Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
more than lived up to its namesake
, it offered up a sprawling and brilliant look at Ancient Greece in that quasi historic-meets-sci-fi way that is… The Creed. It’s worth digging a little deeper into Kassandra’s Odyssey though, not only because it’s the same Ubisoft team behind the vibrant Immortals Fenyx Rising
, but because Immortals builds on some of the best aspects of that Creed outing – namely its exploration and focus on myth and legend.
As part of its final act – via three expansions – Assassin’s Creed Odyssey set aside its historical Mediterranean vistas for a stunning trip into the afterlife and beyond: from Elysium to Hades to Atlantis. As is The Creed Way
, it wove sci-fi and history into a tale about the Greek Gods, the Ancients, and the fate of the realms. Perhaps even more impressive was the architectural freedom that came from eschewing ancient cities and Hellenic mountain ranges for the stuff of legend. Giant statues, huge waterfalls on top of huge waterfalls, fantastical structures.
This sentiment applies to Immortals Fenyx Rising, though its presentation lies firmly within the realm of fantasy bolstered by a heightened painterly look. The Golden Isle in which the tale of Fenyx takes place is often wondrous to both look at and explore, not knowing what you’ll find around a corner or on the horizon. There is a sense of freedom and discovery that comes from moving about in a world that could just as easily exist in a dream. And an adventure starring a mortal out of their depth in the land of gods and monsters and thick Greek accents.
There is a sense of freedom and discovery that comes from moving about in a world that could just as easily exist in a dream...
There’s one other point of reference that needs to be mentioned before we dive in, addressed if you will. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild
No doubt one could create a montage of mechanics, puzzles, and exploration stuff from Immortals and put that imagery up against similar moments from Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild. Always depleting stamina as the main driver for climbing a surface, vast open fields full of grass swaying with the breeze, groups of enemies bunched up near treasure, Tartaros Vaults that offer puzzle and combat challenges along the lines of Hyrulian Shrines, a quest that sees you looking to restore these four gods with a ‘evil so bad you gotta keep your distance’ central pit of doom.
Busting out sweet Daedalus Wings to glide from height to a distant shore, just like Link and his, err, kite.
In the end Immortals Fenyx Rising is very much its own thing, but even when there’s a like-for-like design touch that carries that sense of familiarity it’s almost always pulled off in style. Comparing something to Zelda is a timeworn tradition in the open-word game and that isn’t a bad thing in and of itself. Drawing inspiration from one of the greatest games from the past decade, as is the ol’ BOTW, is a lot better than the opposite of that. Which would be to create a… looter shooter battle royale. It’s simple really, ‘Oh, it’s like Zelda’ is a good thing when the result is, well, good.
Even though it has been built using the same engine as Assassin’s Creed, with some of that franchise’s movement quirks in-tact (like perpetually having trouble dismounting off walls), Immortals Fenyx Rising shines because it embraces the distance between them. With a story steeped in myth and abilities like dash strikes and gravity gloves doubling as gifts from the gods – from Herakles’ Strength, to Aeres’ Wrath, and Athena’s Might – combat is fast, fluid, and something that evolves over the course of the adventure.
It’s responsive too, with a strong combo foundation that sits alongside the parries and dodge-dashes and the other melee goodness one might expect to find. Each hit lands, the animation is wonderful, and the particle effects and sound design all add up. The pure action spectacle is on par with some of the best we’ve seen.
It’s simple really, ‘Oh, it’s like Zelda’ is a good thing when the result is, well, good...
It’s less about numbers than it initially seems too, which is a good thing in that floating damage numbers and percentage modifiers and passive stats all correspond to growing in stature and feeling like a hero. A champion, a true mortal among gods. You feel the change as opposed to ‘read’ the change.
There’s nuance and variation in a system that drops levels and experience for a more ‘streamlined’ approach. Gear and weapons serve as the Yang to the ability Ying, the Tzatziki to the freshly grilled lamb. With well over a dozen different armour variations and swords and axes and bows to discover, mixing and matching offers subtle but decisive build diversity. The style of champion you want to be is a heady mix of preferred playstyle and ‘ooh, that sounds cool’. So much so that it would have been nice to be able to instantly swap out gear or loadouts.
Tying overall power and defence to a single pool that weapons and so forth draw from is a better system than Odyssey’s foray into role-play. And if you spend the time to decipher clues, defeat some of the most feared monsters from legend, you’re also rewarded with treasure that can result in even a formidable boss-style creature falling in a spectacle of light, shadow, motion blur, and Fenyx r(a)ising her sword in victory.
Whether you’re keeping to the skies and using Herakles’ Strength to perpetually pull Fenyx towards enemies or creating giant shockwaves of stun to deal with crowds and larger monsters alike, it’s all as smooth a Hermes’ freshly-waxed appendages. Puzzle-design is equally as inventive, if a little too prominent. With many, many, (optional… but still, many) Tartaros vaults to venture into, in addition to the more massive-dungeon like set pieces and even things like slide puzzles and switch-pressure stuff, Immortals Fenyx Rising falters when it begins to feel more like its foundation. That is, a Ubisoft-developed open-world Assassin’s Creed game.
Now, Immortals is in no way as bloated as Odyssey, the locations are relatively small, densely packed, and it won’t take you 100-hours to ‘see it all’. The problem lies in the Cntrl-C space where you see the same stuff no matter the Zone. A constellation puzzle, a lyra phrase to play, an epic chest, a Tartaros vault. Sometimes it feels like the balance shifts towards repetition over discovery, over answers on par with the awe that comes from walking into Hephaistos’s truly epic Forge. Or one of Athena’s many temples.
Whether you’re keeping to the skies and using Herakles’ Strength to perpetually pull Fenyx towards enemies or creating giant shockwaves of stun to deal with crowds and larger monsters alike, it’s all as smooth a Hermes’ freshly-waxed appendages...
Again, Immortals is great. Even though there’s x amount of constellation puzzles to discover and solve, each one is very cool. It’s the fact that there’s x-amount of x, letting The Golden Isle just be in a lot would have also been nice to see. More tales from Greek mythology and as weird as it may sound – more for the very talkative Zeus and Prometheus to, well, talk about.
Right, so we haven’t really touched on any of the story stuff. In the case of Immortals Fenyx Rising the setup involves Typhon escaping, stealing the essences of the gods, and Prometheus telling the tale of the mortal saviour Fenyx coming to save the day. To his cousin, the God of Thunder himself, Zeus. As dual-narrators Immortals is best described as a comedy, with the characterisations and incarnations of the gods engaging even when a joke might fall flat.
Regardless, it all fits in with the lovely art direction that weirdly (in the best possible way) is reminiscent of a long-lost Rare and Nintendo collaboration from a different non-Microsoft-acquisition timeline.
As a newly unique offering from Ubisoft, Immortals Fenyx Rising is something to savour. Yeah, it’s the publisher's third massive open-world release in the space of three months but what you get here is charming and refreshing to a fault. A wonderfully realised journey into myth and legend where everything fits as neatly as a chest-plate forged in the fires of Hephaistos’s Great Forge. The story, the combat, the puzzles, the exploration, the challenge, the Creed, the Zelda. The Fenyx.