There are very few modern games that I would describe as funny, at least not wholly so. There are certainly plenty of games with humorous elements or moments that I could name, but none where I would consider humour a defining characteristic. Immortals Fenyx Rising, though, is a funny game. Like, not just chortle or chuckle-worthy but gut-busting, laugh out loud hilarious on the damned regular. It would’ve been easy for Ubisoft Quebec to just slap a bunch of colourful Greek mythology on a design document that read ‘Assassin’s Creed, but make it Breath of the Wild’, but it’s so much more than that. This is a sharp, witty satire with modern sensibilities and seriously strong writing that plays like an abridged take on Ubisoft open world RPGs and feels like a breath of fresh air. And did I mention it’s funny?
After a storm leaves them shipwrecked and washed up on a beach, the titular Fenyx (who is yours to create) quickly discovers that they have in fact arrived on the mythical Golden Isle, home of Greek gods. The gods are missing though, and Fenyx’ mortal companions have all been turned to stone, thanks to the evil deity Typhon who’s torn the very fabric of space to bleed his realm of Tartaros into the Golden Isle. Fenyx soon bumps into and befriends the messenger god Hermes and, despite having lived in their (now-stoned) warrior brother’s shadow their whole life, decides to aid Hermes on his quest to rescue the other gods and banish Typhon back to Tartaros.
It’s a satisfying enough tale on its own, and goes a long way to setting up Immortals’ gameplay vision, but its true strength is the narration from Zeus and Prometheus that carries it through from beginning to end. The game is set up as a retelling of events from the mouth of Prometheus, who’s been chained up by Zeus and wagers his freedom if he can convince Zeus that Fenyx is a real deal hero. The resulting back-and-forth exchange, the majority which plays out while you’re out and about exploring as Fenyx, is routinely hilarious and goes a long way to adding character and (abstracted) companionship in an otherwise lonely landscape. Not since Statler and Waldorf has a couple of grumpy old dudes given such entertaining commentary. Outside of the narration the game also draws from a ton of other sources for its one-liners and throwaway gags and references even outside of the mythological stuff (shoutout to the drag fashion fan who named some of the game’s achievements).
It’s not just humour though, but the sheer strength of the game’s writing and storytelling that makes it something special. The Greek gods as we know them are deeply flawed (if not completely fucked-up) characters and the game doesn’t shy away from that. They’re selfish, debauched, incestuous and violent and, unfortunately for Fenyx, they need rescuing from the deviously ironic weakened forms that Typhon has granted them. It’s not all just jokes and caricatures either, these are well-rounded and interesting characters and there’s an emotional centre to everything that keeps it compelling. Without giving anything away, there’s also a lot more fun/pain to be had with at least an elementary knowledge of Greek mythology and it’s often-shocking stories. Even if you don’t though, there’s enough value in its overall narrative to get something out of it.
This is all supported by a gameplay structure that bears a striking resemblance to a particular couple of franchises, one of Ubisoft’s own and one whose influence can’t be understated. There’s no denying that Immortals feels a hell of a lot like an Assassin’s Creed and Breath of the Wild crossover, though it’s almost like an abridged version of the two. The compact (by these standards) 20–25 hour main story path is a far cry from the potential hundreds required elsewhere, and even a full completion for those inclined is barely pushing 50–60. This works in the game’s favour though, keeping time with the snappy narrative pace and fuelling the power fantasy at breakneck speeds.
The Golden Isle is the perfect catalyst to this condensed epic too, itself a concise take on its contemporaries that smooshes half a dozen biomes into a very manageable mass of land that still feels larger-than-life thanks to a fantastic sense of scale. From looking out across the entire isle at the tops of the enormous stone visages signifying each gods’ home realm, to spelunking secrets in the tiniest hidden recesses, it’s a very dense and surprisingly tangible world that’s a cinch to navigate and yet brilliantly easy to get lost in. It feels vast without being overwhelming and in every square inch is the possibility of an exciting discovery.
