Videogames are even more incestuous than Greek gods. Ideas are constantly being borrowed and stolen, remixed and reused from one game to another, usually iterative rather than revolutionary. Immortals Fenyx Rising is the first game I've played that borrows from 2017's The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, and it borrows heavily. Then it adds in more objectives, more quest markers, more RPG-lite skill trees and equipment upgrades, and a lot more combat, burying Zelda's open world template under a mountain of stuff to do.
Basically, it's a Ubisoft game. But at least it's a pretty cute one.
In a three hour demo, I got to strike out and explore a chunk of Immortals' open world with a welcome lack of guidance. I had a few objective markers I could head to for the main quest, but I could also just wander around at my leisure, which is what I mostly did. I found mini puzzle dungeons, dead ringers for the shrines in Breath of the Wild, and massive cliffs to climb, which hammered home that sense of hands-off freedom.
The thing I didn't expect was to have a pair of Greek gods, Zeus and Prometheus, narrating my adventure and heckling me like The Muppets' Statler and Waldorf. I'm honestly not sure if that sense of humor was fun or grating, but it did help differentiate Immortals from other open world games and especially other games based on Greek mythology, of which there are many. The cartoony aesthetic also has a real family friendly vibe—overall this is about as far from God of War as you can get. At one point, I tamed a nice elk by patting it on the head.
The highlight of my demo was finding puzzles out in the open world and getting sidetracked from my objective to figure them out. None of the puzzles I did were especially original—expect a lot of putting cubes on pressure plates and figuring out how to roll big spheres into holes in the ground. But running into a meaty, multi-part puzzle out in the open world was still a fun experience because Immortals restrains itself from overexplaining. I found a dilapidated temple that at first glance seemed to be one obvious puzzle—fill out a tic-tac-toe-style grid with the right pieces—but to get those pieces, I had to solve half a dozen puzzles in the surrounding area. I love when games present me with a multi-step problem and leave me to figure out the solution at my own pace.
The rewards for solving those puzzles highlight where Immortals hews closer to other Ubisoft games than Zelda—expect to get equipment with stat bonuses for certain types of attacks and skill points you use to upgrade your way through an ability tree. If you played Breath of the Wild and wanted a more traditional combat system, this is the game for you.
Combat is definitely more complex than I expected, eschewing Zelda's simple sword swipes for parrying, dodge rolling, combos, and a whole pile of extra powerful skills added on top. There are generous windows for dodging and parrying attacks, and pulling off one of those moves lets you really wail on enemies as they're slowed down for a few seconds after missing. The timing is fun, just precise enough to be satisfying but vastly easier to pull off than in action games like Sekiro.
Given the fairly easy enemies I went up against on the demo's Normal difficulty, and how generous it is with healing items, the combat actually seems overstuffed. I could keep getting hit while I mashed away at combos or pulled off big, powerful special attacks without really worrying about the damage I was taking because it was easy to heal through it. Those special moves use a mana system I'll call God Juice, and they let you do things like summon and swing Hephaestus's giant hammer or dash forward like Athena.
They're flashy, and hopefully fighting harder enemies later in the game demands using them more carefully, because I never felt like I really needed to learn how to use any of my moves well. I could mostly mash my way through and come out just fine.
That was my impression of Immortals: Fenyx Rising as a whole. I honestly had more fun with this demo than I did with Assassin's Creed: Valhalla a few months ago, which feels as formulaic as big-budget games can get. Immortals has plenty of familiar pieces too—it's the kind of game where you press one button to fire an arrow, and a different button to fire an arrow that you control in the air in first person. But at least what it borrows from Zelda makes for a genuinely more freeform, player-driven approach to a big open world. It just loses some of Nintendo's special sauce by adding too much of what you've seen and done in many other Ubisoft games.
But I don't want to be too hard on Immortals by comparing it to Breath of the Wild, which is probably my favorite game of the last decade. Breath of the Wild's open world was phenomenal because of how restrained it was—how much it relied on the player to genuinely explore, to find interesting ways to engage with the environments and enemies without a million points of interest dotting a minimap. It knew that a deeper combat system would distract from its core elements, like the physics and magnetism that still have people making viral trick videos years later. It didn't need to spoon feed progression, because you could keep discovering clever ways to use the tools you got in the first hour 20, 30, 100 hours later.
Immortals can't live up to that, but the core sense of freedom remains. There's a big, colorful world to approach how you want, even if the objectives piled on top are more conventional.
It's telling that the main way I traveled in Assassin's Creed: Valhalla was holding down a button for my horse to automatically gallop down a road to my next quest marker, while in Immortals, I set a marker for the far corner of the map and found myself climbing, gliding, and swimming my way there as I tried to find a viable path for the amount of stamina Fenyx needed to scale each summit. In moments like that, you can tell Immortals took from the best.