The Unexpected Warmth of Immortals Fenyx Rising
Updated: Jun 20, 2021
Games can, very often, be everything BUT art. They can be overwhelming, with icon after icon cluttering a game's world map, promising hours of mindless content. They can be loud and obnoxious, with over-written jokes, licensed music, and meme culture bleeding into their overall narrative. They can be derivative of other major titles in the industry, to the point of feeling wholly unoriginal.
That's how Immortals Fenyx Rising struck me when it approached release. Trailers featured upbeat James Brown tunes... for a game set against Greek gods. Ubisoft was developing it which all but promised an over-full game world and "towers." When gameplay was finally revealed, all anyone could say was that it was Breath of the Wild lite.
But now, having played it, all I can do is smile. Because Immortals Fenyx Rising is one of the warmest and most comforting games I've played in years.
Immortals Fenyx Rising (née Gods and Monsters, changed after legal pressure from Monster Energy) released on December 3, 2020. Developed by Ubisoft Quebec, it's an open world action-adventure game by way of modern Assassin's Creed and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. You play as the eponymous Fenyx, an uncertain and unlikely hero and the last survivor of their crew after a storm shipwrecks them on an uncharted island. Soon, they discover that the inhabitants of this island have all been turned to stone at the hands of the monstrous villain, Typhon. With the Gods missing and Fenyx's "more capable" warrior of an older brother Ligyron seemingly lost at sea, it's up to Fenyx to gather these lost souls and save the day.
Up above it all, Prometheus and Zeus narrate Fenyx's story — the telling of it colored by their testy relationship (Zeus chained Prometheus to a mountain and cursed him to have his insides torn out and eaten by an eagle every single day) and Zeus' "bad dad" attitude.
The setup doesn't scream comforting, intimate, or warm. If anything, it paints the picture of a God of War-esque experience with a little less rage and screaming.
But this onion's got layers. And they quickly peel away to reveal a softer interior.
Zeus and Prometheus — despite their dark connection — are more Statler and Waldorf than a no-nonsense pair of narrators. They poke fun at everything that happens in the world, make light of Zeus' past transgressions, and skew toward a sillier tone than I expected from the dwellers of Mount Olympus.
The world itself is painted with vibrant color palettes, large swaths of bright grassy fields dotted with the pinks and yellows of cherry blossom trees, and magical god-like buildings and relics. Animations are playful, with enemies poofing out of existence when finished off and launched into the sky on every final hit of an encounter, bringing to mind Team Rocket blasting off again and again.
But it's the actual content of the story where the warmth really erupts in the game. It's what Fenyx represents to themself and others that carried me through the game. *SPOILERS TO FOLLOW, including character motivations, broad story arcs, and more. Come back after you've completed the game.
Fenyx is incredibly insecure. They (you can customize your Fenyx to present as male or female) are a poet, a storyteller, and infinitely less confident in their own abilities than their older brother, Ligyron. They are the amplifier for Ligyron's light, spending a majority of their time spreading the tale of his greatness. They couldn't imagine being anything more than that.
Until Fenyx is the last person standing and the last hope for all that exists.
Dropped headfirst into that situation, you see Fenyx instantly begin to grow. Begin to shine in the way they were always meant to. Fenyx soon finds out they're good at being the hero, at fighting monsters, and at helping people talk through their problems.
The Gods have all been weakened by Typhon, their own insecurities preyed on by the beast. Ares, the mighty God of War, turned into a chicken and coward when unable to confront his feelings. Athena, the stubborn God of Wisdom, turned into an actual child, more stubborn and frustrating than ever. Aphrodite, the self-empowered God of Love, forced to lose her sense of self and turned into a tree with no wants or needs. Hephaistos, the tragic God of Fire, is nothing but a machine when ripped of the tragedies that make him who he is.
Fenyx, one who has long told epic stories about each of these larger-than-life figures, is forced to confront them as people.
Their quest asks them to "restore the essence" of each God, bringing each one back to full power — requiring Fenyx to help each realize the insecurities are what make them great. By embracing pride, stubbornness, putting yourself before others, and the pain of the tragedies, you can be the person you are meant to be. These "negative" traits don't make you inherently worse, and when utilized correctly, can become cornerstone parts of yourself.
During this journey, Fenyx eventually learns that their brother actually survived the crash and has been engaged in a bit of hero-ing himself. His presence instantly deflates Fenyx and his dismissive and taunting attitude paints a familiar picture for any younger sibling. Fenyx starts to crumple and give in to insecurities when Ligyron is around, lifted up only by their newfound family in the Gods. It's only in the moments they share with each of the Gods that Fenyx learns to embrace the parts of them once perceived as weak and grows stronger as a result of it.
Hell, even Zeus, noted shitty father in myth, learns some lessons and does some soul-searching by the end of it all.
It's a story with deeply familiar touchpoints for many folks. I, for one, spent a lot of my life being the amplifier for many "brighter" stars. It's left me a deeply insecure person with diminishing self-worth. Seeing gods, monsters, and Fenyx embrace their whole selves was empowering and a reminder that even the unlikeliest of games can bring forth the strongest feelings.
With all of Ubisoft's attempts at this level of comfort and warmth in household name games, it was in this strange offshoot of an original IP that they captured it better than ever before. This larger-than-life game with cheeky jokes and a James-Brown-scored trailer turned out to be something deeply intimate to both player and developer alike. The feeling of the game being a passion project for the developers shines through — an embracing of what the community depicts as weak (the Ubisoft open world of it all), that surprisingly culminates in one of the strongest releases of 2020. Immortals Fenyx Rising is everything and nothing I'd thought it be and I hope that knowledge inspires others to give this gem a chance.