The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has clearly had a huge impact on the gaming industry. Nintendo took the finest parts of Assassin’s Creed and Skyrim before crafting it into something completely unique, setting a new benchmark for open-world design that, in the eyes of many, is yet to be beaten.
Its feats of freeform exploration, experimental combat and bold storytelling culminated in a journey I still think about today. So, it was inevitable that someone would come along and try to ape what made Breath of the Wild so masterful, and it’s wonderfully ironic that it happens to be Ubisoft.
Immortals: Fenyx Rising is an open-world adventure where you roam a vast land dominated by Typhon, a deadly being who has zapped the Greek Pantheon of their powers. This leaves our titular hero to embark on an epic quest where she will gain magical powers, recruit new allies and slowly but surely bring the world back to its former glory.
It’s a compelling pitch, and from what I’ve played, it’s executed rather well. It’s hard to ignore the blatant Zelda comparison, but it provides enough imaginative new ideas to make me stand up and take notice. I was left wanting to learn more about this world, its heroes and what the finished fable will be capable of.
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I spent two hours with Immortals: Fenyx Rising and was given relative freedom to explore a single region of the world, encouraged to find landmarks and discover new activities however I wanted. I decided to tackle the main story quest. My task was to light four furnaces in the distance which happened to be guarded by a cavalcade of mythical enemies.
But first, I actually had to get there, and this is where I learned how wonderful it feels to traverse this world. Fenyx is an agile warrior, capable of leaping into the air and unleashing a pair of angelic wings to soar over mountains and through treacherous ravines. You can change your trajectory at the touch of a button, meaning its easy to avoid enemy encounters if you’d rather just rush to the objective.
When you’re on the ground, one of many pages torn from the book of Breath of the Wild becomes apparent. Fenyx can climb up any surface, although how long she can traverse such obstacles is determined by a stamina bar. Try to leap upwards and it will drain faster, making the act of reaching new destinations a nuanced puzzle in itself.
The world is gorgeous, colourful and endlessly vibrant, and that all comes from a single region on the seemingly massive map. It’s nice to see Ubisoft avoiding photorealism in favour of something more fantastical, and I’m confident this will really shine on next-gen consoles later this year. I wasn’t a fan of the tongue-in-cheek narration from the Greek gods as I played, which isn’t sharply written enough to be funny or insightful.
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Stamina also determines effectiveness in combat and sprinting, meaning you’ll often be planning a strategic retreat when overwhelmed by an assortment of cursed soldiers and other beasties. However, I could also summon a mount with the touch of a button, circumventing many of the obstacles that come with stamina management.
You can even sneak up on horses and mount them, a mechanic pulled straight from Link’s latest outing. I need to stop making such blatant comparisons to Breath of the Wild, but it’s difficult when so much of Immortals: Fenyx Rising seems to take that blueprint without changing much of the fundamentals. They’re aped well enough that the core experience is incredibly fun to play, if a little soulless at times.
Once I reach the quartet of furnaces I mentioned earlier, I have my first real brush with combat. Fenyx is a capable warrior, capable of hurling a mixture of light and heavy attacks towards her enemies before sending them to the underworld with devastating abilities. Each battle has a satisfying flow to it, as I found myself finishing most combos with a slam of Hephaestus’ hammer.
I sadly wasn’t able to delve into the upgrade system during my demo, having been assigned a specific selection of skills that allowed me to rain arrows down upon my opponents or dash forward with a deadly burst of speed. Each enemy has a stamina bar which can be reduced with the right combination of moves, eventually opening up the opportunity for a fatal finishing move.
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Ranged attacks are somewhat overpowered, as I found standing back with my bow and aiming for headshots far more effective than melee confrontations. Some foes that require dozens of physical strikes can be downed in just a few headshots with my arrows, often making things feel a little unbalanced. You can also control the arrows yourself with a press of the shoulder button, drawing in close as it travels through the air. This is also used for some awesome puzzles and to light the aforementioned furnaces.
Dodging will slow time briefly, making it easier to plan your next move in the midst of scrap. While I didn’t contend with any major boss encounters during my demo, I found many of the tougher baddies to be fairly trivial to dispatch, so I hope the full experience is a little more challenging and aims to differentiate itself from the likes of Assassin’s Creed, since right now the flow of combat is largely similar.
When you aren’t duking it out with all manner of ancient beasts, you’ll be partaking in environmental puzzles which are spread throughout the world of Immortal: Fenyx Rising. I stumbled upon a few of these and they’re all excellent, and took longer to solve than I expected.
You’ll often need to navigate obstacles to activate switches before interacting with fiendish tile puzzles which finally lead to some juicy loot. My personal favourite are Constellations, which require you to arrange a selection of orbs in a specific pattern on the ground. However, the same orbs must be used to solve contextual puzzles in the surrounding environment, leading to an immersive bout of head-scratching as I explored ruins desperately in search of a solution.
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This is where Fenyx Rising really shines, when it’s introducing creative new ideas into the open-world mould instead of pinching from its contemporaries. More involved puzzles are found in Vaults, small pockets in the ground which transport Fenyx directly into the underworld.
Here, you’ll solve puzzles and normally be rewarded with rare currency, or new weapons and abilities which will prove instrumental in the quest to come. I’m really sorry I can’t help myself, but they’re just like the shrines from Breath of the Wild, right down to transporting you underground to complete ethereal trials in exchange for treasures.
That being said, they present some truly devious challenges, such as a pinball game where you must launch a trio of flaming balls into a selection of crates as you aim to activate a glowing crystal. It was a fun exercise which required plenty of patience on my part, but finally solving it proved immensely satisfying. It’s a shame the rewards for such feats feel minimal right now.
Immortals: Fenyx Rising has the potential to be yet another engaging open-world affair from Ubisoft, and it makes up for its lack of originality with engaging combat, satisfying exploration and a playful spin on the world of Greek mythology.
Part of me is concerned about it aping so many systems from other beloved games, but it seems to expand upon them enough to truly to stand on its own, and I’m eager to see how the full adventure fares once I’ve truly dug into its combat, loot and other systems.