Hopefully they've learned more from Daedalus than they have from Zeus lately.
Originally announced as Gods and Monsters, Immortals: Fenyx Rising has some obvious similarities to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. It takes place in a wide open world where you climb anything and go anywhere. You’ll climb up to a high place to fill in your map, and then glide down to whatever you found interesting. You unlock magic powers that let you move objects around, and if you dodge at the right moment during a fight, time will slow down so you can wail on an enemy. Breath of the Wild made a strong impression with how significantly it changed the open world formula, and Ubisoft Quebec appears to have been taking notes. But Immortals: Fenyx Rising is more than just a copycat of Nintendo’s latest adventure; it takes the ideas that Breath of the Wild innovated on and refines them while adding new ideas into the areas where Zelda fell flat while taking advantage of its ancient Greek setting to tell a lighthearted tale with plenty of humor to flesh out its world and characters along the way.
After a brief introduction with narrators Zeus and Prometheus, Immortals begins with its main character Fenyx washed ashore after a shipwreck. Fenyx is fully customizable and can be either male or female and look however you want them to. Your first few tasks serve as a tutorial to the game’s mechanics, teaching you to climb, fight, and explore the world. Along the way you hear Zeus and Prometheus commenting on your adventure with some genuinely funny references to Greek mythology. Eventually you meet the messenger god Hermes who brings Fenyx to your home base, the Hall of the Gods, and the game opens up to let you explore the world.
Puzzles are a frequent occurrence while following the main quest line, and they appear to have a number of different solutions you can play around with. One puzzle early on involves finding a heavy object to throw into a cracked wall in order to break it open. Rather than do the sensible thing and find something nearby, my first instinct was to grab a boulder at the bottom of the nearby hill and throw it on rooftops, quickly climbing back up to grab it before it rolled back down just to see if I could. It was an appropriately Sisyphean task that took several minutes to pull off, but it felt great to eventually solve the puzzle my own way.
A lot of open-ended puzzles are found in the overworld like this, but Immortals also features more controlled puzzle-solving in its Vaults of Tartaros—an analog to Breath of the Wild’s shrines. The vaults are a bit longer featuring puzzles that get more complex over time, building on their concepts in ways that Zelda only ever did in its four major dungeons. I was only able to tackle three vaults in my limited time with Fenyx Rising, but the amount of challenge I got from those three alone may as well count for 10 shrines, with each vault feeling like a miniature dungeon in its own.
Combat is another area where Immortals manages to shine. In addition to their health bar, enemies also have a stun gauge that fills as they take damage, temporarily incapacitating them and making them more vulnerable to damage when it’s filled. Though Fenyx’s basic attacks are the easiest way to attack, the stun gauge can be filled faster by either parrying enemy attacks or using Fenyx’s alternate abilities like telekinesis and hammer strikes. The ability to grab something with telekinesis at any time forces you to consider your surroundings during a fight, and eventually you’ll gain the ability to grapple enemies at long range to close the distance and keep your combo going. The result feels reminiscent of a character action game like Devil May Cry, and it’s the part of the game I’m most looking forward to seeing more of.
Sadly I was only able to play a limited section of Immortals’ map for a couple hours, so it remains to be seen how well the exploration side of things holds up over the course of the full game. Ironically it’s the aspect of Fenyx Rising that’s most similar to Breath of the Wild that makes me the most worried about its long-term success; the map is undoubtedly smaller than Zelda’s was, and major areas feel cramped and disconnected due to the stark visual changes that separate them from each other. Since my time was so limited I avoided getting too distracted by the world’s features, so I won’t be able to say for sure if Ubisoft Quebec stuck the landing until I’ve had time to play the full game with no restrictions.
I walked away from Immortals: Fenyx Rising feeling hopeful. My worries about the world’s exploration are just that: worries. I didn’t play enough to get a good read on that aspect, but the parts that I did get to experience fully left me feeling good about the direction that things were heading. In the opening hours, Fenyx Rising directly improved upon what I felt were the two weakest aspects of Breath of the Wild: combat and puzzle-solving. If the rest of the game manages to keep up the momentum and deliver a solid open world to fully explore, then Ubisoft may have a real winner on their hands. Link may have walked so that Fenyx can run, but if Immortals can avoid flying too close to the sun, then it’s ready to soar.