Fenyx may have been able to rise, but the Switch version has flown too close to the sun.
Immortals: Fenyx Rising takes a lot of cues from Breath of the Wild. You explore a wide open world where you can travel anywhere and do quests in any order. You climb up to a high place when you arrive in a new area and fill out your map, gliding down to visit points of interest and clear out miniature dungeons full of puzzles and bonus treasures. As you clear the main story and free the four gods, you’ll even receive blessings from them that boost your power and provide new abilities. Hell, Aphrodite’s first blessing is literally just Mipha’s Grace, restoring your health automatically when you fall in battle once every 20 minutes. I don’t like directly comparing two games in a review, but since Immortals is one of the first major releases in this emerging “Wildlike” subgenre, it would be tough not to put it up against Breath of the Wild. The similarities are plentiful, but the differences between them are substantial enough to make Immortals a distinct experience that can either fall short of Zelda or surpass it entirely depending on what exactly it is you wanted from Link’s latest adventure. Immortals takes place in the world of Greek mythology, featuring all of its gods and monsters as major characters and creatures roaming the world. The monstrous Typhon has escaped from his prison beneath Mount Etna and vowed revenge on the gods of Olympus, reducing them to shadows of their former selves and letting the monsters of Tartaros roam the lands. Fenyx, the only mortal who survived Typhon’s wrath, is tasked by the messenger god Hermes to restore the gods to their full power and gather them together to close the gates of Tartaros. Along the way, the story is narrated by Zeus and Prometheus, who have bet on whether or not a mortal would be able to defeat Typhon. The bickering between the two narrators is the highlight of the game’s writing, with Zeus’ inflated ego and tendency to be a complete bastard to everyone in Olympus making for a reliable source of comedy. There’s also a non-stop torrent of references to Greek mythology that often veer into deep cuts that the average person probably wouldn’t recognize, which should be an absolute joy for anyone interested in the Greek pantheon.
Exploration in Immortals is one of its greatest weaknesses. After climbing up to a high vantage point, you won’t be looking around the map to find something that catches your eye. Instead you’ll be scanning the terrain for spots that make your reticle light up and your controller rumble, at which point you’ll press a button to automatically add an icon to your map. The result is Ubisoft’s tried and true icon-based exploration with extra steps. I’d honestly rather the icons automatically filled in on the map, since the slow process of waving the camera around trying to find exact spots in the entire vertical space around you takes much longer to effectively reach the same end. You don’t even need to be at a vantage point; you can mark icons from ground level through walls with no regard for what you’d realistically be able to see. It may even be easier to do so, since the range on the y-axis you’ll need to search for icons is substantially smaller this way.
This cumbersome icon hunt will undoubtedly turn off a lot of Breath of the Wild’s fans, but while it may be the game’s greatest flaw in my eyes, it’s also fairly unique in that regard. Everything else in Immortals feels like an improvement on Zelda’s formula. Combat is one of the biggest improvements, with a number of abilities that grant you a wide range of options in a fight. You can launch into the air while raising spikes out of the ground and use a magical grappling hook to pull yourself towards enemies, striking them with a mix of light and heavy attacks to keep your combo going, which will increase your damage output as your combo meter increases. Attacks can be parried, which increases an opponent’s stun gauge, and this sends them into a daze and lowers their defenses when filled. Finding the right mix of moves for every monster so that you can extend combos and fill the stun gauge as quickly as possible is exhilarating, and it allows you to take on even the strongest opponents at any time if you have enough skill.
Your combat prowess is enhanced by the game’s smart equipment system. Instead of equipment having stat values that raise your defense or offense stats, each weapon or piece of armor in Immortals has its own unique buff that gives you a new passive ability in battle, with stat upgrades done through crafting that applies to all equipment of that type equally. One armor plate may increase your maximum health, while another may refill your stamina bar with each hit you land on an enemy. With this setup, every piece of equipment is equally viable through the entire game, which makes exploring the world to find treasure more worthwhile. Every new sword or helmet you find comes with something new, and while I didn’t often switch off the buffs I was comfortable with, it still felt much better than opening a chest and finding a sword that was totally outclassed by the one I was already using.
Puzzle solving is also a big focus in Fenyx Rising through the Vaults of Tartaros—Ubisoft’s answer to Breath of the Wild’s Ancient Shrines. Just like Shrines, Vaults can be found all over the world and lead you into a separate instance designed around a particular theme for puzzles. The Vaults ask you to use Fenyx’s powers in clever and skilled ways, and each one takes the time to really explore the concept it’s going for. There are no one-and-done Vaults; there will always be a basic introduction to an idea and multiple subsequent evolutions of that idea that increase in complexity. Even the rare Vaults that focus on combat will add in differing obstacles that need to be avoided while fighting a wave of opponents.
Sadly, the Switch version of Immortals is a seriously compromised port compared to even the PS4 and Xbox One. The graphics have taken a massive hit in order to get the game running on a handheld, to the point that landmarks and terrain in the distance are an unrecognizable soup of dull colors. At one point, I happened to hit a cutscene introducing me to a new area while it was foggy, and the fog was so thick that the area’s highlights being shown to me in sweeping camera motions weren’t visible at all. The graphical downgrade can even have a direct effect on gameplay. In one Vault, you’re tasked with gliding around a cloud of dark magic that instantly reduces your stamina, causing you to fall to the ground below. It’s a simple task that’s made near-impossible on Switch since the clouds are completely invisible due to the particle effects they’re made of being turned off.
Some of the downgrade may have been worth it if the performance made up for it, but it most certainly doesn’t. The framerate commonly drops below 30fps, making it difficult to judge timing in combat. Cutscenes look awful, with pixelation clearly visible on some textures as the art style completely breaks down. Across 20 hours of playtime, the game crashed to the home screen seven times, and once even crashed again immediately upon booting back up. All of this occurred with the 1.0.2 patch installed, which is as of this writing the most recent version available.
Immortals: Fenyx Rising is overall a great game that I’m excited to keep coming back to, but the Switch version is such a disappointment that I’m strongly considering starting my entire playthrough over on another platform. I love the setting based in Greek mythology, and I’ve been enjoying the adventure almost non-stop, only ever getting bored during the icon hunt whenever I reach a new area once every couple of hours. It’s a shame that Switch players will be getting such a compromised version, since I really feel like the weak port does a huge disservice to everything the game succeeds at. I think you should play Immortals: Fenyx Rising, but you should not do so on Switch if you can help it.