Update (Aug, 2022): Two years later, Immortals Fenyx Rising is now available with Xbox Game Pass! Below, you’ll find our original review from 2020, which was just after the Xbox Series X and Series S first released. Enjoy!
Original review (Nov, 2020): Much has already been made of Immortals Fenyx Rising’s very obvious similarities to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and with good reason – this is a game that cribs heavily, unashamedly, from Nintendo’s Magnum Opus. From its puzzle shrines and stamina-based climbing, to its huge freewheeling open world and core narrative structure, this is a game that owes a huge amount to 2017’s mighty Hylian masterpiece. Of course, if you’re going to draw heavily from a title so beloved by so many, you’re gonna need to do a stand-up job or suffer the consequences and, thankfully, in this regard Ubisoft Quebec has mostly come up trumps with a fantastical Ancient Greek adventure that, despite a few problems here and there, is well worth sinking your time into.
It really can’t be overstated just how much Breath of the Wild there is in the mix here, and not just on a mechanical level. Fenyx’s epic story sees you, the prophesised hero, set out to put a stop to the evil Typhon (Ganon), who’s destroyed the veil between the world of humanity and the underworld of Tartaros and must be stopped by summoning the aid of four gods (the Divine Beasts). Just like in Link’s most recent adventure you’ll need to rescue each of these gods from a compromised state, restoring their true essence and availing of the powers they bestow upon you in order to successfully launch an assault on the game’s big bad who sits at the centre of the map in a very familiar swirling neon vortex of demonic filth.
It’s all very familiar stuff, but it’s also a narrative structure that instantly evokes a sense of comfort, a cosy setup that combines with the reassuring core gameplay loops of climbing, riding around on horseback, gliding, exploring, solving puzzles and engaging in combat at your leisure, resulting in an undoubtedly derivative, but nonetheless hugely enjoyable experience that adds just enough of its own twists, turns and unique flavour to proceedings to make its ancient Greek romp feel worthwhile.
With regards to this, the first thing you’ll likely notice upon jumping into the hour long pre-credits tutorial sequence that kicks off your Grecian odyssey – besides the ability to create your own bespoke male or female version of Fenyx – is the game’s very in-your-face sense of humour. We can totally see this element of Immortals Fenyx Rising being highly divisive as its sarky, smart-arsed comedy permeates every aspect of its storytelling and characterisations but, after a slight adjustment period, we have to say we found ourselves rather enjoying it all. Fenyx is the polar opposite of Zelda’s silent protagonist, a character with plenty to say for themselves at all times and proceedings are narrated by the quite unlikely, and extremely mouthy, comedy pairing of Zeus and Prometheus. While things can get a little dad-jokey here and there, with plenty of cringe moments and even a few rather blue offerings, overall the writing is strong enough and the humour that’s been injected gives the whole thing its own unique knockabout personality that makes a nice change from the po-faced depictions of Greek mythology that we’ve grown accustomed to here in video game land.
Combat too, although it shares its basic rhythm and flow with Breath of the Wild in its time-slowing dodge mechanic, flashy parrying and ever-expanding arsenal of special moves and powers, is actually much more in line with Ubisoft Quebec’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey in practice. Fenyx is equipped at all times with a sword for light attacks, axe for heavy strikes and a bow set to LB for ranged combat, pressing RB sees you attack with your sword, while heavy attacks are set to RT. Putting together combinations of light and heavy strikes or making space for a volley of arrows here is quick, easy and necessary in order to fill up those all-important enemy stun bars, allowing you to get in close for some big time damage on your dazed foes, something that plays a major part in the ebb and flow of the game’s many grandstanding legendary boss battles.
Dodging and parrying also play an important role here, you’ll want to get that slo-mo mechanic kicking in as often as possible, especially when you’re surrounded, giving you time to jump out of harm’s way, line up an electricity charged bow-shot or wind up one of the multitude of special moves you have at your disposal. If you’ve played any Assassin’s Creed game since Origins you should feel right at home with Immortals’ fisticuffs and, in many ways, the combat here is a more meaty and substantial offering than that found in its most obvious inspirations. There’s an impressive drip-feed of skills to unlock, power-strikes, air-dodges, sprint attacks and so on that add plenty of variety and spice to the fighting, as well as some excellent Godly powers including Athena’s dash, Ares’s Wrath, Hephaistos’s mighty hammer and even a customisable bird companion with which to attack the game’s menagerie of mythological monsters.
If we did have one complaint to make with regards to the action side of things here it’s in relation to the completely undercooked stealth mechanics. You can sneak up on foes for a cheeky stealth attack, and it’s always a good idea to target the meanest looking cerberus or ogre in a group first in order to do some bonus damage to kick off a scrap, but the game just doesn’t encourage or incorporate this aspect of its combat well enough. Arenas have shrubbery to hide in and walls to cower behind, yes, but enemy patrol routes and mannerisms don’t lend themselves very well to playing this way for any real length of time.
In terms of weapons, there isn’t a huge variety on offer in Immortals Fenyx Rising, you won’t be constantly picking spares up from the corpses of fallen foes or keeping an eye on how many hits you can make before they break à la Zelda’s controversial degradation system. Instead the swords, axes and bows here are found in treasure chests hidden away behind puzzles and arena challenges or rewarded for making story progress. You’ll get your hands on some pretty sweet stuff though, with Achilles’ sword, Odysseus’ bow, the mighty hammer of Hephaistos and more, as well as plenty of awesome armour, helmets and a variety of wings with which to soar above the overworld, all of which can then be upgraded and customised with skins at the Hall of the Gods hub area as you progress through the game. This central hub also plays host to a cauldron where you can make defence, attack, health and stamina potions using herbs collected throughout the world (a heavily simplified version of Breath of the Wild’s cooking), unlock new combat skills with Charon Coins and increase your strength and power by trading in Ambrosia and Zeus’ lightning.
