Weeks after Assassin’s Creed Valhalla proposed that Norwich in the dark ages was an ideal place to pass the time during a global pandemic, Ubisoft is back with a much sunnier escapade in Greek mythology. Immortals Fenyx Rising may sound like a chewed-up heavy metal tape your dad found at a car boot sale, but it’s actually a charming open-world adventure where you bounce around the heavens solving problems for the gods.
The idea for Immortals struck the developers when they were researching ancient Greece for Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, but they evidently found time for a few study breaks in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, too. Clambering over mountains while keeping an eye on your stamina meter, gathering fruit and flowers to cook potions, delving into vaults to solve physics puzzles; let’s just say there are a few nods. There’s even a big red ethereal foe towering ominously over the centre of the map, waiting for you to save a quartet of far-flung deities before confronting him. The painterly art style disguises this flattering imitation with about as much subtlety as soldiers hiding inside a giant wooden horse.
It’s hard to be cynical about Immortals when it makes such a pleasant first impression. Open-world games often struggle to balance their serious storytelling against the actions of the player, who just wants to climb soaring peaks wearing the silliest hat imaginable, but the Greek pantheon is ideal fodder for comedy, and Immortals doesn’t miss the opportunity to lean into it. Protagonist Fenyx is a straight arrow, but Hermes, Aphrodite, Ares and all the other gods you meet are madder than a bag of hammers. The idea is that our story is being told to Zeus by Prometheus, allowing the two gods to bicker and heckle as you play. It’s a neat setup. There isn’t much more to the story than some mildly entertaining events accompanied by pithy dialogue, but I’ll take disposable wit over the sort of droning solemnity we usually get.
After customising your character – you can also change how Fenyx looks and sounds in the Hall of the Gods later on – and being introduced to the various things you can do, Immortals sets you free to explore the different regions of the Golden Isles as you like. First you have to climb up statues of the gods and scan the environment, probing the landscape for areas of interest, which are then tagged on your map. Then you run, jump and glide with Daedalus’ wings all over the place, diving into a vault here, solving an environmental puzzle there, or just beating up roaming bears and minotaurs to gather some loot. Liberating the gods involves retrieving their essences from Zelda-style dungeons and then fighting a boss. There’s a nice flow to it all and it’s easy to settle into the rhythm of exploring, looting and upgrading.
There’s something missing though. Immortals has some old-fashioned habits, like convoluted pressure-pad puzzles and boss fights that go on too long, but that’s not entirely it. I think the problem is the world itself. Each area of the Golden Isles is inspired by the mythology of its godly owner, so Aphrodite basks among meadows and waterfalls in the warm spring sunshine, whereas Ares lives in a rocky cauldron of war. But these don’t have that lived-in quality that most of these games manage to convey, because, of course, no one lives there. These are purely aesthetic, rather abstract spaces, and so it’s hard to get invested. It’s a bit like running around an empty theme park, all fibreglass diorama and canned pyrotechnics.
The result is a game about mythology that somehow lacks a sense of mystery. It’s fun to play and I dare say I will keep chipping away at it for weeks to come, but say what you want about Norwich in the dark ages – at least there was real depth beneath all that mud.
• Immortals Fenyx Rising is out on 3 December; £51.99.