Critics are often taught not to make comparisons to another piece of work when assessing something, and I’ve mostly held myself to this standard, but Immortals Fenyx Rising makes it very hard. It’s no secret that this is Ubisoft’s response to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and the inspiration is worn plainly on the game’s toga. However, this new IP manages to separate itself from Zelda in several ways that make it the more enjoyable, interesting game in the end. Yeah, I said it. Immortals is better than Breath of the Wild.
Arriving on the Golden Isle, a customizable hero named Fenyx believes themselves to be the prophetic hero who can revive the gods following a cataclysm. It’s Fenyx’s sole job to defeat Typhon, the definitely-not-Ganon enemy waiting in the glowing, fiery spire in the center of the map. Across 30+ hours, Fenyx along with some animal companions will resuscitate four Athenian gods and goddesses across a sprawling open world where puzzles fill each unique biome, all to see that good triumphs over evil. Succinctly, it’s Zelda via Greek mythology, but with enhancements.
Not all of Immortals Fenyx Rising is familiar, but much of it is. The quadrants of the map are absolutely littered with puzzles atop every peak and sitting in every valley, and oftentimes they will be quite similar to those you’ve seen before. Using a magnet-like ability, you’ll move large marbles into slots that unlock doors. Or maybe you’ll activate wind columns so you can glide across them to a surface where you’ll climb to find a massive ball waiting to be rolled down a ramp into a rounded port that unlocks a chest of loot.
The puzzles range from requiring a single action to being sprawling affairs, especially in Vaults, which are isolated, short dungeons akin to Breath of the Wild’s shrines. Occasional story-related Vaults are much lengthier and offer save points throughout so you can take a break and let your brain rest. While many puzzles will remind you of those in Breath of the Wild, plenty of others invent their own mechanics. That said, there are a few that employ trial-and-error solutions that feel less satisfying and much less clever than most of the gamut.
Instead of puzzles, some Vaults offer combat scenarios that throw waves of enemies after you. They dare you to outwit the diverse array of villains slashing at your hero, and Fenyx stylishly evades, parries, and fights back using light, heavy, and ranged combat.
Aesthetically, the shaded grass and cartoonish terrain is at best an homage and at worst a ripoff, but the Greek mythology allows for some vistas unique to Immortals Fenyx Rising, like massive stone statues of Ares, Aphrodite, and more. Exploring the Golden Isle is more akin to exploring a traditional Ubisoft game than Zelda. You can still fill your map with icons to chase, though the game leaves this up to you, so those that want the purer experience of happening upon unmarked secrets still have the opportunity to play that way.
It’s also a much more accessible game and can even be much easier if you prefer it to be. Puzzle-solving can be simplified using a good range of hint options, and they can be toggled individually so you never get more help than you may want. Immortals Fenyx Rising has no weapon degradation either. Gear features a simpler, more enjoyable system that gives every weapon and armor two perks, with the second perk unlockable by leveling up Fenyx’s stats. With the perks, you can build the Fenyx that suits your play style. Various resources found in every cave, crevasse, and fort allow you to level up three weapon types (quick swords, slow axes, and bow and arrow), special abilities, and your satchel of potions for restoring health and stamina or temporarily boosting strength or defense. The way all of the exploration feeds directly back into empowering Fenyx is really rewarding.
If this is Zelda by way of Ubisoft, the team has done a much better job at filling out its sandbox. In all my years of playing open-world games, I think this is the first time there isn’t a single item on the map I don’t want to do. Immortals Fenyx Rising offers a fantastic power fantasy, and thus it’s very hard to move past a landmark without clearing it entirely. Everything brings great purpose to your adventure.
Lovely world and addicting puzzles aside, the core combat starts strong from your first encounter. A relatively short skill tree offers just the right depth, making each upgrade worthwhile and sometimes drastically altering your move set (or even your options in solving puzzles) for the better. Even among so many other high points, fighting enemies in Immortals Fenyx Rising is routinely a fun challenge, and simply put, it looks awesome. From flying enemies to massive tank-like cerberuses and so much in-between, Immortals delivers conflicts built on crowd control, and swiftly dispatching half a dozen enemy types in one battle without ever taking a hit proves to be one of the most satisfying gameplay moments of 2020.
It’s commendable how Ubisoft has taken the foundation of a venerated game and expanded upon it with better combat, many more puzzles with more variable objectives, and a prettier, fuller world. Having said that, there’s one way in which Ubisoft misses the mark by quite a wide margin, and that’s its writing. The game is narrated by a bickering pair in Zeus and Prometheus with jokes that are silly and corny but also not family-friendly.
Once the characters started using outdated terms like “prostitute” and even straight-up swear words like “asshole,” it started to feel like the story was written for neither children nor adults. The jokes are often quite immature but never wholesome enough to be targeting younger players, yet the rest of the game feels like it could make for a family-game-of-the-year contender. Ultimately, it feels like it was written twice, with disparate parts of each script mashed together into this final version. While the lighter tone is welcome, Ubisoft might be better served to clean up the dialogue a bit in a sequel and make a story with a more specific audience in mind.
Still, Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of the best games of the year. It doesn’t matter if its inspiration is so blatant when the team uses that as only a springboard. This isn’t a repaint of Breath of the Wild, but rather an evolution of it, and more often than not it makes smarter gameplay decisions that in full create a more enjoyable, irresistible world. The disjointed, sometimes crass tone leaves a bad taste, especially among those looking to enjoy this with their kids or siblings, but as clear as the throughline is between Breath of the Wild and Immortals Fenyx Rising, it’s just as obvious that Immortals will live again. This is just the start of something special.