Well. This is a bit of a turn-up.
Before this week, the only thing we knew about Gods & Monsters – whoops, we mean Immortals Fenyx Rising – was that Ubisoft changed the title because Monster Energy reportedly objected to it. Now we've spent some time with it – gliding through the cotton-puff clouds and galloping through its lush, vibrant meadows – it's catapulted itself into our hearts and our best-games-of-2020 list. Surprised? Yeah, us too… which isn't an easy feat as we close out the oh-so-shocking year of 2020, is it?
It's tempting to write Immortals off as a lite Assassin's Creed Odyssey, a place for Ubisoft to dump its numerous Greek-flavoured assets into another game under the guise of a brand new franchise. Yes, it shares much of Assassin's Creed Odyssey's DNA and yes, there's still a lot of Ubisoft's formula kicking about - for instance, to de-mist a region, you need to climb landmarks and "scout" from the top, as per every other Ubisoft game under the bloody sun - but it's so much more than that, too.
And if you read no further than this sentence, know this: Immortals Fenyx Rising's near-perfect blend of challenging combat and delightful puzzling is wonderful enough. Chuck in its engaging cast of characters and its stunning open-world, and it's a surprise that keeps on giving… and after the year you've had - we've all had - you owe it to yourself not to skip this one.
CENTAUR OF THE UNIVERSE
The mythical land of Golden Isle is one of the most gorgeous places we've ever seen realised in a video game (or anyplace else, for that matter). Stuffed with colour and charm, it's a place littered with secrets and opportunities, from sunken treasure chests to imposing, craggy clifftops.
Admittedly, at the start of Fenyx's journey, those clifftops will be a complete PITA – our warrior may boast a strong will but they're cursed with weak arms, struggling to climb any sizeable distance without a pit-stop – but the more you play, improving your stamina and collecting those all-important mushrooms to keep your strength up, the more the world will unfold before you, revealing distinct regions each crafted in homage to a particular Greek god.
And it doesn't matter where you go, or what you plan to do, either. Golden Isle is yours. Along the way are a smorgasbord of enticing treasures and battles to distract you, enough that sometimes you'll spend a delightful half-hour wading along the shoreline, collecting resources or completing Lyre challenges and fighting bad 'uns, only to remember you were supposed to be tackling a nearby Vault.
You'll no doubt see a lot of comparisons to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, but just between us (ed: and by us, we mean this specfic writer only)… well, we know it's an unpopular opinion, but Breath of the Wild felt a tad too long and cumbersome at times. Immortals' slimmer, less opaque signposting works very much in its favour, though, making it considerably more accessible than other open-world epics forged in the same vein. Plus it is an open-world in the truest sense of the word because once you've completed the introductory missions, it doesn't matter which region you choose to explore first; you can indulge your every whim and explore at your own pace, unhindered by power levels that artificially gate your explorer's curiosity.
You play as the titular Fenyx, a hero of your own creation saddled with the not-so-easy task of liberating the world of Typhon, a monstrous creature who has turned all the mortals, including Fenyx's own brother, to stone, and all the gods to… well, other things, such as a tree and – a personal favourite – a chicken.
As for Fenyx themselves? We played as the female-variant and, to be honest, we fell a little bit in love with her. Adorable but feisty, she's everything you want in a reluctant hero, and the customisation options - while limited - anchor you that bit more firmly to your wayward warrior. As the cast expands beyond the (truly hilarious) double-act of narrators Zeus and Prometheus, you'll find yourself sincerely caring for the cursed inhabitants of this beautiful land.
Evolving Fenyx sounds easy - collect Ambrosia to boost your life meter; complete vaults to unlock Zeus' Lightning to improve your Stamina; upgrade weapons and armour as you go - but it's all a little bit easier said than done, as, despite the plentiful resources, there are dozens and dozens and dozens to collect. Consequently, it might feel a tad overwhelming at first - particularly when you use Far Sight for the first time and swamp your vision with a sea of busy icons and demands on your time - but the wonderful thing about Immortals is that it doesn't matter how many challenges or icons it chucks at you – you can complete them at your leisure.
While some of the monsters you'll encounter during your travels will be tougher than others, most battles can be tackled or evaded at your choice, so you rarely feel frustrated by accidentally straying into the path of a mythical beast. And as you work alongside the corrupted demi-gods Fenyx aids along the way, she will amass a grand assortment of mythical tools, such as Icarus' ill-fated wings, to help her on her quest. And should you be in a rush, fast travel and handy mounts - we had a stag, a horse, a zebra, and a unicorn, and honestly cannot select a favourite - also help truncate travel time.
VAULT FROM THE BLUE
Vaults! We haven't even talked about the vaults yet! If you'll forgive another Zelda reference, they're similar to Link's dungeons, and most focus on puzzle-solving rather than combat (although expect some of the latter from time to time, particularly when you venture into the harder vaults to retrieve the essence of the gods). Every one rewards you with loot, armour, or Zeus' Lightning – maybe even all three, if you're lucky – and each one completed sends another pack of snarling denizens back to Typhon where they belong.
While screenshots may intimate vaults are all pretty much the same – which they are aesthetically – the truth is they vary wildly in difficulty and scope, but masterfully balance challenge without ever making you feel truly overwhelmed. Through a medley of different mechanics – from floating boxes to rolling giant spheres to flicking switches to dodging lasers to gliding from windy vent to windy vent – Immortals slowly but skillfully builds up your knowledge of how the world works with small, digestible tasks that eventually come together as you tackle ever more complex challenges.
There's more, but we've already exceeded the word count and to be honest, all the cloying praise is likely getting a bit nauseating now, isn't it? Yes, this open-world RPG very firmly wears its Zelda-shaped inspirations on its sleeve, but don't let that mislead you – where it counts, Immortals Fenyx Rising has a personality and magic all of its own.
Immortals Fenyx Rising verdict
Not only is it charming, but Immortals Fenyx Rising's world is a joy to explore and a complete blast to play. Stuffed with combat, collectibles, mysteries, puzzles, and a healthy dollop of family-friendly good-humour, there's a hell of a lot of bang for your buck.
In fact, we've wasted enough time sat here writing about it – it's time to head back to Golden Isle and, hopefully, never leave it again.