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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Review: Immortals Fenyx Rising (Microsoft Xbox Series X)


Review by Trent P.

Immortals Fenyx Rising is a key new property for Ubisoft. Developed by Ubisoft Quebec, the title is a distinct action-adventure game in a style that sits neatly within Ubisoft's comfort zone, and that's not an inherently bad thing, though you know what you're getting right from the outset, and Ubisoft may want to start looking at developing a range again, as it is becoming far too narrow in its ideas.

The title - set within the fantasy of Greek mythology - puts players in the control of Fenyx, whose brother is turned to stone when a storm strands the crew on the Golden Isle. In line with other recent Ubisoft titles, Fenyx is a named protagonist but you have a lot of control over his or her design. This hero then quickly finds themselves guided on a path to help the gods of the land against one of the deadliest of their enemies; Typhon of the titans, who has plagued the land into darkness and stolen the essence of the gods.

Fenyx must claw each God's essence back from Typhon, after he has cursed each of them to an ironic fate. The gods Aphrodite, Athena, Ares and Hephaistos are all at the mercy of Fenyx to assist with these fates. For example, the goddess Aphrodite, known for been the god of love and beauty, is stripped of her personality and looks. Becoming a tree in a cruel twist of fate to grant her a wooden personality and looks. Another god, Ares (the god of war), has found himself turned into a chicken. The game plays heavily on these personalities in their new bodies and their twisted mental states to provide a humorous take on the Greek lore for these gods. 


Players who rush into Immortals Fenyx Rising will find a title that mechanically resembles The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. As a way of distinguishing this game somewhat from the other Ubisoft open-world titles, this is not a bad move by any means. However in an industry in which “cel-shaded games with floating mechanics and an omnipresent stamina bar” is somehow becoming more commonplace, Immortals Fenyx Rising boxes itself into comparisons to more successful or distinctive examples like Zelda itself, or Genshin Impact.

Those times it tries to break out and do its own thing are not always successful, and this juggling act between homage and attempted iteration plagues Immortals Fenyx Rising throughout. I could tick the boxes as I found similarities towards the latest Zelda release, finding myself thinking “oh this is Calamity Ganon”, “oh this is the stasis move”, “oh these are ruins”. However, while the game does try to look at these events and scenes through a different perspective, I found myself expecting more polish for many of these ideas when it did. In other words, Immortals fails to improve on those it takes inspiration from.

These issues are somewhat mitigated once the player achieves a certain level of unlocked skills, as these allow alternative approaches for solving puzzles, and can make the flight and fighting mechanics more accessible. However, even then, the UI is not always helpful, and it is possible to get a little lost as to how to overcome some of the challenges directed at you.


One thing the game certainly has going for it is the variety of different tools and skills you've got at your disposal. Soon enough you're able to tackle challenges with a combination of axes, swords and bows, and certainly, this variety could make enemy encounters interesting and dynamic. With that being said, too often I found it easier to stick to certain weapons to deal with most challenges, and as I played on I found the expansive options to be superfluous to what I actually wanted to do, and the polar opposite to encouraging creative thinking in approach to the game's challenges. 

One of the real highlights for Feynx Rising is the way the story was told. It's framed as a story-within-a-story, as an imprisoned Prometheus relates the tale of our hero to Zeus, as the gods face their existential threat. Of course, with the Greek gods being the fickle and selfish beings that they are, their concern for Fenyx's plight isn't what you would expect the situation would demand. In short, the commentary that pops in from time to time adds a layer of humour to the events being depicted, and helps give Fenyx context beyond what she herself says and does. All of this is presented in a very lovely manner, too - Ubisoft's first outing with this specific aesthetic approach is resoundingly strong. 

Outside of the banter between the storytellers, Fenyx primarily interacts with Hermes. As the herald of the gods, he takes shelter in the Hall of the Gods - a central location that provides Fenyx access to the ability to enhance their skills or obtain other power-ups. The location is also one of many which Fenyx can craft potions which help aid the quest, such as those that will boost their health, armour and skills. In general Hermes, like the other gods, has his own distinct personality, and the creative license that Ubisoft has taken with them all is the highlight of the whole experience.


Ultimately if Ubisoft can work out the kinks that were to be expected from a first excursion, Immortals has real potential to become another marquee property for the company. Expected DLC will take players to Asia as a brand-new character, which could potentially be an inkling that Ubisoft plans on exploring many other mythologies yet. The biggest challenge that the company will face is finding a way to bring out a distinctive personality on the mechanical side of Immortals, because as it currently stands it most certainly feels like a case of “throwing everything at the dartboard to see what sticks," and Ubisoft is cribbing a lot from games that are already excellent.



- Trent P.
Contributor

The critic was provided with a copy of this game for review.

Review: Immortals Fenyx Rising (Microsoft Xbox Series X)
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