REVIEW: ‘Immortals Fenyx Rising’ is Game of the Year (XSX)

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This year has been heavy, for a multitude of reasons. It’s honestly one reason I’ve stayed away from playing some heavier AAA titles that have come out this year. That said, Immortals Fenyx Rising manages the tragedy and darkness of Greek mythology with a vibrant color palette, hyper-stylized design, and humor that helps the game deliver its message: you don’t need to be perfect. Developed by Ubisoft Quebec, Immortals Fenyx Rising is an open-world adventure with RPG qualities that brings back the importance of puzzles and platforming.

In the game, you play as Fenyx, a shield-bearer, and storyteller who has lived in their brother’s shadow. Shipwrecked on the Golden Isle, which is home to the gods, Fenyx is thrust into the center of a fight between the Titan Typhon and the Greek gods. Once a storyteller, now you’re the center of a story told by Prometheus to Zeus. As dual narrators, they narrate your quest as you master the legendary powers of the gods, overcome heroic trials, and confront powerful mythological beasts. Your story is the center of their wager.

Zeus believes humanity is beyond saving and that Fenyx won’t be able to come close to saving his children and defeating Typhon. On the other hand, Prometheus believes in humanity, which is the reason why he’s chained to a mountain. This belief leads him to challenge Zeus that if Fenyx can destroy Typhon then he should be released from his eternal imprisonment. Their dueling personalities serve for comedic relief, with Prometheus presenting emotional retellings of Greek mythology and providing helpful tips to the player while Zeus interjects with humor as the typical party-boy.

Your first step in Fenyx’s story is to create them. While the character creation isn’t robust, it does offer options not locked by gender. This means that you can choose your voice options and physical features in any combination. Once you’ve created your version of Fenyx, you begin yours story on the Clashing Rocks and work your way through different zones devoted to different gods: The Valley of Eternal Spring, War’s Den, the Forge Lands, Grove of Kleos, King’s Peak, and finally the Gates of Tartarus.

Each god has had their essence stolen, specifically, the things that make them imperfect in Typhon’s eyes and it’s your quest to get them back and make the pantheon whole again. For the first areas, the Valley of Eternal Spring, War’s Den, the Forge Lands, and Grove of Kleos you work through different questlines dedicated to Aphrodite, Ares, Hephaistus, and Athena respectively. Each of these lands is beautifully brought to life by the art team and embody the gods they represent.

The Valley of Eternal Spring is a lush land with teal and purples and vibrant gardens. War’s Den is a battlefield riddled with giants and broken weapons and sand. The Forge Lands is mechanical in nature with automatons across the zone. And finally, the Grove of Kleos is filled with royal blue, vibrant blue ponds, and olive trees across the area. The last two areas of the game are devoted to Zeus and Typhon.

You enter the game with the Sword of Achilles and as you progress through the first part of the story, which takes place in the Clashing Rocks, you gain the Ax of Atalanta and Bow of Odysseus (which uses the Arrows of Apollo). These three weapons allow you to choose what style of combat works for you. While you can use any weapon you want while exploring to deal with mobs you encounter on your journey, each weapon also has benefits and detriments when you enter boss battles. Each piece of equipment is also tied to the powers of the Greek myths they represent.

The art in Immortals Fenyx Rising is unlike anything else in the Ubisoft catalog of games and ultimately different than how we see Greek mythology represented in media. Often focused on the tragedy and brutality of Greek myths, most media aims to showcase the mature themes featured and to do so by confronting them. Now, this doesn’t make those iterations bad, in fact, this year’s Blood of Zeus from Powerhouse Animation is an excellent example of that. But, it does mean that often, myths are for mature audiences only, as with the bulk of Ubisoft’s catalog. That said, this game lands an ESRB Rating of Teen and with a bright art style manages a humorous take on even the darker elements of myth like Aphrodite’s forced marriage to Hephaistus and even his birth story which involves being thrown from a mountain.

That said, the humor doesn’t outweigh the story’s emotional payoff. In fact, I found myself surprised when the game’s story led me to broad introspective moments during Fenyx’s conversations with the gods. Instead of a simple fetch and receive quest, Fenyx has to talk the gods into taking their essences back. Because the elements you retrieve are their imperfections, it’s easier for some of them to remain without them. In Aphrodite’s case, she sees the removal of her self-centered ways as changing her for the better. But, Fenyx is there to point out to her, and the audience as well, that her imperfection makes her who she is and it isn’t something to remove. The way that this narrative is balanced against the humor allows the game to be light while still allowing an emotional catharsis for the player and that’s one of its successes.

