The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was an absurdly popular game for Nintendo. It came at the right time for their next generation console, and showed the world what the innovative Japanese developer could do with the open-world format for action adventure games.
It was not perfect. While it was not exactly the first of its kind, and nobody could deny the mark of quality that Nintendo had imprinted on it; there was room for improvement. Ubisoft being no stranger to making open-world games, sought to bring the flavor of Breath of the Wild to other consoles.
Immortals Fenyx Rising has the benefit of learning the strengths of what made Breath of the Wild such a beloved game. Ubisoft has the time and resources to do what Nintendo bigger and better. They do make some legitimate improvements to the formula, but can they escape the inevitable comparisons and prove that Immortals is more than just an imitation?
Immortals Fenyx Rising
Developer: Ubisoft Quebec
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), Amazon Luna, Google Stadia
Release Date: December 3, 2020
Breath of the Wild was a huge hit, and it was only a matter of time before that other developers would try to piggy back off its success by lifting certain characteristics to help sell some copies. First Genshin Impact, and now Immortals Fenyx Rising. Ubisoft mixes things up by basing the premise on Greek mythology.
Typhon acts as a stand-in for Calamity Ganon, but with a speaking role. In both cases, the antagonist has effectively won as the game begins, with all people turned to stone and most of the other Gods being imprisoned. Zeus having no other options asks Prometheus for guidance, and both of them effectively serve as the chorus and narrator for scenario.
Much like in Breath of the Wild, Immortals begins with the hero with almost nothing but a blue tunic. Both protagonists are marooned on a tutorial zone, where the only means of escape is to earn a glider and fly off. In Immortals case, the glider happens to be the wings of Daedalus.
After you make your way out of the tutorial zone, the hero will have to restore four gods to their former glory. Typhon has transformed Aphrodite, Ares, Athena and Hephaistos into poetically ironic polymorphs. By undergoing labors fit for Heracles, the hero will scour the Golden Isle for collectibles and completing tasks at their own pace.
What sets Immortals apart from its blatant inspiration is the Greek lore and emphasis on humor. Prometheus and Zeus have an amusing dynamic like a bitter married couple, constantly interrupting the story with their anecdotes and wit. The narrative will often break the fourth wall and have some cheeky winks at the audience, as if the developers are fully aware of the kind of game they made.
At the heart of the story is a deconstruction of the Greek gods. The ones presented in the story are shown in a different light where they learn something about themselves. Aphrodite losing her essence has made her into a tree, but also made her lose all of her terrible characteristics. She realizes how much better off the world is with her in this form, adding an interesting layer of depth.
The twists depicted in the gods gives Immortals a surprisingly thoughtful exploration on them as characters. Ares becoming a pathetic chicken means he has to learn how to use his wits to overcome an overwhelming predicament instead of using brute force. It is too bad this level of effort couldn’t be applied to Fenyx, the game’s protagonist.
Fenyx is an intensely boring hero. The developers probably had to play it safe, since the protagonist had to be a borderline blank slate in order to make the story work. The player chooses Fenyx’s sex and can choose from a very limited selection of presets. The only impact any of this has is Fenyx’s voice actor, and the pronouns used by the supporting cast.
Once in a while Fenyx will do or say something amusing. Their most defining attribute is that they always says “yes” to whatever they are told to do. In situations like this, a silent protagonist works better since it is usually a shorthand means to allow the player to project themselves onto the character.
Fenyx’s male voice also sounds much older than his twink design suggests. He sounds more like a fat greaseball who would try to sell you cheap jewelry, than a slim Greek boy who was designed to emulate Link of Hyrule.
The stand out voice actor is Elias Toufexis as Prometheus. He still sounds like Adam Jensen, but with a tired grumpy Greek flavor. His chemistry with Daniel Matmor as the boisterous and oafish Zeus, feels very natural and believable.
Zeus’ emotional core is gradually built up from being a brash and careless jock to an understanding fatherly figure who comes to terms with what perfection is. The best story elements are back loaded in the game, and the beginning hours don’t do Immortals justice. There is a lot of arbitrary Ubisoftian padding to get through if you want to experience the delicious and nutritious nougat at the center.
Aesthetics are blatantly borrowed from Breath of the Wild. Red petals, magma vents, and embers waft in the air like the Calamity Ganon corruption in Hyrule. Where Immortals is original is in its depictions of enormous cities in ruins. The gigantic Greek architecture and statues that litter the Golden Isle create a striking vista that can be seen from anywhere on the land mass.
This kind of imagery is where Ubisoft excels at. This is the same team that developed Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and much of what they learned carried over into Immortals Fenyx Rising. There is a lot of variety with the flora and types of structures throughout that helps make the experience not feel like it was made in an editor.
The visual style of Immortals does have some sense of flair, but it is lacking in terms of personality. Characters resemble the most broad and generic interpretations of the Greek gods, and do the bare minimum in terms of ticking boxes of the barest essentials. Where Ubisoft cut corners, is with facial animation.