Said discoveries are probably the most telltale sign of Ubisoft Quebec’s Hyrulian inspirations, taking the rhymes and rhythms of Nintendo’s magnum opus and distilling them into a quintessentially Ubisoft smattering of icons on a map. It’s almost uncanny – an abandoned world governed by four deities with a big bad that sits in wait in the centre – though more rigid in structure and with an eye on brevity and accessibility. Dotted around the Golden Isle are various objectives, ranging from simple collectibles and interactive goodies to heady encounters with mythical beasts, the extremely Shrine-like Tartaros Vaults as well as large, multi-step environmental puzzles, and all it takes to uncover them is to use your Assassin’s Creed-style Far Sight to highlight them all on the map.
Like its influences, Fenyx Rising’s world is a brilliant bit of balancing that perfectly accommodates a variety of paces in playstyle and seems to move and react to the player without skipping a beat. At no point did I feel like I was doing too much, or too little, on my way to the next point in the critical path and even when I did revisit the plethora of content left after seeing the story through I never felt overpowered – simply better-equipped. Even ‘cheesing’ some of the more complex puzzles with the more ridiculous late-game abilities felt more like I was beating the gods at their own game than breaking the flow of the game I was playing. You get out of Immortals exactly what you put in, and that’s a beautiful thing.
Of course, Fenyx is going to spend a good chunk of their time in combat with the various monsters that inhabit the Isle, and that same penchant for fun and immediacy over pomp and rigour is here too. Your fighting staples are a sword, an axe and a bow, and considered use of each to either whittle down a foe’s HP bar or stun them into a state of weakness is paramount to success. Including a very forgiving parry mechanic, the simplicity and speed of combat never falters even when Fenyx’ repertoire of more unique abilities builds and the ceiling for skill lifts with it. Juggling multiple mythical minions is intuitive, and only gets better when you’re able to sic your trusty bird companion Phosphoros on them or smash ’em over the top with a giant, godly hammer. The fact that every single enemy is catapulted into the horizon on the finishing blow is just the icing on the confrontational cake.
And if you are hoping to experience said exploration and combat at its best, then the new generation of consoles is the place to be. Immortals is an arrestingly beautiful game no matter where you play thanks to its fantastical world and strong art, but it truly shines on platforms that can render its breathtaking vistas and visceral action with detail and speed. Playing on the Xbox Series X, I opted for the ‘performance’ mode’s slick 60fps presentation and never looked back. Being able to zip around the map thanks to the power of the SSD and super fast fast travel is great, especially for nipping back to the Hall of the Gods to grab some new upgrades or turn in quests. I honestly can’t overstate how much of an impact Fenyx Rising’s accomplished art style and sense of scale has on selling its world full of epic Greek tales, and although the day one patch that promises to improve the game’s ‘visual’ graphics option and hopefully fix some random crashes on the Series X has only just landed at the time of writing, I’m thoroughly impressed by its presentation.
Despite everything it nails, Immortals does make a few missteps that can sometimes get in the way of the fun, but thankfully they’re mostly minor. The biggest source of frustration in my time with the game has been the controls, which are serviceable enough but occasionally feel awkward or unable to support Fenyx’s hefty moveset completely. Mostly in the more advanced Tartaros vaults, where ingenuity and coordination are vital to success, the rapid succession of different face button presses required would result in avoidable deaths and the aiming camera for TK-ing blocks is very unhelpful when shooting high.
And for all of the good the game does at presenting a more succinct take on the typical Ubisoft open world experience, its penultimate act is something of a slog through a more bland and frustrating version of everything that came before. What could have been condensed into something with momentum and gravitas winds up just being another smattering of box-checking busywork. Fortunately the payoff is worth it though, leading to an absolute spectacle of a finale that ties everything up superbly and quite nearly had me cheering on the edge of my seat for this motley gaggle of gods and mortals.
On the surface Immortals Fenyx Rising might look like a standard Ubisoft open world game cosplaying as Breath of the Wild, and in a lot of ways it is, but it’s also got a unique identity of its own that makes it so much more. Joyous combat, razor-sharp pacing, stacks of content and a thoroughly entertaining narrative make this an extremely compelling title for all ages and tastes, and a very comfortable world to return to over time. Plus it’s bloody hilarious. It’s even more of a no-brainer on new generation platforms, but whatever you play my advice is the same. Don’t sleep on this game.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X // Review code supplied by publisher
- Ubisoft Quebec
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X&S / Xbox One / Nintendo Switch / PC
- December 3, 2020