Before it’s even booted up, Immortals: Fenyx Rising is fighting an uphill battle. Tarred with a bizarrely unappealing title (pronounced, in case you couldn’t tell, “Phoenix Rising”) and a gameplay premise that seems yoinked wholesale from Nintendo’s 2017 gem The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Ubisoft’s new open-world adventure game doesn’t exactly scream “franchise starter”.
Adapted (loosely and playfully) from classic Greek mythology, Fenyx Rising sees you control Fenyx, a mortal adventurer charged with saving the Gods from a powerful demon named Typhon. With the aid of weapons, powers, and Icarus’s wings, Fenyx takes on a litany of recognisable monsters – Minotaurs, Gorgons and the like – as well as puzzles, challenges, and the usual miscellaneous open-world busywork. The similarities to Breath of the Wild are many and glaring. Fenyx Rising’s visual sensibilities are a little flatter, a little less polished than its Nintendo-produced forebear, though the creature and character designs have plenty of personality. The combat, terrain traversal and even puzzle-solving also feel ripped from Zelda’s pages. As you progress through the 30-odd-hour story, however, they deepen, feel more like their own thing. There’s also an impressive amount of customisation to be had, vis-à-vis Fenyx’s appearance, weapons and powers.
Where the game really sets itself apart is in its narrative tone, which forswears the sort of dignified earnestness of Zelda in favour of a relentless, almost jarring levity. The whole story is framed with a conversation between Zeus and Prometheus, with the pair’s unreliable bickering sporadically underscoring Fenyx’s actions. The jokes, blunt and frequent, are more irritating than amusing (when walking through a stone-columned temple with Fenyx, for instance, the god Hermes shrugs that “the column motif is a bit played out”), but they do have the welcome effect of deflating the grandeur of the Greek myths, and making them light and malleable.
This year has, incidentally, already seen a first-rate adaptation of the Greek mythos, in the Nintendo Switch roguelike Hades. But while Hades’ darker, slicker and altogether hornier interpretation of the ancient deities remains a cut above the rest, Fenyx Rising has the feel of a bona fide crowdpleaser.
Even for a heavyweight video game publisher like Ubisoft, it’s a daunting prospect trying to capture the essence of what made Breath of the Wild such a universally beloved property. Though it comes off at times like Zelda’s broader, tackier cousin, Fenyx Rising ultimately succeeds because it gets the essentials right: from the dynamic boss battles to the cunningly designed puzzles, via the bracing sense of explorative freedom. Zeus be praised.