Immortals Fenyx Rising has some of the weakest facial expressions in a game released in 2020. The artists went with a generic cartoony style that looks like something from the Sims, but if the characters’ faces don’t express any emotion.
Faces look fine in a vacuum, but have no range at all and become jarring when the voice actors deliver very hammy dialogue. The acting does not match how wooden every character looks when conversing, and it becomes very distracting during scenes where characters should be more expressive.
Immortals was obviously built to run on Nintendo Switch specs, but on Xbox Series S it is able to look better. The engine is able to run at 60 frames per second and display 1080p in performance mode. If you wanted a Breath of the Wild-like experience on consoles, but with more fluid gameplay, this is it.
How Ubisoft puts their own stamp on the Breath of the Wild formula is by streamlining certain aspects. Immortals has much less menu navigation and keeps the player in control of Fenyx as much as possible for increased immersion. Using items is much easier, and has them tied to the D-pad for easy use.
Advanced techniques are tied to button inputs instead of having to pick one off a menu, which keeps everything nice and fluid. Combat is also deeper, with Fenyx having a wide range of options to take on gorgons and other mythical beasts. Being able to grapple hook instantly to distant enemies and close in on them feels very satisfying, looks cool, and makes annoying flying enemies more fair.
Frustratingly, Ubisoft decided to lock away some incredibly basic abilities behind a skill tree. Simple things like being able to dodge while in the air or a running attack should be basic core abilities. Having to look all over the Golden Isle for a puzzle to solve for Charon coins are annoying growing pains to pad out what is already a pretty long game.
The developers bloated Immortals with tons of different currencies and collectibles to find. Upgrading requires several different kinds of currencies to spread across different attributes. Hades was another Greek lore action game with tons of currencies that came out in 2020, but that title had the genius design choice of allowing the player to trade currencies for others they may need.
Immortals does not respect the time of the player by creating these artificial barriers. The balance is also lopsided, with the game becoming easier the further you progress. Fenyx becomes absurdly overpowered with all the blessings and power-ups they gain. Compounded with potions crafted that grant attack and defense boosts, the most corrupt beasts will fall by basic swordplay.
Enemies will become overwhelmed by Fenyx’s range of attacks and defenses. Perfect dodge, parrying, and even their pet bird can reign down powerful support attacks. Some weapons have bonus perks like stamina regeneration upon strikes, making it easy to hammer a cyclops into orbit with a rising swords attacks and stun-lock all praetorian soldiers into submission.
With the abundance of restoratives all over the island, Fenyx will never die in combat, only from boredom. It is appropriate that the hero who carries all the blessings of gods become extremely powerful, but it also comes at the expense of challenge. Fenyx needed to have better foes to fight who aren’t utter push-overs.
The puzzle design in Immortals fares much better than the combat. This is one area where Ubisoft actually did improve upon Nintendo’s most popular Zelda game, by having a wider range of puzzles and fewer annoying physics-based ones.
Many puzzles are tucked away in Vaults of Tartaros, which is Immortals‘ variation of Zelda‘s Shrines, but thankfully there are a lot that are built into the world. These have more variety and encourage exploration more than the vaults, since Fenyx isn’t locked into a single blue void and there is freedom to solve these in different ways.
The puzzles are the kind that make you feel smart instead of having to be smart. Usually, they involve having to figure out how to hit some switches, a block puzzle, collecting a thing to put into a thing, and rarely take more than a few minutes.
Immortals is made for a younger gamer demographic, so anyone expecting Myst-style puzzles will be disappointed. It would have been interesting if there were puzzles that required some knowledge of Greek lore. What you get is the most standard kinds of unimaginative Zelda-style puzzles.
There are live quests that get updated and reward players with yet another currency. This currency is used in Hermes’ shop where he sells more cosmetics and some equipment that looks completely embarrassing. If you never speak to Hermes, you’d never know this feature exists, and the developers acknowledge how covetous this feature is with some amusing fourth-wall breaking dialogue.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was such a huge success, that it was inevitable that it would see imitators. Immortals Fenyx Rising does make some legitimate improvements on Breath of the Wild, while also making some steps backwards. The most obnoxious flaws being the features that are mandated for every bloated Ubisoft game ever made.
If it weren’t for the intriguing interpretation of Greek myth lore, there would be very little to distinguish Immortals from Zelda or the rest of Ubisoft’s oeuvre. The extra bit of horse-power of the newly minted console generation does do wonders for open-worlds by pushing resolution and frame rates higher than any open-world before it.
Fans of Breath of the Wild who are patiently waiting for the sequel might find Immortals Fenyx Rising worth a look. It lacks Zelda‘s spirit of invention and creativity, but it is a densely packed open world action game that manages to refine some aspects that Nintendo overlooked.
Immortals Fenyx Rising was reviewed on Xbox Series S using a code purchased by Niche Gamer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.