It’s sometimes difficult to find the right stance to take when discussing games that are designated as ‘clones’ of other popular titles. After all, the video games industry is mostly built on a clone in some form or other, with one ground-breaking title making way for its copies, only for the next transcendent experience that seeks to break the mould in some way. Think of Doom for a second, now think of Call of Duty. Between these titles you will find a pathway littered with hundreds of clone experiences that were momentarily broken up with the odd hit that changed the pathway to something bigger. Hell, try looking up Half-Life online. Sometime in the long long ago, this genre defining classic was considered a clone of Quake.
So why are clones considered such bad business? The immediate negative thought is that it reminds us of those times when someone would copy your homework, only changing the odd word to make it seem different enough to stand alone. While this is true and likely the reason why people find these overly similar experiences so dislikeable, I don’t consider clones to be an ultimate evil. Sometimes, they offer gamers a window into enjoying more of an experience that they enjoyed previously. Think of Rogue-likes, games which all seem to stem from one game that most of us have not played. Same goes for souls-likes, Metroidvania’s and side scrolling beat-em-ups from the 90s that all play the same way as Double Dragon did. Simply put, if done well, then they can be just as good as, if not better than the original inspiration.
When it comes to where Immortals: Fenyx Rising sits on the “is it bad” clone scale, things are a bit clearer cut. Created by Ubisoft Quebec, Immortals shoots high by being a title that is clearly inspired by and cut from the same cloth as Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. This is to the point of being almost laughable, with a large open world separated into questing hubs, with a large red demonic presence causing trouble in the centre of the map. Couple this with the lush colourful art style, stamina bars, exploration controls and you have a good case for dismissing this as a copy/paste job. However, beyond all this and the somewhat generic external appearance, Immortals does have something to offer here.
To start with, on PS5 you have the benefit of the pure grunt that a Nintendo Switch in 2017 didn’t have. While playing in performance mode at 4K 60FPS, Immortals: Fenyx Rising looks and plays incredibly well with no stutters or frame drops encountered during my lengthy playthrough. The world of mythological Greece stretches out as far as the eye can see, with faraway creatures and foliage being easy enough to make out from the extended draw distance. Running through individually rendered blades of grass at speed is a joy, especially when not noticing any of that open-world pop in that plagued the previous generations so obviously.
Beyond this creature comfort is also a well told story. Starting with Zeus and Prometheus discussing the emergence of the titan Typhon and destruction of the mortal realm. Prometheus bargains with Zeus about the success of a mortal which will save the land from the demonic presence. If he is correct and the saving of the world comes about then he gets to be freed from his eternal punishment of being eaten alive by a large Eagle. Prometheus tells the story of Fenyx, either a male or female hero as chosen by the player, that must venture into the land of ancient Greece to rescue the other displaced Gods and to ultimately overthrow Typhon from the mountain that Zeus tried to bury him with.
It’s an often-told story of good versus evil in an open-world setting that again, will not win any awards for originality. Where it shines however, is how the narrative is delivered and the genuinely good writing of the characters, both in the foreground and background. At all times, Zeus and Prometheus are discussing the events that the player is engaging with, providing background to characters or locations, with a semi comedic approach that keeps things light enough for the younger gamers out there. What I found fun about this is that it doesn’t necessarily gloss over Zeus and his exploits in that typical Disney sort of way. See, Zeus in Greek mythology wasn’t as loving as the Hercules movie depicted him. This is a god that would shun his family members if they showed prowess over him or exhibited anything that made them ‘less of a god’. Besides maybe the God of War series, this is a side of Zeus that is not seen all that much and accurately portrays him as the petty father figure that delights in the suffering or misfortune of mortals and family members alike.
This mythological accuracy is further reflected in the gods that you encounter along the way also. As the main milestones for Fenyx’s adventure, these act as your typical Zelda sages who need to be rescued before they can imbue the player with the power to take on the big boss. To help these gods out, you need to reclaim the essence that was stolen by Typhon, which usually represents a defining characteristic or motivation that makes each of the deity’s who they are. As an example, Aphrodite (Goddess of love) has been turned into a tree and seems only interested in charitably feeding the animals around her, far from the vanity of her true character. To save her, I guided Fenyx in recreating her birth by guiding a large pearl into the ocean. The following fetch and puzzle quests culminated in a challenge room, which saw Fenyx completing challenges before taking on a boss that represented her greed, vanity, and self-absorption.
