Given how massively successful The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been, it was only a matter of time before other developers took heavy inspiration from Nintendo’s modern classic.
However, outside of miHoYo’s popular online-only Genshin Impact from earlier this year, we haven’t really seen any significant BOTW single-player “clones” yet. That’s what makes Ubisoft Quebec’s Immortals Fenyx Rising so interesting.
Besides incorporating the mechanical frameworks of BOTW, Immortals also cleverly infuses them with a major Greek mythology-inspired backdrop and some other neat design tricks. The result is an experience that offers an excellent take on BOTW and classic Greek myths while also standing out among Ubisoft’s large suite of own open-world games.
A wondrous world filled with gods and monsters
The biggest way that Immortals differentiates itself from all of those other games is through its storytelling. The core premise of the game is rather basic, with you playing as a soldier named Fenyx — who you can choose to be either male or female — as they become stranded on the fantastical Golden Isle. Here, they must travel across the land to free the Greek gods and defeat the evil Titan Typhon, all with the hopes of saving their fellow travellers from being turned to stone.
It’s a standard ‘save the world’ setup, to be sure, but Immortals elevates the narrative significantly by framing it all from the perspective of Prometheus, the god of fire, and Zeus, the god of thunder and king of Mount Olympus. This means that Fenyx’s earthly activities are accompanied by hilarious back-and-forth exchanges between Prometheus and Zeus. The former feverishly narrates Fenyx’s exploits, while the latter is much more sardonic, leading to the two frequently — and rather comically — butting heads.
It’s a charming way of avoiding the grandiosity that can accompany some Greek-inspired stories (looking at you, earlier God of War entries) while fleshing out Ubisoft Quebec’s spin on Greek mythology. To that end, the developer seems keenly aware that many people are familiar with these fables, and so Immortals takes iconic Greek gods like Ares and Aphrodite in some wonderfully amusing directions that smartly subvert what you might expect from them.
The only real downsides to the story are that while the moment-to-moment writing is consistently entertaining, Typhon is a generic villain and Fenyx’s actual personal stakes in the journey are weak. Their relationship with those they’re fighting to save is barely fleshed out over the course of the story, making it difficult to feel invested in that aspect of their quest. Thankfully, Fenyx mostly makes up for this with an endearingly plucky and quirky personality.
In terms of its gameplay, Immortals hues much more closely to BOTW. In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s a clone at first, with Immortals also featuring stamina-based climbing mechanics, Magnesis-esque obstacle manipulation (known here as ‘Herakles’ Strength’), gliding, mini-dungeons and more. However, it’s the ways by which Immortals takes these elements and builds on them that are most notable.
The most significant of these is combat. BOTW‘s weakest aspect was its basic combat hindered by an insufferable breakable weapons system. Thankfully, Immortals ditches this frustrating mechanic while keeping the one part of BOTW‘s fights that worked quite well — the ‘Flurry Rush’ that slows down time upon a well-timed dodge to get in several hits. Further, Immortals features a surprisingly deep skill tree that unlocks new abilities, such as the option to use your Herakles’ Strength to pull yourself towards enemies (including airborne ones) and quickly throw objects.
There are even ‘Godly Powers’ like Hephaistos’ Hammer that offers an earth-shattering area of effect damage, and Ares’ spear that launches enemies for aerial combos which shake things up even more. Further, you also obtain a fiery bird companion named Phosphor, which has its own handy abilities in combat. The only issue is Immortals‘ lock-on option, which is finicky and hard to view on an enemy’s body, but it’s not enough to hamper the overall satisfying feel of combat.
Immortals also impresses with the stunning well-realized Golden Isle. On paper, an open-world setting populated mostly by monsters that’s lacking towns or non-player characters outside of your mount could feel quite barren and soulless. In place of all that, though, Ubisoft Quebec has brilliantly filled the world with a diverse assortment of compelling activities. Materials required to upgrade your gear can sometimes be found in the world, but are best gathered by completing quests and solving puzzles that unlock chests. The Stamina-boosting Zeus’ Lightning can only be acquired by completing well-designed Vaults of Tartarus, which are very much like BOTW‘s Shrines. Bits of lore related to the missing Hephaistos are found by completing ‘Constellation Challenges’ that require you to work through a series of interconnected puzzles in a small area. ‘Coins of Charon’ are rewarded to you for completing various challenges, including timed-based navigation objectives.
