Immortals Fenyx Rising knows perfect is the enemy of good. Typhon, its big bad, is obsessed with perfection; as he overthrows the gods of Mount Olympus and strands them on the Golden Isle, he strips them of their essences, and with those essences, the flaws that made them legend. Aphrodite loses her passion, pettiness, and jealousy; Ares his rage; Hephaistos his suffering; Athena her self-righteousness. In their quest to reclaim those essences, Fenyx, a lowly soldier in search of their brother Ligryon, argues those flaws should be celebrated, not forgotten. Their tale doesn’t always impart that lesson, but it’s able to deftly take its own flaws in stride and, while not reaching the highs of the gods it worships, earn its own praise.
Fenyx Rising sets the bar high for itself by borrowing heavily from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You can climb your way up just about any solid surface if you have enough stamina; one of your four major abilities lets you magically float objects above your head and move them around to solve puzzles; the Golden Isle is littered with vaults, one-off puzzles that take place in self-contained parts of Tartaros. The list runs deep.
Despite all the borrowed elements, Fenyx Rising hews closely to Ubisoft’s flavor of open world. At first, it was hard not to treat every similarity I spotted as a point of comparison. Fenyx Rising, for example, lacks a real sense of exploration. You’re rarely lost, since the first thing you do in every region is head to the nearest vantage point, scout the area to reveal it on your map, then mark a bevy of collectibles and activities to chase. I never got the sense I was “exploring” the Golden Isle so much as I was beelining it to all the icons I’d already marked, which told me exactly what I would find when I reached them. I wasn’t paying much attention to the world around me because nothing is really “hidden,” which is disappointing only because in its early hours, Fenyx Rising did remind me of the spacious Hyrule of Breath of the Wild, where every rock formation or tree stump hinted at some surprise worth telling someone else about.
Instead, everything worth doing on the Golden Isle could not be more clearly visible, which takes away some of their wonder. Chests and vaults emit pillars of light immediately visible from far away; collectibles are huge and shine distinctly; Odysseus challenges, which have you shoot an arrow through a series of hoops, cover so much ground they’re hard to miss. If a torch, chest, or other part of the environment is part of a puzzle, chances are they’ll be covered in a red glow with a lock icon above them. They may as well have a neon sign that says “SOLVE ME” over them.
Fenyx Rising sands down Breath of the Wild’s pricklier edges (weapons breaking, sliding off cliffs in the rain) into something less interesting. But I still lost myself in the loop of pinging an icon on the map and then working to check it off. As telegraphed as every activity is, you’re not just doing fetch quests that take you from point A to B and back; the sliding puzzles in which you move four tiles to create fresco paintings get old fast, but Odysseus challenges, Hermes time trials, memorizing notes played by small, magical lyres so you can fast-travel back to another, comically large lyre in each area to play those notes back for a reward are small, satisfying challenges even beyond the rewards you get for doing them. And thanks to Fenyx’s dynamic movement and ability to glide, seeing a collectible atop a giant cliff is more of a challenge than a chore.
The best activities, though, are vaults, which are tiny thrills to tackle. Entering one might have you solve a block-and-switch-puzzle, fight a series of encounters, or take on a platforming time trial, and they’re consistently clever enough that I loved hopping into each vault, even when they were brutally difficult or I got stuck. Some require that you upgrade Fenyx’s short skill tree, relying on a spear move that can act as a third jump or an upgrade for your object-holding power that lets you move heavier blocks (the game tells you when you stumble into a puzzle you can’t solve).
The physics-based nature of some of these puzzles can lead to some fun improvised solutions, like using my upgraded stamina to brute force a jump or throw a block with myself on it over an obstacle. That also led to some frustrating moments in which switches don’t properly activate when they should or blocks line up in wonky ways, but the physics are mostly consistent. The larger vaults on the main path are substantial and challenging, too, and they all have their own gimmick like floating blocks or blocks that are strung together by magic.
Puzzles are the highlight of Fenyx Rising, but combat doesn’t slouch, either. Mashing out attacks and dodging at the right moment to get a slowdown effect works well enough, but as you scour the world for resources that you feed into gear and ability upgrades, combat starts to get interesting. While your ability to lift rocks and other objects starts off as a simple projectile throw, you can upgrade it to pull you to your opponent or vice-versa, which lets you perform some neat Devil May Cry antics mid-air. Upgrades end up being a little too strong, in fact, and by the end of the game I was steamrolling bosses by maxing out my stamina and using the Athena’s Dash ability as an all-purpose attack-dodge that let me bypass learning enemy patterns. Still, it’s breezy and light, which matches the tenor of traversal and puzzle-solving.
It’s in its storytelling that Fenyx Rising can’t find a consistent tone. Prometheus narrates most of the game with Zeus, the last remaining god not purged by Typhon, quipping in the peanut gallery. This running dialogue gives context to some of the locations and plot points as you encounter them, but mostly saps the story of any real presence, instead putting you at arm’s length with Fenyx’s journey as it unfolds. The jokes aren’t worth it. They tend to focus on how much of a blithe, unaware dope Zeus is (when Prometheus describes the Hydra as looking like something out of a nightmare, Zeus compares it to his wife Hera), pick at low-hanging fruit about how Nike is the name of both a god and a brand of shoes, or try to shoehorn modern phrases like “game recognize game” into ancient Greek vocabulary. It’s corny as hell.
That snark extends to the rest of the game, and while it doesn’t sour the game completely, I just kept rolling my eyes at it. For every genuinely amusing sequence, like a wordless exchange in which Fenyx and a bear set out to load a ballista, there are dozens of jokes that fall flat. Characters don’t sell their punchlines, either, as their high-fidelity cartoonish look is often let down by their overeager animations, lifeless eyes, and stiff voice acting. The most consistently funny character ends up being the camera, which pans and cuts deftly enough to make a few moments land.
It’s hard to take these characters seriously or empathize with them when the story pivots to exploring the troubled history of each of the four gods and Zeus’ relationship to them. Those explorations are fraught, too. In exploring how people should embrace their flaws, Fenyx Rising implies we should embrace our darker selves because that’s what makes us human; that we should hold onto our destructive rage because that’s what makes us powerful; that we should embrace pettiness and jealousy because it makes life more interesting; that suffering is how we produce great art. There’s a good lesson about valuing our flaws here and Fenyx Rising is eager to teach it, but it can’t quite do it without falling into some traps along the way.
Immortals Fenyx Rising is far from perfect–but it is good. It stumbles frequently as it explores Greek myths through a new lens, its best features are borrowed, and for as large and fun as its world is, it always feels like you’re on a guided tour instead of really exploring it. But even as it lives in the shadow of better games, its puzzles, combat, and open-world loop come together often enough for me to not only see it through for a few dozen hours, but also want to keep filling out its almighty checklist, even if it led me by the nose most of the way through.