But outside amazing art and a story that you can connect with, Immortals Fenyx Rising is a phenomenal mix of open-world traversal, puzzles, and platforming. While there isn’t the traditional amount of sidequests that you would expect from an open-world game that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t immense work put into keeping you exploring the open world. Instead of sending you from just quest to quest, the game instead rewards you for taking the detours with challenges that offer resources you need to upgrade your character. Marked by gold architecture, there are various different puzzles throughout the world. They range from chests locked behind seels that need to be won by solving puzzles using pressure plates and items in the area, or Arrows of Apollo navigated through courses to hit targets hidden or obstructed.

But while these chests give you Shards of Adamantine in different colors that can upgrade your weapons as well as armor and weapons, the other world puzzles push different skills. These myth challenges test different abilities both for Fenyx and for the player. When you complete them, you’re awarded Coins of Charon, which are used to upgrade your abilities. These include what moves you perform as your combo rises and traversal mechanics as well. Additionally, you can use the Coins of Charon to upgrade your godly abilities, making them more powerful along the way.

The Odysseus Challenge asks the player to shoot an arrow and navigate through a long course, passing through targets to ultimately light a fire at the end, while also illuminating each target. You can also engage with Fresco Challenges in which you complete a slide puzzle. Next is the Lyre Challenge. Across the zones, there are hidden lyres that when played light each string a different color. Your job is to memorize (or write down) the order the strings are played. Hidden throughout the world, these often test your traversal skills to find and recreate them at the larger Lyre structure. To test your ability to navigate the world, Hermes’ navigation challenges are activated by stepping on a plate which starts your timer.

Beyond that, Immortals Fenyx Rising also has a more intricate puzzle that asks you to combine many of your abilities and skills: the Constellation Puzzle. To finish this one, you must collect orbs scattered across a designated area and bring them back to the constellation, placing them on a board with slots for them to sit. The ways to unlock the orbs vary and they get increasingly more intricate as you gain more powers. These puzzles take the most time but also offer the most reward. The upped reward for these helped to balance out the frustration I felt trying to complete them.

And that’s just scratching the surface when it comes to the games’ puzzles. The final element to the games’ puzzles are the Vaults of Tartarus. Used to house quest items, the Vaults are scattered across the world. In the lore of the game, the vaults are ruptures in the world that Typhon has created to lock away parts of the gods. Some are necessary to complete because they hold the gods’ essences and others are optional and reward you with Lighting Bolts of Zeus that are used to upgrade your stamina bar. But across them all, the Vaults provide you with a new context to combine different traversal mechanics and teach you how to use different elements of them.

Immortals Fenyx Rising

The Vaults of Tartarus are some of the most intricate, difficult, and engaging puzzles I have encountered in a video game in a long time. You’re pushed to learn new ways to combine powers and traversal that make you get creative. Additionally, the Vaults are relatively open for exploration allowing you to test out as many ways as you can to find the right answer to solving it. The time to complete these areas can be on the quicker side or can take 30 minutes to an hour to complete—usually when tied to a god’s quest.

As you collect all of the materials needed to upgrade Fenyx, you head over the Hall of the Gods where you can spend the items. While this serves as a home base of sorts with a fast travel option, you can also use it to collect tasks from Hermes’ Heroic Tasks Board. There, you find quests that can be completed passively like collecting different potion ingredients or slaying a certain number of beasts that will grant you the elements described above depending on the task. But that’s not all. You can also find timed quests that allow you to unlock Elektrum which are used to buy cosmetic items from Hermes who serves as an in-game store. In addition to the mini-quests taken from the board that rotates on a time-based scale, the Heroic Tasks Board also offers players a Vault of Tartarus speed run that will operate with different constraints. This is easily my favorite way to earn Elektrum and with three levels, bronze, silver, and gold, it allows me to compete with myself and playthrough the vault to see how much faster I can be each time.

The puzzles in Immortals Fenyx Rising are a true return to form for puzzles in games and something we haven’t seen so heavily relied on in a AAA title in a long while. As someone who picks up just about every indie puzzle platformer I can find, this was a welcome change of pace especially for a game coming from Ubisoft’s catalog. Additionally, the platforming elements are exquisite and while both elements can be extremely frustrating at time, the difficulty is something I welcome. The way these were executed actually kept me spending the bulk of my time trying to clear out each puzzle in an area before even moving to next part of the quest. When I completed the game’s main story after about 80 hours of playtime I was given the option to start a New Game+ or to reload the game before the last quest which ends the story.

