As part of today’s “Ubisoft Forward” event—which began with a statement from CEO Yves Guillemot apologizing for years of abusive behavior and a recent PR faux pas—the game studio revealed a game that, in light of the company’s issues, seems like a weird flex.
The two-hour demo I played of Immortals: Fenyx Rising, a third-person adventure in the vein of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, feels like a game from a problematic Ubisoft era. (It’s been around for long enough, having originally been revealed as a game called Gods & Monsters, but now has a new title and a December 2 release date.) Before I get into the game’s mechanics—which rip off BotW so shamelessly that I wonder whether Nintendo may press charges—I want to talk about its tone.
“Get a room, already”
The game stars Fenyx, a mortal Greek woman with supernatural powers like flight and telekinesis, on a mission to restore order to Mount Olympus. At first glance, you may look at the armor-clad hero and think Ubisoft has continued its streak of cool-and-powerful game heroines, following Assassin’s Creed Odyssey‘s Kassandra.
But my two hours with the game included very little dialogue from this heroine. Instead, she mostly toils in silence, while Zeus and Prometheus serve as overbearing narrators, riffing like a Greek-god version of the Muppets’ Statler and Waldorf. This starts out cute enough, with meta-jokes like Zeus asking Prometheus in the demo’s opening to cut an elaborate story short. “It’s called dramatic effect,” Prometheus explains. “It’s called, where’s my skip button?” Zeus retorts. That sort of thing.
But by the end of the demo, these narrators’ constant needling, meant to lighten the game’s mood, instead sounded like the stuff of a low-brow locker room shouted over a leading woman’s heroics. “A lot of poetry for something they’re just going to stick in their mouth,” Zeus quips about a description of an in-game food item. “Isn’t that what the best poetry’s about?” Prometheus replies. Um.
Other commentary directly undercuts her actions. After Fenyx completes one trial, Zeus says, “OK, I get the picture, she’s our hero. Can we skip forward?” And when Prometheus describes a beautiful vista in the distance, Zeus seems to insinuate that this is somehow a flirt toward Fenyx: “Over it. Just get a room, already.”
The only defense of this tone that I could offer at this point is that it sets up Zeus as a toxic, domineering father figure, which is in line with Greek mythology. But I’m not sure Ubisoft has chosen the best time to use an accurate read of classical literature as an excuse for two larger-than-life men to mock a woman who does all the work.
A Breath of not-so-fresh air
I point all of that out because the game in question is otherwise a polished and entirely familiar take on 3D adventuring. Have you managed a stamina meter while climbing walls and gliding over landscapes? Have you been presented with physics puzzles in the middle of a massive landscape, some of which are tucked away into shrine-like challenge zones? Have you used telekinesis to grab massive rocks and objects from a distance, then placed them to solve puzzles? Have you hopped on a horse to hustle more quickly from one zone to the next? And have you otherwise gotten into rote, open-world combat with a mix of melee and ranged weapons?
Then you mostly know what you’re in for.
Immortals isn’t identical to Breath of the Wild, mind you. Fenyx’s weapons don’t deteriorate, and she has access to a few supercharged attacks that she can juggle into attack combos, which let her immediately switch between a quick sword, a slower axe, and a ranged bow. Also, in the demo level I played, Fenyx couldn’t do BotW-styled things like slow down time, create a bomb, and then whack a time-frozen object to turn it into a zany ping-pong ball.
Instead, the only time-slowing option I found was a magical arrow that Fenyx can take control of and manually aim, which figured into a few of the puzzles I played. I liked the idea, but it was hard to appreciate when the game’s puzzles were an absolute slog to complete. One of them asked me to guide an arrow through a series of gates, and each lit up when I successfully went through the gate, but I kept failing the puzzle. Immortals let me aim my arrows out of order without any sort of “you missed one of the gates” notices you might expect in a game’s typical puzzle scenario.
Is it fun?
Other puzzles in my two-hour session were impossible or difficult to complete, owing to the demo’s prerelease status—but with only a few months ahead of Immortals‘ December launch, that’s cold comfort. Carefully shoving and guiding physics-driven puzzle elements for minutes at a time, only to land in repeated failure states, isn’t my idea of a good adventure-gaming time.
But if another third-person adventure from Ubisoft that lands somewhere between Assassin’s Creed, Kid Icarus, and Breath of the Wild sounds like fun to you, take a look at the above gallery to get a sense of the game’s open-world questing potential ahead of its December 2 launch on consoles, Stadia, and PC.
Listing image by Ubisoft