I recently got the chance to play two hours of Immortals Fenyx Rising – formerly known as Gods & Monsters – Ubisoft’s love letter to Nintendo’s The Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild. If you’re going to imitate any game, you may as well start with one of the best, right?
But Immortals Fenyx Rising doesn’t feel like a tasteful homage with its own innovations. Instead, the game takes a lot more than it adds and fails to understand what made Link’s open-world adventure so compelling in the first place.
Immortals Fenyx Rising shipwrecks the player on The Golden Isle, a gigantic landmass with sectors devoted to particular Greek gods. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows: the isle and its deities have fallen at the hands of Typhon, a calamitous creature seeking revenge after being imprisoned by Zeus. Typhon’s corrupting force emanates from a central mountain, unleashing the demons of Tartarus and bringing havoc to the land. You play as the titular Fenyx, who has been tasked to save the Greek gods and restore the isle to its former glory.
Players can explore the entire map as soon as they start, and each region happens to be defined by certain powerful characters that will grant Fenyx new abilities. It’s also worth noting the many Vaults of Tartarus, instanced shrines that ask the player to complete physics, combat and platforming puzzles to collect redeemable items that improve Fenyx’s stamina. To find them, click on one of the analogue sticks to zoom in, pin and reveal hidden objectives in the open-world.
Speaking of stamina, you can climb anywhere as long as you manage your meter, solve environment-based puzzles in the open-world and even cook up potions in a big basin to sustain it when you’re out on a lofty trek. Does all of this sound familiar to you? That’s because most of these features seem to be heavily inspired by Breath Of The Wild. Perhaps the most egregious example is the way you pick up and hurl rocks and blocks – giant yellow beams extend from your avatar, allowing you to play with physics by moving assets in the air, battering enemies and solving puzzles.
I don’t have a problem with a game that learns from one of the most influential and impressive open-world games of all time. Immortals Fenyx Rising copying Breath Of The Wild’s homework would be fine if it brought its own flair to the table, but so far I’m not convinced it can stand on its own. But I can’t say it doesn’t have a few of its own ideas, plus the premise itself is pretty charming.
My favourite thing about my preview was that the gameplay was narrated by Zeus and the Titan Prometheus in magnificent metaphysical fashion. They feel like a dynamic duo from a Beckett play, constantly interjecting with quips and commentary, breaking the fourth wall on a regular basis to talk about the pronunciation of Ubisoft, or to mention the game’s leaked demo and name change.
The writing is also genuinely funny– I have to admit I laughed out loud when one of them mentioned how similar Fenyx’s actions were to Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, only for the other to cut them off in order to avoid any lawsuits. The game does not take itself at all seriously, and this works to put you at ease very quickly. I imagine self-awareness might have been necessary, given how much it grafts from its legendary forerunner.
However, it’s unclear if the narration extends to the full game, but it’d be a shame if it doesn’t because the endearing voiceover might be one of its major selling points. It gives it some distance from the stoic silence of Zelda.
Traversing the landscape in Immortals Fenyx Rising is often a hellish experience. My demo was set in the forge lands of Hephaestus, so I was constantly bumping into mechanical meanies and bullish beasts, and never found reason to stop and smell the roses. There’s a distinct lack of tranquility in the game – it always feels like something is going to smack you if you stop moving for too long. This led me to constantly follow map markers and race between objectives, and when I ran out of things to do I just wanted to wrap the preview up.
Exploration does not feel organic given that most of the points of interest are provided on a platter to the player. So you don’t get those water cooler moments as you do in Zelda, when the game leaves you to your own devices and you discover something fascinating. But thankfully, Immortals Fenyx Rising offers some variety though its puzzles, which can be pretty neat.
Besides the usual methodical races and block-pushing puzzles, there was a challenge where I had to thread an arrow through a number of hoops in a track, using the zoomed-in bullet time arrow ability made famous by Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Another puzzle had me arranging a painted frieze to unlock a throne. My favourite however were the lyre puzzles, where you would solve a problem at one end of the map and receive a series of musical notes, which you’d have to remember and play on a gigantic physical lyre elsewhere by shooting arrows at the strings to recreate the melody.
It’s a very clever design, but they all led to a collectible currency which I didn’t get a chance to redeem in the demo, so it all felt a bit winded. When a similar puzzle asked me to arrange a bunch of scattered blue balls in a constellation, I just couldn’t be bothered, knowing that the reward for my repetitive platforming would be a few more useless coins.
Fenyx can glide with their wings, boosting and diving through the air to complement a decent double jump, but the control scheme makes it feel utterly unintuitive. You tap B to start gliding once you’re in the air, but don’t hold it too long or else you’ll drop. Just tap and leave it, then contort your hand to boost with X. It’s clearly been done this way so that you can do more actions in the air, but frankly the complexity hurts the entire flight mechanic.
I’d have much preferred a stripped-back version that lets you make more fluid turns and be precise in flight. It’s a far cry from the minimalist, dreamy feel of gliding in Breath Of The Wild, and given it’s the main way you navigate in Immortals, it gets annoying quickly.
The combat framework here is also terribly similar to another game, Ubisoft’s own Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Expect time to slow when you dodge and a constant flurry of choreographed abilities that’ll help hurl enemies into the air, separate crowds and break shields. It definitely feels consequential, but once you figure out how to dodge properly you can usually just keep wailing on the spongy enemies until you drop.
The abundance of abilities also means that you’re constantly just waiting for cool downs so you can slam with the hammer and do the most damage over and over, rather than thinking about how to unpick an enemy’s AI. Though, I will admit there were a few challenging boss battles – if only it weren’t so easy to neck potions and cheese their health bar down with abilities.
All in all, I had some fun with Immortals Fenyx Rising for the first hour and a half, but after I’d finished one of every objective it had to offer, the open-world nausea did start to creep in as I wondered what I was really working towards. The lack of tranquility and hamfisted navigation meant that the charming voiceover ultimately did a lot of the heavy lifting.
Picking up Breath Of The Wild for a few hours after my preview solidified what Immortals Fenyx Rising doesn’t get about the game it is trying so hard to emulate. Everything you do in Fenyx feels like a means to an intangible end, as you stumble into encampment after encampment, with puzzles and encounters that feel synthetically placed rather than organically grown.
Ultimately, I just felt like a lackey of the gods, doing busywork to save some powerful old lads I had no meaningful connection to. And when that’s the main force propelling you forward, there are only so many chests to kick open and resources to collect before it gets, well, old.