I chose the latter easily so that I could continue to work my way through the areas and complete the puzzles they hold. Despite spending so much time trying to explore each as in-depth as I could and complete as many Vaults and other challenges I still didn’t get close to 100-percenting every zone. This means that I’m going to be spending a lot of time in the game even after completion which is something I can’t say I’ve done with any other game in 2020.

With all of that said, I’ll be honest, if you don’t enjoy puzzles then Immortals Fenyx Rising isn’t for you. While the game is billed as an action-adventure RPG, which it is. The number of puzzles and platforming in the game make it true to that genre as well. This is a hybrid game if there ever was one and it’s executed beautifully. That said, it may alienate those who are expecting it to be light on puzzles and heavy on the action-adventure piece of the open world. But, I must point out that the game features not only a variety of difficulty modes but also offers up puzzle assistance. For example, if you find yourself stuck on a Fresco Challenge, directional arrows will appear to let you know which way to move the blocks if you choose to turn on puzzle assistance. This helps even the playing field for those who may not be into the time it takes to solve some of the more intricate puzzles or just don’t enjoy puzzles as a whole.

Immortals Fenyx Rising

In addition to the expertly crafted puzzles the combat in the game is fast and fun, along with being incredibly diverse. You have the options to use your sword, ax, bow, and godly powers to varying effect. The ability to switch up your fight style between enemies, especially from small to large opponents makes sure that the hack-and-slash quality to the combat doesn’t get repetitive or stale. Plus, your phoenix companion Phosphorus allows you to have assistance in combat. Like the weapons which hold different buffs, you can collect different Phosphorous skins that come with unique abilities. From freezing your enemy when he attacks it to dropping stamina orbs or even regenerating your health. In the same ways that the puzzles gradually change to keep up with the growth of your abilities, the enemies you counter also adjust to your leveling.

Across the game, you encounter creatures from mythology like gorgons, chimera, griffons, cerberus dogs, cyclops, demi-gods, and harpies in addition to the wraiths created by Typhon. Each of these enemies are color-coded and differentiated from the naturally occurring fauna, and mark them as corrupted. The colors start with red, then blue, and finally purple. The reason this is important is that the color represents the difficulty of the enemy. Now, the color of the enemies isn’t dependent on area. For example, you begin your journey in the Crashing Rocks. As the starter zone, you would expect to one-shot everything once you return to the area to clear out more Vaults or fulfill side quests taken from Hermes’ Heroic Tasks Board in the Hall of the Gods. But that’s not the case.

Immortals Fenyx Rising manages to get over the largest hurdle when it comes to replayability for open-world games: level-scaling. One of the easiest ways to put a game down that you can 100+ hours in is to out-level zones to a point that it makes it boring to return to them. In this game, however, the enemies scaling to meet you where you are allows you to still face challenges when returning to zones that in other games you would have out-leveled. That isn’t to say that every enemy is upgraded. The enemy mobs contain different enemy levels at times, which both allow for variation and ease.

The bow on all of this is the customization of Fenyx. While I spoke a little bit about customing your appearance at the start, it should be noted that you can change your appearance at any time in the Hall of the Gods and when you’re in the world you can change the visuals of any of your items that offer that option. You can customize your armor by changing their skins without changing the armor you’re wearing, and the same goes for your bow, sword, ax, and bird companion. It should be noted however that the customization is limited to the item’s skin itself and you can not individually change colors of items. The only thing lacking in the visual department is the lack of mount variation. But that’s nothing updates can’t fix.

When you pull together all of Immortals Fenyx Risings’s elements, this review has only scratched the surface. In every way though, Immortals Fenyx Rising is vibrantly beautiful, rewardingly challenging, and expertly balanced to bring you immersive gameplay and a humorous story. As a new IP, this game sings and proves that Ubisoft has much more to offer than just decades-long franchises. Immortals Fenyx Rising is a visually stunning, heartfelt, and welcoming game for everyone and easily lands the honor of being my game of the year.

Immortals Fenyx Rising is available December 3, 2020 on Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, Playstation4, Playstation 5, Nintendo Switch, Google Stadia, and PC.  

Immortals Fenyx Rising
  • 10/10
    Rating - 10/10
10/10

TL;DR

Immortals Fenyx Rising is a visually stunning, heartfelt, and welcoming game for everyone and easily lands the honor of being my game of the year.