Puzzle shrines and combat challenges, here known as the Vaults of Tartaros, are another aspect of this game that will be instantly familiar to Zelda fans and it’s in these elements that Immortals Fenyx Rising finds itself at its very best. There’s a genuinely impressive variety of well-designed puzzles to engage with in this one, whether you’re in a bespoke vaulted area or just happen to stumble across one of the many, many challenges dotted around the world map and, by and large, they manage to strike a nice balance between being clever enough to give you pause for thought while never so tough that frustration begins to set in.
There are some impressively large challenge vaults to traverse here, great big otherworldly, floaty space realms that do a great job of utilizing all of your skills and give you plenty to think about as you make your way through their obstacles. Between solving environmental conundrums, constellation challenges, puzzles that feature floating blocks, balls, switches, magnesis and the tricksy manoeuvring of Apollo’s Arrow from a first person perspective – all while taking on arenas full of mythological nasties – there’s a ton of meaty side activities and head-scratchers to get stuck into here, all of which tie nicely into the game’s Ancient Greek setting and storyline.
Indeed, Ubisoft Quebec’s time and experience spent developing the gargantuan Assassin’s Creed Odyssey has very obviously fed directly into their ability to create a world here that’s absolutely loaded with detail, stories and secrets pertaining to the various Gods and great legends of the era. It’s evident in the narration, littered as it is with constant clever little references, tales and jokes that play out as you discover new areas or stumble across challenges. It’s evident too in the various regions of the Golden Isles, each of which pertains to one of the Gods that make up the core cast of characters. The different areas here are all wonderfully well realised affairs chock full of hidden treasures, vantage points, enemy camps and activities. Aphrodite’s Valley of Eternal Springs is a lush and enchanting slice of rolling green hills, forests and flowery meadows, Hephaistos’ Forgelands a charred wasteland of spare parts and defunct automatons and Ares’ War Den, our own personal favourite, an ancient battleground littered with the enormous remains of long-dead warriors and the foreboding Ajax Fort sat at its heart.
Standing atop a mountain here or successfully climbing one of the four statues you’ll need to summit in order to activate each God’s main questline, you may not be presented with a sweeping vista that’s filled with the same level of magic, intrigue and pure artistry as that found in Breath of the Wild – what’s here is much more an enormous junkyard of Greek mythology, its statues, temples and towers strewn around at odd angles – but it’s a hugely impressive creation nonetheless. This is a world that’s a joy to swoop, climb and gallop around, a massive playground with new treasures, puzzles and challenges waiting around every corner. It’s also a world that’s at its very best when it allows you total freedom to explore, battle, upgrade, puzzle and move the story forward as you see fit, and it’s in this respect that Immortals Fenyx Rising makes perhaps its biggest mistake.
Moving into the latter part of the story, with the various strands of each God’s questline complete, the game begins to rather needlessly restrict your movements, removing the absolute freedom you’ve grown accustomed to by sapping your stamina and throwing you into a bunch of mandatory scraps and myth challenges. It feels completely at odds with what’s come beforehand and rather messy and jarring as a result.
On top of this the game’s final boss encounter, without spoiling anything, feels like it goes on for a bit too long and, once you’re in it, you’re stuck there. You are given a choice at this point, warned to turn back if you don’t want to commit to the endgame, and all we’ll say from experience is take your time arriving at this point as, even on normal difficulty, a stiff challenge awaits and you can’t return to the overworld until it’s done. We should point out here that the game does have plenty in the way of difficulty and accessibility settings and comes complete with a story mode for those who wish to avoid the rigours of combat, just be aware that on anything but the easiest of settings the final confrontations are much smoother sailing after some decent preparation.
Besides this slightly disappointing final segment, however, which really only amounts to a couple of hours in what is a huge game, Immortals Fenyx Rising is a properly pleasant surprise that pretty much nails every other aspect of what it sets out to achieve. The humour may very well prove to be divisive, the gameplay is undoubtedly a derivative mish-mash of the very best of Breath of the Wild and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and the story is fairly par for the course, but this is still a hugely enjoyable and involving romp. With tons of puzzles, side activities and challenges to dig into, addictive and flashy combat that only gets better as Fenyx’s powers grow, a cast of ridiculously OTT characters that we won’t spoil here and a huge world dripping in little details, myths, secrets and treasures, this is one slapstick Greek Odyssey that we’ll be returning to in both New Game+ and the unlockable hardest difficulty mode for some time to come.
With regards to performance, on Xbox Series X, this is also a supremely good-looking game for the most part. There are times when character models, particularly Fenyx, can look a little dated, but the world itself is full of stunning vistas and suitably epic scenery as you take to the skies or thunder across fields on your trusty steed. We played through this one entirely in performance mode at 4K/60FPS – the 4k/30FPS quality mode is due to be patched at release and is prone to stuttering in its current form – and we didn’t encounter any framerate dips, crashes or bugs in our thirty hour journey.
Immortals Fenyx Rising undoubtedly owes a huge debt to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, borrowing wholesale as it does from its core gameplay mechanics and narrative structure. However, what Ubisoft Quebec has come up with here also adds enough of its own spin on proceedings, with a strong personality and sense of humour sat alongside some brilliantly designed puzzles, flashy, satisfying combat and a huge world full of secrets, treasures and Ancient Greek mythology to discover. It may falter slightly in the final stretch by wrestling away player freedom and funnelling you through its overly long endgame, but this is still a hugely entertaining, technically impressive Ancient Greek romp that’s well worth experiencing.