We’ve seen some generic-arse names for video games over the years. Medal of Honor Warfighter. Take On Helicopters. Painkiller. Touch Dic. (That last one is my personal favourite and it’s actually good advice.) Recently, Ubisoft entered the inauspicious ranks of moniker misfires when it announced Gods & Monsters.
It has since reversed course to call it Immortals Fenyx Rising. And you know what?
A rose by any other name would smell as sweet if it bloomed into what this could become: a cross-pollination of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
Immortals Fenyx Rising Preview
At this point, I think it’s important to curb our enthusiasm, especially after invoking the name of what is one of the most critically acclaimed open-world RPG modern masterpieces. Is Ubisoft out to supplant a 34-year-old apex franchise with this unproven, multi-platform first-attempt?
I seriously doubt it.
Is the intention to pay passing homage to a grandmaster while also leveraging a few original ideas and a buttload of leftover Greek Mythology homework? Much more likely. In truth, only the odd gameplay mechanic, an overabundance of physics puzzles and the painterly visual aesthetic feels similar here.
After an unfettered two-hour hands-on with Immortals Fenyx Rising – a game built via a worldwide collaboration of studios too numerous list, so I’ll just call them “The Ubiborg”– yeah, I walked away pleased. Let me now count the ways in which I think you ought to be keen to play a game they could have also called “Odyssey of the Wild: Rise of My Interest Levels.”
The very first breath of fresh (non-wild) air with Immortals Fenyx Rising is that it has a voice – two voices, in fact, and they love taking the piss. Fenyx is by no means a Link-esque mute but your exploits are regaled by Zeus and Prometheus. The former is at once out of the loop but omnipotent enough to know he’s in a video game, the latter loves to make a fourth-wall-breaking poke at game mechanics too. Together they have some decent comedic chemistry. It’s pretty refreshing.
As for the game itself, The Ubiborg self-describes Immortals Fenyx Rising as a third-person open-world action-adventure with RPG elements. It’s set in the fantastical landscape of Greek mythology and slides you into the sandals of a human hero on a quest to save the gods from a dark curse while also collecting more crap than a six-armed kleptomaniac.
Quick aside: it’s worth noting that you can actually re-sculpt your avatar to your liking at any point in the story, via the main hub. I didn’t get to see this in action. Presumably, you can alter your gender, skin tone or your locks, but only if you book a Hera-ppointment. Sorry.
The home of the OG Olympians, the beautiful and mysterious Golden Isle, has fallen to the most fearsome and deadliest titan in Greek mythology. Typhon, who was put in the SHU by Zeus for thousands of years, is now back in Gen Pop and seeks revenge by destroyed the veil separating the world of humanity from Tartarus, the underworld. This has in effect unleashed monsters with health bars ’til next Tuesday, plus he’s captured a bunch of the Olympians for good measure.
The good news is there’s a prophecy stating that only you, Fenyx a shipwrecked Greek warrior, can save these Less-Than-All-Powerful-Ones and reclaim their realm. You’ll do this by leveraging a butt-ton of legendary weapons and unique pieces of, especially shiny gear. Even better, much of this filthy loot is imbued with God blessings that allow you to bust out powerful mythical abilities that become your main source of big, showy, kaleidoscopic arse-kickings.
Before you can put the boot to titanic-sized butts, your low-level self will need to hew through the hordes of smaller, slightly less dangerous creatures ravaging this island. Fortunately, you’ll have access to weapons from some of the most famous Greek heroes, like the sword of Achilles (which is way better than his foot armour) and the bow of Odysseus. You’ll be able to improve and customize said weapons as you gather crafting materials and even discover hidden skins.
Combat is very AC in feel. You can thrash out nippy light attack combos with R1, and R2 delivers slower, heavier punishment that can stun enemies or lay them out on their backs. Parries earn you some free hits, but only if you can time a mash of L1 and R1 quick enough. The code I played didn’t have an overly obvious visual ‘tell’ indicating opportune times to do it.
Robin Hood types can hold L2 to draw a bead on enemies. This can be done via the lock-on system, but you’re typically better off using the first-person mode to sink shafts into eyeballs as opposed to centre mass heart surgery from half a postcode away. Expect to sharpshoot more than your typical AC outing, because this world is swarming with these bastard flying harpy mobs.
The fisticuffs here are lock-on heavy, dodge roll-happy stuff – there’s definitely a sweet science to getting in and out of range with enemies who do these obviously telegraphed area of effect moves. It’s worth noting that even triple dodging can be an inferior tactic to simply zipping upwards on Fenyx’s fancy wings. Once the danger has passed you can then kamikaze downwards to resume serving somebody a full six-piece and soda. Alternatively, you could just invite your victim up for an arse-kicking with a view. It’s also worth noting that your wings are invaluable during traversal, but we’ll divebomb into all that in a second.
