Impressions

Immortals: Fenyx Rising is a pantheon of good ideas, but not quite divine

Strap on your sandals — it's time to go exploring.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising is the game formerly known as Gods & Monsters.

Don't let the questionable name change put you off. (But seriously Gods & Monsters was better, right?) The game has gotten a significant visual revamp since Ubisoft first revealed it at E3 2019, and Immortals has quite a lot going for it. There are loads of nooks and crannies to explore in its lovely open world, and an admirable variety of gameplay mechanics on offer — versatile combo-driven combat, thinky puzzles, nimble platforming, and loot hunting. While it's not particularly groundbreaking in any one of these elements — at least, not yet — a hands-on demo suggests there's plenty here to keep players engaged.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising is the video game equivalent of ordering the sampler platter as your main course. That breadth-over-depth approach will probably appeal to some players more than others. But if you're hankering for an egg roll, some bruschetta, and maybe a quesadilla too, step on down to Chez Ubisoft. You won't leave hungry.

You can customize Fenyx's appearance however you like, right from the beginning. Helmets and armor each offer unique perks and stat boosts.Ubisoft

A delightful isle

Immortals plonks our hero Fenyx on the Golden Isle, tasked with the goal of protecting the Greek gods from the vengeance of the banished Titan known as Typhon. There are several regions of the island, each associated with a particular diety. As you explore each area, you'll earn that god's blessing — that means bomb-ass new gear and flashy attacks.

My two-hour play session took place entirely in Hephaestus's region, which falls in the middle sections of the game. The environments feature all the smelting and furnaces you might expect, but there's plenty of soaring mountain peaks, wide-open spaces, and intricate little ruins to explore as well. There's a day-to-night cycle which not only changes the look of the landscape, but also opens up some riskier night-time activities as well. One quick button press will allow Fenyx to meditate until the next phase of the day, which is also handy for resetting puzzles you've hopelessly flubbed.

The demo included about an hour's worth of main-story questing and an equal amount of time for exploration. Fenyx's objective during this stretch of the game was to light four furnaces to power the blacksmith god's massive forge. Meeting this objective was straightforward enough once I got there, but as any good hero will tell you, the journey is just as important as the destination.

A little fighting and a little thinking.Ubisoft

Immortals: Fenyx Rising has already drawn plenty of comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it fares better under the burden of that daunting comparison than you might expect. Traversal and exploration is a major focus here, and there are dozens of opportunities to get waylaid as you venture to your destination. There's no straightforward path anywhere, though eventually you'll have several mounts and a glider to help you move around a little faster. Fenyx can tame wild animals with relative ease, allowing you a stable of four-legged friends that grow stronger the more you use them. You can also climb on almost any surface, but you'll have to keep an eye on your stamina lest you plummet to your squishy doom.

While exploration in Immortals is engaging and rewarding, it does come with a couple nagging frustrations. The top-center area of the HUD includes distance markers, but it's far too easy to accidentally shift between them, leading you unintentionally off course. There's a world map that's accessible in the main menu with unlockable fast-travel points, but finding your way often isn't as intuitive as it could be. That's likely intentional, but the option to toggle a mini-map on and off would eliminate some of that frustration.

The interior of a vault, an optional mini-dungeon where Fenyx can snag bonus gear and upgrades.Ubisoft

A dollop of ambrosia

In Greek myth, ambrosia is a divine food that imparts immortality — or at least longevity — to anyone that consumes it. Unsurprisingly, it's also a healing item in Immortals. In American cuisine circa the 1970s, ambrosia is a dessert made of canned fruit, foofy dried coconut, and Cool Whip. It's basically a hadouken straight to the pancreas.

In the early moments of my demo, the combat in Immortals struck me as the latter type of ambrosia — far too much going on, but you have to keep eating it because you don't want to be rude. You'll encounter enemies in real-time as you roam around the map, and your left trigger buttons govern the bow and arrow, while the right pair controls light and heavy sword attacks. Your four home buttons are dodge, parry, and jump, while the D-pad's mapped to a variety of potions. Over the course of the game, you'll gain upgradeable weapons from several divinities, allowing Fenyx to summon a torrent of spears, a massive hammer thwack, levitate rocks, and become invisible. Your possible attacks will be shown in the bottom-right HUD, but I didn't actually realize this until I was a good chunk of the way into the demo. It's a lot to take in.

As Fenyx, you'll explore some truly lovely locales.Ubisoft

After about 40 minutes of getting my lunch eaten by monsters only to scuttle away like a total dweeb, I finally got the hang of Fenyx's offensive smorgasbord and was soon busting Cerebus heads with style to spare. I imagine a playthrough of the full game will roll out Fenyx's abilities more gradually, allowing players more time to get used to each one. After a couple of hours, it struck me as roughly similar to how character progression plays out in God of War 2018 — there's not a lot of branches on each skill tree, but that first glimpse of the skills submenu is a little daunting.

Despite these growing pains, the combat is where Immortals' pupu-platter approach to gameplay truly earns its place at the table. Can't be bothered with the bow and arrow because you've got the aim of a Star Wars Stormtrooper? You don't have to use it. Instead, you can find an approach to combat that works for you, whether it's picking off foes from afar or manipulating objects into the environment in your favor. This design philosophy carries over to exploration and optional content too, allowing you to pick and choose what you want to engage with and when.

I wasn't totally sure what to expect from Immortals: Fenyx Rising, but I definitely came away curious to see more. Remote demos aren't optimal for getting a feel for any major console release, and the Ubisoft IT team deserves a serious hat tip for enabling me to play almost seamlessly on a poky MacBook Air. What will make or break it for me is the remainder of the map — can Immortals sustain this level of variety over a couple dozen hours? Here's hoping.

Immortals: Fenyx Rising comes to consoles, Stadia, and PC on December 3.

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