Each of the gods is dealt with in a way that is both similar and thematically appropriate, with Gods like Hephaistos having a quest chain set around his giant forge and getting it up and running again or Ares getting Fenyx to take on a fortress filled with enemies to find his essence. It all may seem formulaic on paper, but I do feel that this was handled well. It certainly doesn’t feel like it follows that typical Assassins Creed template and the sheer task density of the world around Fenyx helps break up any sense that the game is getting too repetitive.
That’s not to say that there isn’t repetition. This is an Ubisoft open-world game after all. You may have seen this coming, but to find quest objectives in the vicinity, you must first scout the area using statues around the map, each depicting the God of that area. To the credit of Ubisoft though, they have at least tried to make this different from pressing a button to unlock a sea of icons. Instead, from the vantage of the high ground, Fenyx must use their farsight ability to scan the world for points of interest, treasures, or mini quests. Some of which can be easily missed if the player is not paying as much attention. Look, it isn’t much of a difference, but it shows that the developers are taking note of the jokes and are doing something to change things up.
Beyond the main quest of restoring Gods to glory, there is a whole mess of things to do in Immortals: Fenyx Rising, as you would expect there to be in an open world title from the guys behind Assassin’s Creed. Mileage will vary per person on these tasks and quests, with some feeling more filler-like than other, more interesting diversions. The best of which comes in the form of Typhon vaults which are essentially the challenge shrines from Breath of the Wild, with block moving or platforming puzzles to complete. These can range from smart little puzzle rooms revolving around a single mechanic or multiple. I found these the most fun to go into as they not only provided a decent puzzle challenge that doesn’t feel long or arduous, while also providing rewards in the form or upgrade points or armour for Fenyx. Honourable mentions also go to the larger overworld location-based puzzles which task Fenyx to solve a series using the immediate environment to unlock a building or considerable item upgrade.
These upgrades are important as initially, Fenyx is quite weak. You start the game out with a basic combat and movement tool set. With basic climbing and combo’s being the order of the day. It can take a while before the good upgrades start showing their face so while the game does not push you to spam puzzles and challenges for these, it is wholeheartedly encouraged to get the best out of Immortals. To be honest, combat is one of those areas where I feel that the game falls shy of Breath of the Wild. While there is (thankfully) none of that weapon degradation rubbish, there doesn’t seem to be any fair middle ground with encounters, they are either way too easy and are over quickly or they are brutal and take a long time to get through.
The latter encounters are particularly troublesome as Immortals: Fenyx Rising throws a lot of these at you and if you have not been diligent with your upgrading, then these feel like a punishment. In one instance, I found myself completing one quest by felling a large mini-boss type character, barely scraping by with health potions, only to stumble into another boss fight encounter completely understocked for the fight immediately after. This became more of a nuisance as to get through these with any semblance of satisfaction earlier on as some enemies could strip chunks of Fenyx’s healthbar almost instantaneously. It felt more like I was brute forcing some encounters with potions rather than focussing on actual tactics or combat movement that the game was otherwise encouraging me to use.
Thankfully the combat fares better with progression. The notable upgrades can be purchased with coins depicting Charon, these grant you both combat abilities and God powers which give you flashy and technical special abilities that make Fenyx more versatile in fights. There is also the ability to build Fenyx’s prowess in certain combat methods. As an example, I focussed more on using moves and gear that allowed me to get enemies into a stun state quicker and following up on these damage opportunities with a flurry of satisfying blows.
The same goes for exploration, it takes a while to get anywhere with stamina upgrades, which can gate some areas behind what feels like a tedious grind. When you do get those upgrades however, the world opens beautifully and allows for some great moments, either on land running through Typhon rage events, soaring through the skies on wing or scaling a large building by climbing. This is an area that really shines next to the Zelda example. Movement feels fluent and faster overall, with each method of traversal tying together neatly with minimal downtime. A favourite move of mine is to boost through the air on wings before the stamina bar runs out, just before touching the ground I would summon my tamed mount to keep the momentum going. Great fun in practise!
Overall, The gameplay is good, as are the visuals, the story and everything else about Immortals: Fenyx Rising. It just may take a few hours to find and action the right path to each player’s taste. While the game borrows heavily from the Nintendo playbook of open-world action-RPG design, it provides a capable alternative to those who are looking for more of the stuff, or a great first try for those that never got to try Breath of the Wild.
+ Goes surprisingly in depth with Greek Mythology, albeit with a light-hearted tone
+ Satisfying combat mechanics with room for customisation, when the upgrades roll in
+ If you enjoy the core gameplay loop, then there is a ton of content to find here
- Some battles feel like a war of attrition, rather than skill
- Clearly not that original and doesn’t stand that far apart from its more famous peer.
- Takes a while for that sweet progression stride to happen