By Paul Davies
First of all, it should be said that a couple of hours running, jumping and soaring as Ubisoft’s newest heroine was kind of wonderful. If basic enjoyment of a world counts for anything any longer, rather than counting the sum of parts, Immortals Fenyx Rising has this sorted.
My editor, Garth, neatly summarised my long-hand explanation of how mostly effortless it is to play Immortals. It’s like 100 hours into Assassin’s Creed when the protagonist is gloriously OP and most fights are easily winnable, with only the bosses requiring some grey matter to overcome. The thrill is finding the finest combos for Fenyx, the flame-haired warrior at your command, to execute – slashing, dodging, leaping and counter-striking, melting punier foes.
The premise is easily digestible too, far from the political labyrinth typical of the AC series of late. Fenyx presented as the vanquisher of godless mythical realms after the ‘god destroyer’ Typhon has laid all to waste leaving only rampaging monsters. The latter are exactly as any child would hope to find, with giant cyclops, screeching harpies and Cerberus among many.
Clearly Ubisoft Quebec (Assassin’s Creed Odyssey) is pitching Immortals at a much younger audience than has been typical of the publisher with both AC and Watch Dogs. The dynamic is close to Dreamworks’ How to Train Your Dragon, which is a good fit for classic adventure.
If the soft painterly style and slightly goofy-looking creatures aren’t proof enough, take the narration as another example. Prometheus and Zeus bicker over how best to describe what Fenyx is heading into at key moments, and they soon set about breaking that fourth wall (Zeus: ‘where’s my skip button’, ‘the video game formerly known as Gods and Monsters’).
Our so-called ‘shipwrecked warrior’ Fenyx was already considerably powered-up for our hands-on time with the game. As with the AC series, Fenyx is massively customisable in terms of appearance and combat prowess, owing to armour and weapon configuration alongside augmented skills. Her wings are magical-mechanical … that is, she’s no angel. Ubisoft has done a great job on character design, from her messily cropped hairstyle, androgynous good looks and iconic ‘Greek legend’ leather armour set to kick things off.
Those impressive wings are Wings of Daedalus, after the mythical craftsman and father of the ill-fated Icarus. Fenyx also carries the Sword of Achilles, Bow of Odysseus and Hammer of Hephaestos to land ranged, light and heavy attacks during battles that usually comprise multiple foes. During battles, Fenyx also calls upon godlike powers which include Ares’s Wrath, causing a cluster of spears to skewer and launch enemies. Another technique, Apollo’s Arrows, allows Fenyx to guide her arrows, similar to the Predator Bow in AC.
Agility-wise Fenyx is a joy to control, capable of gliding from clifftops into chasms below, and of course a great deal of clambering. From vantage points, Fenyx can use her Far Sight to reveal locations on the map, which seems vast. We had free reign of The Forgelands, home of Hephaestos and his Forge, but noted six further clouded-over locations: King’s Peak, Grove of Kleos, War’s Den, Valley of Eternal Spring, Clashing Rocks and Gates of Tartaros.
Speaking of Tartaros (aka ‘Tartarus’), this mythical underworld concept is also adopted for Vaults of Tartaros which are puzzle-style dungeons for Fenyx to figure out while surviving. They’re not exactly Zelda-like in presentation, more dreamlike obstacle courses with very specific themes such as fire-breathing statues, spiked and/or moving floors, pressure pads and the occasional boss encounter. Once cleared, Fenyx claims Zeus’s Lightning to boost her stamina. Every location has a similar purpose, to unlock more of Fenyx’s slaying potential. Ubisoft is pitching Immortals as a combination of ‘Traversal, Fight, Puzzles and Exploration’.
Our primary objective for the demo was to solve the conundrum presented by Hephaestos’ Forge, a huge installation that dominates the scorched landscape. It became Fenyx’s task to hoist piles of coal into the furnaces, using Herakles’s Strength to levitate and throw the fuel. Nintendo-style solutions of yore – including firing arrows through flames and pressure pads – were key to igniting the fires. Meanwhile various beasts stopped by to harass … en masse!
Location challenges vary in size, style and complexity. The rewards for conquering each one broadly reflected the amount of effort involved; to gain a new weapon or piece of armour, or acquire artefacts such as Coins of Charon to upgrade Skills and Godly Powers. Various shades of Adamantine Shards to augment armoury and tools are gained by looting chests. There’s even a fair amount of Horizon Zero Dawn foraging to be done for mushrooms and pomegranates to create potions boosting stamina and health respectively, the latter can be later empowered to temporarily cloak Fenyx with ghostly spikes immediately after drinking.
Based on a couple hours with Immortals, Ubisoft Quebec has done a superb job with pacing. Though open-world trappings such as countless icons to tick as accomplished are inevitable, progression feels aligned to each player’s natural curiosity, planned while riding your horse between distant points just to take in the spectacular views. There’s even an element of unpredictability, with Typhon’s Rage (think Destiny Public Events) threatening to corrupt the land at any moment, sending a formidable warrior wraith to test Fenyx’s mettle. The more enemies defeated and Myth Challenges completed, the likelier you’ll rattle Typhon’s cage.
A game like Immortals Fenyx Rising has been a long time coming, with Assassin’s Creed just beyond the age limitations of kids that would love to run riot through history’s playgrounds. Bright, colourful and bursting with character, Immortals really ought to be turning heads this Christmas. It could also offer a challenge to more experienced gamers with difficulty levels in the extreme for those that covet the greatest rewards and badges of honour.
Immortals Fenyx Rising is due to release on December 3 across consoles and PC. We’re looking forward to it.