Whichever way you go, everything you do is grounded by two fairly generous stamina and health meters. You can either wait for the former to replenish on its own –which it’ll do reasonably quickly – or you can help yourself up mid-fight by chugging a vial set to your d-pad. Fenyx can become quite the chemist in this regard — my demo build had her stocked with a small Hogwarts worth of health, stamina and God ability replenish potions.
For those of you who want to unleash some true holy hell, your God abilities reside on an L1 modifier plus your face buttons. There were some things I instantly gelled with. I was a fiend for swinging the mighty hammer of Hephaestus to send multiple enemies flying or take big chunks of life off gigantors. You can also barge over great distances with the tactical prowess of Athena. And of course the God of War – Ares not Kratos – gets a look in with a juggle-tastic spear uppercut.
As you save the gods and forge relationships with them, these abilities will deepen via a perk system which, admittedly, looks kinda sparse when compared to an AC game like Odyssey or Valhalla. I’m a snooper by nature, but a fair chunk of this upgrade screen had placeholder icons with zero info in them. It’s fair to assume then that there’s room for greater expansion come launch time. I expect to see a lot more centred on Fenyx’s Navi-like companion, Phosphorus. That mythical buzzard is a great help during combat where he will perform powerful special attacks and dog your foes harder than Cerberus.
As mentioned earlier, you are in possession of the wings of Daedalus, extra limbs that are basically a form of ancient hang gliding. You simply double jump up and tap Circle to initiate flight, whereupon the stamina bar pops up to tell you how long you can go before chucking an Icarus into the dirt. Another tap of circle will make you dip into a dive and Square makes you boost forward – both moves deplete your airtime roughly twice as fast. Fall damage and death are very much a thing. I strawberry jammed myself pretty easily (for science) from what I thought to be a middling height.
Speaking of Newton, you can expect to top yourself when climbing up the many cliffs and crags of this expansive and decidedly more vertical sandbox. It feels like you can attach to any wall and auto-climb about in a very assassin-like fashion, even when there aren’t obvious footholds available. I didn’t see any presence of my most disliked feature in Breath of the Wild – climb-destroying rain. Here’s hoping it never shows up.
That’s not to say there weren’t moments when the sandbox was battered by colossal weather shifts. At one point I did something to piss off Typhon and a meteor-spewing volcano in the centre of the map blotted things out in hellfire and also spawned beasts trying to actively bloodhound me. Once again, very reminiscent of the Blood Moon events in Zelda.
During that crisis phase I stopped traversing via two feet and a heartbeat. Fast moving, summonable mounts were the best way to keep ahead of my pursuers, and it’s worth mentioning that Fenyx can collect and equip a variety of these companions. Building your own stable of insta-appearing steeds can be done by finding and taming wild versions of them. Basically, you use a bit of stealth and patience to enslave them into an equipment slot for later use. It feels like a pretty cool “Gotta Collect ‘Em All” side diversion of the game that I can see myself getting into, especially if there’s a Pegasus in it for me.
According to the devs they designed this game around three core pillars (but I’m assuming they actually mean classic Greek doric columns). These are: over-the-top fast-paced combat against mythological creatures, rewarding exploration via dynamic “risky” traversal and mind-bending puzzles/world challenges. They say their mantra was to have a journey as challenging and rewarding as the final destination, and gameplay that’s easy to understand and fun to master. I think that’s a pretty potent mix and I definitely had some fun with Fenyx.
Most notably, I was impressed by the sheer size and varied topography of this sandbox. It felt like there were tons of nooks and crannies filled with either more loot and crating materials, but more often access-ways to self-contained puzzle zones. Ubisoft is going big on these. My first few were par for the course things like shifting crates onto pressure pads via telekinesis, or deftly platforming across timed spiked traps. The more interesting moments involved shooting fly-by-wire arrows around obstacles. I also used this feature in combat to magic bullet the crap out of cyclopean bosses who tried to turtle behind shields.
All that being said, while I can find no real fault in this vibrant, stylised world, I’ve yet to spot any one element of this production that hasn’t been done before in another game. There’s still potential for some “Ubiborg uniqueness” to be woven into the proceedings, particularly in the puzzle room mechanics and the perk expanding points they dish out. I’m also keen to see how deep the basic fighting move upgrades can get, along with the equipment loot game – two things that can’t really be gauged in a short demo session.
Despite its well-trod combat mechanics and deja vu puzzling, I still got a weird kick out Immortals Fenyx Rising. Its laidback approach to storytelling is certainly refreshing, but my instincts tell me that it’s probably not going to set the world on fire, like a Typhon tantrum. Mind you, it still runs, plays and feels as solid as the end result of a staring contest with Medusa.
The sad and simple fact is that some hardliner Xbox, PlayStation and PC players are never going to buy a Switch to experience Breath of the Wild, Ubisoft is providing an alternative means to get a small taste of it, just with a dollop of Big Fat Ancient Greek Yoghurt on top.
It’s looking pretty tasty so far. When Immortals Fenyx Rising launches, I really think you odyssey it.
Adam Mathew attended a hands-on event as a guest of Ubisoft.