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Hands-on impressions of the game formerly known as Gods & Monsters

When Ubisoft first announced the game formerly known as Gods & Monsters back at E3 2019, comparisons to Nintendo’s highly acclaimed The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were quick to follow. Ubisoft’s formal gameplay reveal of the newly renamed Immortals Fenyx Rising — set for release on December 3rd — does nothing to dispel those comparisons. In fact, after a two-hour gameplay demo of Immortals Fenyx Rising, it was hard to shake the feeling that I had just spent an afternoon playing a Greek-themed version of Nintendo’s instant classic with the serial numbers filed off.

There are so many aspects of Immortals Fenyx Rising that feel like they were ripped right out of Breath of the Wild that it’s almost easier to list things that don’t feel like direct clones. Fenyx is a warrior who washes up on the Golden Isle, home of the Greek gods, after it’s been devastated by a tragedy: the titan Typhon (a monster wreathed in glowing red and purple smoke that’s almost exactly like Zelda’s Calamity Ganon) has escaped, wreaking havoc on the land.

The game is set in an open world, full of a variety of biomes that players can freely explore, with an evil fortress at the center looming with cracking red smoke. Fenyx can climb on or over nearly anything in the game (provided players have the stamina for it), and it has a glider that allows for soaring through the landscape. She wields swords and axes made of glowing blue energy and has a horse companion, which can be tamed from wild stallions running around and can be summoned to her side at any time.

Fenyx also has a variety of abilities that serve purposes in exploring the vast overworld, combat, and in solving physics-based puzzles that are scattered throughout the world. She can descend into underground rifts called Vaults of Tartarus (shrines) — marked by a giant, glowing entrance in the overworld — that have her attempt a challenge where players use the tools at their disposal to solve additional puzzles that give rewards for upgrading their character further.

There are giant mini-bosses scattered throughout the overworld and hidden items to collect that will increase your health. Players will also find a range of resources to upgrade Fenyx’s armor and weapons, in addition to crafting materials that can be used at specific cooking sites to give temporary boosts to health, stamina, defense, and attack.

None of this is necessarily a bad thing: Breath of the Wild is a fantastic game, and Immortals Fenyx Rising does a good job at both replicating and, in some cases, expanding on those ideas.

The biggest departure is in how Immortals Fenyx Rising handles combat, which is a far more RPG-style system than Breath of the Wild. At any time, Fenyx is equipped with a sword (for light attacks), a hammer (for heavy attacks), and a bow, along with both head and chest pieces for armor. Each item can be upgraded and offers unique perks; one bow, for example, offered me a 33 percent boost to damage when my health was full, while another knocked back enemies and inflicted extra stun damage. Instead of weapons breaking over time, players will acquire new weapons and armor throughout the game in hidden chests or as rewards for defeating enemies. There’s also a full cosmetic customization system layered on top, which allows players to use any weapon or armor’s visual style while still getting the perks from a different item.

Ubisoft has also smartly mapped the use of status-boosting items to the D-pad, making it far easier to gobble down a pomegranate for some extra health or a potion to boost your attack in the middle of combat.

Combat is also more overtly stat based. Attacks will show clear damage numbers, and enemies have health and stun bars over their heads. I found that Immortals Fenyx Rising likes to encourage heavy use Fenyx’s godly powers, with combat serving as a constant ebb and flow of managing stamina, dodging and parrying attacks, and then finally whaling on enemies with a massive hammer smash.

Immortals Fenyx Rising also has a wider variety of overworld activities. There are weapon challenges, like a bow puzzle that required me to fly an arrow through a series of rings scattered around an area, a mosaic challenge, and a comprehensive constellation area that mixed several physics puzzles, exploration, and plain old problem-solving to complete a mural of glowing orbs.

And while Immortals does put a heavy emphasis on Fenyx’s abilities — which, in practice, resemble BOTW’s Sheika Slate functions as both puzzle-solving and combat tools — the tools offer some new ideas. Some are suspiciously Zelda-like, including the ability to lift up faraway objects that’s effectively a copy of Link’s Magnesis.

But others are more creative, like a giant hammer that allows players to smash enemies and obstacles, a bow and arrow that players can remotely fly through environments (a favorite that seems to be borrowed the Ubisoft’s recent Assassin’s Creed games), a rushing dash attack, or the ability to summon up giant spikes that launch the player into the air. Those abilities also will offer a progression system over time, making them more powerful and versatile.

Another key difference is the tone. Where Zelda is a contemplative, almost mournful experience, Ubisoft’s game is a brasher and more lighthearted spin on an epic adventure, with dueling, fourth wall-breaking narrators instructing players and cracking wise on Fenyx’s adventures as she goes along. (At one point in my demo, an NPC even made a joke about his weapon breaking midcombat in what felt like a clear snipe at one of the more controversial aspects of Nintendo’s game.)

It’s also hard to discuss any new Ubisoft game — even one as family-friendly as this one — without considering the recent reports of years of harassment, sexual misconduct, and racism that have apparently been a part of the company’s culture for over a decade. And while Immortals Fenyx Rising doesn’t appear to have been as directly impacted by these revelations as titles like Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla (whose creative director, Ashraf Ismail, was fired over the summer due to misconduct claims.) Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot briefly addressed the situation with a separate video from the announcement event with new diversity and inclusivity efforts, but noted that “real change will take time.”

It’s still early to judge Immortals Fenyx Rising. It’s possible that the game will manage to differentiate itself more over time and offer new and interesting ideas of its own. But at this point, Immortals Fenyx Rising feels like it’s stuck in the long, long shadow cast by its predecessor.

Immortals Fenyx Rising will be out on December 3rd for PC, Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Google Stadia, and the Switch (with Xbox Series X / S and PlayStation 5 versions planned for the future, too).