At E3 2019, Ubisoft closed its annual press conference with a surprising new game built on new IP —Gods and Monsters. A short trailer teased a vast open world with a colorful art style, drawing immediate comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
News about the game was sparse until last month, when it reappeared in a Ubisoft Forward presentation as Immortals Fenyx Rising. The second trailer took a different tone, trading in the first teaser’s relaxing vibes for an action-packed combat reel set to high-energy funk music.
I went hands-on with a four-hour demo of the game that gave a clear picture of how it plays. Gods and Monsters wears its influences on its sleeve, to be sure. But several features set it apart from Breath of the Wild.
Birth of the Wildlike
Immortals Fenyx Rising will feel immediately familiar to fans of Breath of the Wild. It’s an open-world action-adventure game with a heavy emphasis on unrestricted mobility. Players can seamlessly climb any surface they see by walking up to it and pressing up on the left control stick. An upgradeable stamina meter indicates how long players can cling on to a wall, swim, or dash forward.
The comparisons don’t end there. The game’s opening two hours are spent gathering items that can be used to interact with the world, culminating in a glider that lets players soar off of high surfaces. There’s even a glowing lasso that lets players pick up and move heavy objects, which can be used to solve puzzles in shrine-like rifts scattered throughout the map.
When asked about Breath of the Wild, game director Scott Phillips wore the comparison as a badge of honor, calling Nintendo’s game a “masterpiece.” But according to Phillips, Immortals’ influences run much deeper than Zelda.
Everything is special and huge, and you can get up in the air and get a Devil May Cry feel.
“Very early on, we wanted the traversal to be a bit more risky and freeform,” Phillips told Digital Trends. “So we wanted to have a double jump to bring in these platformer elements. That was inspired by games like Jak and Daxter and Super Mario Odyssey… Everything is special and huge, and you can get up in the air and get a Devil May Cry feel.”
Those platforming elements go hand-in-hand with the free-roaming, tool-driven gameplay that worked wonders for Breath of the Wild. Movement is fluid, and there’s a certain joy to zipping across the map by stringing movement techniques together.
The world feels rich with secrets. There was always a chest to unlock, an environmental puzzle to solve, or a resource to chase down, allowing me to seamlessly hop from one point of intrigue to another.
Rather than feeling derivative, the game is in conversation with Breath of the Wild, in the same way that Fortnite was with PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds. Between this and Genshin Impact (a recent free-to-play RPG that is even more direct in its Zelda influence) it seems we’re on the cusp of a new genre that borrows the mobility and exploration at the heart of Breath of the Wild, and iterates on top of it. Call it a “wildlike.”
A few chuckles, and plenty of combat
Immortals sets a comedic tone. That’s a bit of a surprise considering the trailers, which teased a more serious epic. Gods challenge each other with snappy one-liners and meta-jokes that make the story feel like Shrek or Onward with a Greek theme thrown over it.
“We wanted to tap into that Pixar feel, where kids love it, but adults can get some jokes that are like ‘okay, I’m glad my kid didn’t understand that,’” Philips said. “Our lead writer is a little bit of a nerd about the mythology, so he put in a lot of effort to make sure that if you delved into it, you would get another level of what was going on with the humor of the game.”
These quips are brief, however, and combat is a focus. Phillips said the combat was built with Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as a base. Attacks center around three primary weapons. There’s a sword that delivers quick slashes with the press of the right bumper, a heavy hammer mapped to the right trigger, and a bow that’s drawn by holding down the left trigger. A parry system lets players counter attack or deflect projectiles back at enemies, which can stun them.
It feels like a standard hack-and-slash early on, but combat opens up when upgradeable abilities and skill trees come into play. Midway through the demo, I grabbed upgrades that added a list of powerful moves, called Godly powers, attached to a cooldown. For example, I could summon a giant hammer to smash enemies in a wide area or use a dash attack to plow into one enemy.
Don’t be fooled by the cartoony art style, though. Battles can get tough. Boss fights take a page out of Dark Souls’ playbook, requiring a mix of careful slashes and perfectly-timed parries to get the upper hand. It’s not as difficult as a Soulslike, but as in Breath of the Wild, a few sloppy moves can quickly lead to defeat.
Unfortunately, the targeting system had a mind of its own in the demo. I found it difficult to isolate one enemy away from a crowd, as my lock-on tended to bounce around. I found it easier to opt out of the system altogether. Hopefully, that will get cleaned before launch, because Immortals seems to lean heavily on the action side of action-adventure.
Yep, its got loot
The game is tied together with the typical RPG elements, which revolve around resource collection. That means exploration isn’t just a relaxing side activity. It’s necessary for building a character.
There’s a familiar satisfaction to setting out, grabbing a whole smorgasbord of materials, and returning to the hub.
After the introductory mission, I was led to the game’s central hub. Here, players can trade everything they’ve collected for upgrades, like potion buffs or weapon damage increases. There’s a familiar satisfaction to setting out, grabbing a whole smorgasbord of materials, and returning to the hub to increase a bunch of items at once.
Skills, Godly powers, and potions all have unique upgrade trees. While some trees have branching paths, players can grab every upgrade eventually without having to pick and choose routes. Specialization mostly comes in the form of weapons and armor, which have unique, upgradeable perks. For example, a lion mane-like helmet buffs damage against unharmed enemies, making every first attack hit like a truck.
It’s reminiscent of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey but diverges quite a bit in the specifics. The various upgrade systems aren’t symmetrical. The Forge upgrades are linear, while Potions offers several deep upgrade trees, though only two of them branch.
There’s still one question mark to the progression, which could be a sticking point for some. The game features an online shop component, which was disabled in the demo. It seems players can exchange real money for resource packs that allow them to upgrade things like stamina faster, similar to the system used in Ubisoft games like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey.
That aside, Immortals: Fenyx Rising is shaping up to be an eclectic and entertaining open-world game. Ubisoft is juggling between the game’s peaceful exploration, challenging combat, and goofy humor. It feels particularly aimed at kids who played Breath of the Wild three years ago and now, as teenagers, want something with more edge. Fans of Ubisoft’s approach to open-world games will also find a lot to like since Immortals provides a new spin on that well-known formula.
Anyone who’s curious can try a demo of the game on Google Stadia, which is free for anyone to play, regardless of whether or not they have a Stadia subscription.
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