research and building on an idea that already existed, the team behind Immortals Fenyx Rising have managed to create a game that’s really quite special.
Surprisingly, Immortals Fenyx Rising has the best combat mechanics in any Ubisoft game I’ve played this year - including Valhalla. Combat is fast-paced, combo-heavy and makes perfect sense. Parrying has a real, damaging effect on enemies and executing a perfect dodge or combo results in a slow-motion blur that’s satisfying to pull off. Enemies glowing red indicates a move you can’t successfully parry, and this is where the Wings of Daidalos and the dodge skills come into their own as you speed away from deadly hits.
What is annoying, and is the most obvious borrow from Breath of the Wild, is the decreasing stamina bar. Now look, I’m an open-world RPG veteran, so the idea of depleting stamina isn’t a new concept for me, but the speed at which the wee blue bar went down was infuriating. On higher difficulties, it depletes even faster, which means you need to spend a lot of time collecting Blue Mushrooms to keep refilling your bar while constantly planning route changes. The moral of the story? Upgrade your stamina earlier than I did.
Here’s where we get to the crux of it: despite its child-friendly appearance, Immortals Fenyx Rising isn’t for the faint of heart. You need to constantly be on the lookout for the fastest versus the best way to scale a cliff or statue; puzzles are often obtuse and difficult to figure out as the descriptions can be vague or the solution literally hidden from view, and as hard as you try, you can’t really button-mash your way to victory in fights. It's a game rooted in strategy and problem-solving which, again, is a genre I love but one I didn’t expect to encounter in a game that’s made Greek God dick jokes.
Speaking of the Gods, each one has a distinct personality that gels well with the other Gods as you find them and the story improves with each quest you complete for them. In the case of Athena, the Goddess of wisdom and judgement, Typhon has turned her into a child, so now she’s more like the Goddess of unfiltered bluntness.
Child Athena lacks the ability to find peace and security with her own decisions, due to Zeus’ constant inference and finger-wagging that he knows better, so you must enlighten her with the stories of heroes who also had flaws, but ultimately found validation within themselves and fulfilled their destiny. Like all the other Gods, you must reunite her with her stolen essence - in her case, self-assurance and maturity - so that you can face Typhon together and banish the Titan once more.
The Wraiths battles and Vaults of Tartaros are great if you’re looking for an extra challenge plus the opportunity to gather Bolts of Lightning and Coins of Charon, which you can use to level up your skills and aforementioned bastard stamina. Wraiths will hunt you periodically as you traverse the map and cover a wide area, so even though you have wings, expect to be blasted out the sky as Achilles jogs on the spot and launches a lightning bolt from his spear.
As far as next-gen titles go, Immortals Fenyx Rising is definitely one you should be adding to your list. It’s available on almost every platform - sorry, mobile gamers - and looks fantastic on the Xbox Series X, which I got to review it on. Overall, it’s a charming, cerebral and funny time-sink adventure that’ll really cheer you up and distract you if you’re having a quiet festive season this year.
Version tested: Xbox Series X. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.