BACK at E3 last year, the nice folks at Ubisoft organised some time for me to have a look at an as-yet unreleased game entitled Gods and Monsters. Drawing inspiration from the myths and legends of Classical Greece, the game had a cartoony, approachable style and was also a good way to see Google Stadia in action too.
What I saw seemed interesting, but with all of Ubisoft’s AAA releases for 2020 being postponed to Q3 and Q4, it slipped off the radar until I got the chance to play it myself last week.
The game has been renamed Immortals Fenyx Rising – I can only guess that its earlier title didn’t score well in market research metrics – but otherwise what I played was a big step forward from the game I saw at E3 last year.
Right up front: Immortals Fenyx Rising feels a lot like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey. Now, I really like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey but A) I’ve already played a lot of it, and B) It’s a massive game that with all DLC will (according to howlongtobeat.com) take more than 200 hours to finish and a cushion-squishing 400 hours if you take a leisurely approach.
It is, in other words, a game I thoroughly enjoyed but have experienced more than enough of and am in no hurry to delve back into (beyond using it for laptop, peripheral and hardware performance tests).
However, I don’t think Immortals Fenyx Rising’s target audience is “People who still aren’t bored of Assassin’s Creed Odyssey yet” – but rather, “People who don’t want a realistic* video game about dagger-enhanced parkour but are still interested in the Ancient Greece thing”, or “younger gamers” – I think my primary school aged-kids will like it quite a bit, for example.
The art style in Fenyx Rising is cartoony but accessible, and I liked the writing too. While I’m told it’s not the final narration in the game, it was delightfully self-aware and self-deprecating, which added to the “Fun story being told over a few drinks in a Greek Taverna” vibe.
Your hero, Fenyx, is totally customisable and can also glide/fly to an extent, and there are a range of armour and weapon accessories; it’s all pretty standard stuff there but there were some interesting departures, such as the Apollo Arrow that acts like a guided missile and was very useful for solving some of the puzzles.
From what I gather, the story is that Fenyx has been shipwrecked on the Island of the Gods and discovers said Gods have been ousted by Typhon – and so the Olympians enlist your help to defeat the usurper and restore their rightful place in the pantheon.
Rather than playing it straight, the game is having some fine with the whole thing and going for a fun cartoon adventure vibe, which seemed to work pretty well from what I experienced.
The impression I got from my hands-on with the game was that each quest required less of a time investment than in Odyssey – only one area was available, but the quests didn’t involve quite so much “Go here, and then go to this other thing, and then go and talk to this person on a totally different island” as in the other game.
There was a lot of fighting – the demo takes place a bit later in the game and there were plenty of enemies who wanted to tangle, including Hephaestian automatons, Medusae, Minotaurs, and all the other legendary monsters one would expect in these things.
There are also “Vaults of Tartarus”, which are puzzle dungeons that must be navigated to earn rewards – the puzzles in the ones I tried were quite difficult and challenging.
Scattered throughout the world are Mythic Challenges where you need to complete tasks in a certain way to earn Coins Of Charon. The one I tried was lots of fun – I had to guide my Arrow of Apollo through a series of rings scattered around a battlefield in the right order before finishing in a statue’s mouth to light a fire.
The controls – I was playing on PC via streaming but using an Xbox controller – worked well once I got the hang of them. I found the quick access to healing and stamina potions via the direction pad very helpful indeed.
Fenyx has limited stamina, which depleted as I attacked and climbed and jumped around, and I have to say I’m not a fan of the mechanic in general. Yes, I know in real life you can’t just keep swinging a sword around indefinitely while jumping around like a rabbit on energy drinks, but part of the point of playing video games is not having to do things like taking forever to climb up a building by having to stop for a breather several times either.
Given the skill upgrades and progression available though, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t one for infinite stamina – it’ll be interesting to see what some of the other skills that become available are too, especially at more advanced levels later in the game.
The broader similarities Assassin’s Creed Odyssey are evidently not accidental; the game is developed by the same studio (Ubisoft Quebec) who did a ridiculous amount of research for Odyssey (so much there’s actually an option to use the game as a historical learning aid and just explore the game world learning about the real Ancient Greece), so I’m not at all surprised someone there looked at the mountains of ideas, data and research they’d collated and said “We really should do another game with some of this stuff.”
The full game is out on December 3 – just in time for Christmas – and I’m looking forward to playing it with my kids when it launches.
*Yes, I know we’re talking about Assassin’s Creed here. You know what I mean.