Since its E3 2019 reveal, Ubisoft's Gods & Monsters has been dogged by comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But an extended session with the upcoming game – now titled Immortals Fenyx Rising – proves it's no mere clone of Link's open-world epic.
Sure, its abundant similarities – stylized visuals, prominent stamina mechanic, tamable steeds, challenge-based dungeons – justifiably call for comparisons, but it takes only seconds behind protagonist Fenyx's Greek God-granted powers to forget all about our last romp through Hyrule.
WITH GREAT POWER...
As this open-word action-adventure's titular crimson-haired heroine (whose look and gender will be customizable in the final game,) we battled multiple mythological monsters during our two-plus hour hands-on preview.
First, we encountered a blob-like beast that resembled the unholy offspring of Jabba the Hutt and Medusa. As the beefy foe slithered along the ground, spitting fire from its ample maw and attempting to strike us with its lengthy tail, it'd occasionally pause to let out a taunting belly laugh; a delightful little touch that showcased the game's less serious take on Greek mythology.
From behind Fenyx's sword and battle ax – which deliver light and heavy attacks, respectively – we reduced the serpent-haired baddie to a puff of blackness. But it seems we weren't facing its final form, as a towering cyclops soon emerged from the smoke. Upon promptly grabbing a boulder, the lumbering monster approached Fenyx, swung the massive rock at her, then stomped its meaty foot on the ground to trigger a powerful area of effect attack. Thankfully, we'd learned a Godly Power dubbed “Athena's Dash,” an evasive, damage-dealing maneuver that let us streak across the battlefield, out of harm's way.
The increasingly angry beast reacted swiftly, tossing the boulder at us before effortlessly pulling a tree from the ground. The former attack siphoned a chunk of Fenyx's life, but we were able to fatally down the hulking beast before learning what it planned to do with the length of tree trunk it was now wielding in one hand. We put the final nail in the coffin with “Hephaistos' Hammer,” another God-given power that summons an over-sized mallet capable of bringing the kind of hurt that makes enemy health meters cry.
GOD OF MORE
What struck us most about this extended encounter was that it wasn't a boss battle, but just business as usual in this exaggerated take on Greek mythology. While either of this creature's forms could have served as a more consequential, story-tied confrontation, the fight was just something we sort of happened upon, an optional scuffle we could have skipped entirely. In fact, that's exactly what we did when we spotted an equally menacing Cerberus later in our journey; the three-headed, fire-spitting hell spawn was busy sparring with a group of soldiers, so we figured we'd let them suss it out.
This larger-than-life approach to enemy variety, essentially treating boss-like baddies as low-level fodder, also extends to how you approach them on the battlefield. The game's combat is lightning-quick, over-the-top, and never interrupted by degrading weapons. The animations accompanying both Fenyx and her foes – especially when the powers of the gods are unleashed – are highly stylized, injecting every attack with the kind of cinematic flair usually reserved for flamboyant anime brawlers.
While less methodical and more empowering than recent Assassin’s Creed entries' parry-heavy skirmishes, Immortals Fenyx Rising's combat is not without layers and depth. Those aforementioned special moves, for example, continually deplete your stamina meter, while dodging and parrying is still recommended if you hope to leave fights with some health potions left in your inventory.
Fenyx's arsenal is also as customizable as it is varied, allowing players to mold it to their play-style. Weapons – including bows – and armor carry passive stats, skill trees evolve your abilities, and the Godly Powers just keep on coming. Oh, you can also command your companion phoenix, Phosphorus, to attack from above.
AN OPEN-WORLD OF OPPORTUNITIES
The game's satisfying combat kept us busy for much of our playtime, but beating the stuffing out of uglies of the horned, fanged, and clawed variety only scratches the surface of what you'll get up to.
The story – which is comically narrated by Zeus and Prometheus – sees Fenyx attempting to save the gods from big bad Typhon. This herculean task will find players tackling both story-driven missions and side quests, as they explore a map that would make one of Assassin’s Creed's stretching worlds proud. Getting around is a snap, however, as Fenyx can fly – at least for as long as her stamina allows – and summon a metallic steed that, awesomely, appears right beneath the hero with the press of a button.
Saving the gods' bacon also means solving lots of puzzles. During our demo, this meant lightning a number of forges, mostly by discovering creative ways to ignite large lumps of coal and delivering them to their respective ovens. There's also optional challenges, incorporating both puzzling and platforming, that reward your efforts with shiny loot.
We spent a chunk of time in an underworld realm, where we relied on Fenyx's flying skills to avoid laser-like traps and leverage upward wind gusts to navigate toward a treasure chest. It was a nice reprieve from combat that also gifted us with the Shade of Tartaros helm, a spiky piece of headgear that made Fenyx look extremely badass, while also granting her a damage boost.
Immortals Fenyx Rising initial verdict
There's no question Immortals Fenyx Rising borrows some of the best elements from both Breath of the Wild and Ubisoft's own Assassin’s Creed games.
But it brings enough of its own flavor – from its stunning visual style and rewarding combat to its tongue and cheek take on Greek mythology – to not only carve its own place in the genre, but also earn a spot as one of our most anticipated games of the year.