Immortals: Fenyx Rising

I typically have a love/hate relationship with Ubisoft. All of their toxic inter-office chicanery aside (about which I have conflicted opinions), I have always found that, ever since perhaps Far Cry 2 (which I still think is one of the best games the studio has ever made), I have both loved and hated every one of their games that I’ve played.

Ubisoft is also my personal Achilles heel. What I mean by that is, no matter the franchise (I’ve played at least one entry in all of its mainstream action franchises except, I think, Siege and For Honor), whenever a new entry comes out, I swear I will not buy into the hype. But I have a weak spot, and invariably Ubisoft can always hit it to coax me into a purchase.

So, with the announcement of Gods & Monsters, which would later be rebranded as Immortals Fenyx Rising, I girded my expectations with my usual pre-launch nonchalance. You know, the part of me that goes, “This looks cool, but do I really need to add another Ubisoft title to my collection?” And coming off the heels of having finally played The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild earlier this year, I was especially dubious of how closely Immortals Fenyx Rising seemed to ape Breath of the Wild‘s formula.

Like I said, Ubisoft is my Achilles heel, so it was inevitable that I took the plunge on release day. What surprised me, however, is that I was completely bowled over by Fenyx Rising, even after having played it for about 20 hours with an average 89% enjoyment rating (in that I spent 89% of my game time enjoying it, and 11% not enjoying it).

Immortals Fenyx Rising

Not only does Fenyx Rising crib from Breath of the Wild, it also borrows liberally from Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, including sharing some of the same voice cast. Apparently, Fenyx Rising was birthed out of some glitch while the dev team was working on Odyssey, so I guess this makes sense.

But this isn’t a bad thing. Fenyx Rising manages to take those influences and really hammer them into something that works, offering an incredible world to explore with some of the best combat and traversal mechanics of any Ubisoft title I have played to date.

The game world is pretty big, but not in the “Why is this so pointlessly big?” fashion typical of Ubisoft. And considering how diverse each area of the map is, Fenyx Rising doesn’t get as stale as, say, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, which (to me) just seemed like the same location multiplied to an absurd degree. Every location in Fenyx Rising is brimming with color and personality, to the point where it feels more inspired by a game like Ghost of Tsushima rather than anything traditionally Ubisoft. It stands in contrast to another Ubisoft title that leaned heavy into a vivid color palette, Far Cry: New Dawn, which mostly came off as a garish neon-infused mush-fest.

Immortals Fenyx Rising

And although I am not a huge fan of Fortnight-style, cartoony character models, in this instance it works well enough without being a distraction. Of course, this is perhaps partly because the game shoots hard enough for the goofy moon that it gives Airplane! a run for its money. It probably also doesn’t hurt that Fenyx Rising almost feels like you’re playing with action figures based on some 1990s Disney movie.

The real draw for me, however — and what put this game above the others that I played this year (and also puts it in stark contrast to The Last of Us Part II) — is that is it just endlessly charming and fun. These are two things I rarely look for in a video game — I usually look for challenging survival sim games or brutal action games (which is why I played The Last of Us Part II this year).

Immortals Fenyx Rising is the sort of game that chooses a few things that it feels confident doing, then sets out to do those extremely well (or, at the very least, admirably well). It is enjoyable to look at, listen to, and, most important of all, play.

And sure, it puts you on an endless string of fetch quests with a decent amount of side content to pad out its play time, like any Ubisoft staple. And sure, it also has an initially confusing currency system that requires multiple items for different skill unlocks or upgrades, and all this can seem overwhelming until you start to make sense of it.

Immortals Fenyx Rising

But Fenyx Rising is also the sort of game that lets you shut off your critical thinking process and fall into its rhythm so you can dance the night away. It can be rewarding even when you only have 30 minutes to do a little side-content cleanup, and it’s addictive enough that you might stretch the limits of that 30 minutes until it’s an hour later and now you’re late for work, and you have to sheepishly explain to your boss that it’s because of a video game.

Fenyx Rising is also engaging if you focus on the main story. It is seldom hilarious, often amusing, and mostly cringe-inducing, but it really goes for broke. And for that, I say, “good on ya, Fenyx Rising.” That said, sometimes a game can be too dark, grim, and depressing for its own good — or, on the flipside, too saccharine. Immortals Fenyx Rising manages to strike a balance here that I say really works.

The music is also spot-on. it’s exciting when it needs to crank things up, but it can also be soothing and contemplative when you’re just mucking about or fiddling with an environmental puzzle.

This is all to say nothing of the elements that are ripped directly from Breath of the Wild. But to say nothing of those elements would be a disservice, because the overlaps are so numerous that it’s almost comical. From traversal mechanics to some of the powers at your disposal, there’s a lot of familiar stuff here. In fact, the dungeons in Fenyx Rising practically follow the same rulebook as the Shrines in Breath of the Wild. But instead of being an uninspired clone, Fenyx Rising acknowledges that all these are great and fun, and then it builds its own world on top of them. It’s hard to see that as a problem.

Ubisoft knows they are not going to outdo Nintendo when it comes to making a tentpole Nintendo game. And sure enough, none of the traversal mechanics feel as polished as they did in Breath of the Wild. But I do believe that mimicry is flattering AF, and considering how little is actually original in this world anyway, why not take what works and use it to your advantage?

By delivering incredibly sharp and concise combat, meaningful leveling tiers and incentives, an incredibly deep dive into Greek mythology, charming characters, and a suite of rewarding content, Immortals Fenyx Rising proves itself to be a worthy addition to the Ubisoft lineup. 2020 saved one of its best games for last, in my opinion.

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