This creates a deeply compelling gameplay loop where you’re constantly rewarded for doing different activities, ensuring that I never found the world empty or boring. I especially appreciated how the environmental puzzles forged a deeper connection between me and the world. Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs series are an excellent means to engage in “virtual tourism” through meticulously crafted real-world settings, but my appreciation for them usually ends at that superficial level. In Immortals, I’d constantly come across an islet, small temple or valley and pore over every nook and cranny to find its secrets — a mini-boss or puzzle here, a new quest or funny comment from Zeus there — while soaking in the beautiful Ancient Greek decor.
Making this even better is the fact that Immortals feels manageable. In total, the game takes around 30 hours to complete the main story plus a solid amount of side content — a perfect length for an open-world game. What’s more, Immortals‘ world is divided into multiple distinct Greek god-themed regions with their own sizeable-but-not-overwhelming amount of content. Overall, Immortals feels like a meaningful response to criticisms levied at Ubisoft Quebec’s last game, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which argued that the game was too bloated and overwhelming.
While I enjoyed all of Immortals‘ optional quests, the aforementioned Vaults are a particular highlight. Sure, the puzzles aren’t nearly as well-designed as those in BOTW, but I appreciated the nice change of pace that they brought and the steady buildup in difficulty over time. Some are standard combat arenas, but most are filled with clever and intuitive challenges that require you to use your abilities in thoughtful ways. For example, one long dungeon made inventive use of Fenyx’s Herakles’ Strength ability to manipulate blocks by letting you toggle their gravity by striking them. This meant I had to build my own platforms to cross long caverns and reach higher levels, which had me feeling clever once I’d successfully cleared a path.
Unfortunately, Fenyx’s gliding mechanic is a bit clunky when it comes to precise turning since it’s primarily intended for quick traversal in the overworld. This, in turn, makes some of the platforming-specific sections feel more frustrating than they should be. By and large, though, most of the puzzles placed minimal emphasis on Fenyx’s wings, and they’re better off for it.
Two steps forward, one step back
The only area where Immortals feels like a significant step down from BOTW is in its sense of discovery. In that game, you were encouraged to see any point on the map and head towards it. Without much in the way of cues, you were challenged with coming up with your own way to get there, with specific care required in plotting out small platforms where you could stop to regain stamina while climbing. In Immortals, all of this exploration is streamlined by letting you mark points of interest when climbing statues to scout the area (it wouldn’t be a Ubisoft game without towers). On top of that, you can brew potions to restore stamina, with the world containing an ample supply of the materials necessary to craft them.
While you can certainly choose not to dabble in these mechanics, the fact that exploration is designed around them does mean they prove quite invaluable. This is especially true when considering the plethora of enemies scattered throughout the world. Many are quite aggressive and continuously chase you for long periods, which makes it frustrating — if not impossible — to climb or enter certain areas without taking care of them. I often found myself chugging stamina potions just so I could keep running or climbing and escape the flying enemies that came after me.
The biggest offender in this regard is the ‘Wraiths.’ As you progress in the world, Typhon will have his powerful Wraith minions send waves of enemies at you. During this time, you basically have to survive for a period before the forces relent, after which time the Wraith’s hideout will be marked on the map for you to take the fight to them to permanently stop their attacks. While I imagine Ubisoft Quebec intended for Wraiths to make the world feel more dynamic, they just come off as ridiculously tedious, as you have to drop what you’re doing to deal with them. I even encountered a Wraith mere moments after entering Athena’s region, which completely ruined the initial feeling of wonder I could have had from soaking in the new environment.
Going the distance
It would be easy to overlook Immortals Fenyx Rising. After all, its release falls just week before Cyberpunk 2077, and mere weeks after fellow Ubisoft open-world games Watch Dogs: Legion and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
That said, Ubisoft Quebec has created something quite special here. While much of people’s attention is understandably directed towards its similarities to BOTW, the Canadian developer has done a splendid job in making Immortals feel distinct from not only Nintendo’s game, but those of from its fellow Ubisoft studios own as well.
Some exploration issues aside, Immortals is a must-play game thanks to its pleasant narrative setup, rock-solid combat, outstanding gameplay variety and gorgeous aesthetic. This isn’t just one of Ubisoft’s better open-world offerings — it’s one of 2020’s best games, period.
Immortals Fenyx Rising will launch on December 3rd on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, PC and Google Stadia. A free demo is available on Stadia until December 21st.