This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee reviews Immortals Fenyx Rising.
Prologue: Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash
My latest novel, Will Destroy the Galaxy for Cash, has been out on audiobook for ages, yes, but now, the print and ebook versions are available from all good retailers, courtesy of Dark Horse Books! All the same words, but now you get to know how all the names are spelled!
Truly good and original games are like the itchy spots you get from a venereal disease: a product of love that's satisfying to scratch, yes, but soon there'll be a lot more of the buggers, and none of them will be as interesting as the first. Case in point, Breath of the Wild. "Ooh, we like this game!" we said to the soulless Daleks that run the games industry. "We think it's atmospheric and mechanically intricate, and offers a bold new take on the interactive narrative experience. (...) Also, it made a lot of money." "REPLICATE! REPLICATE! REGURGITATE!"
But obviously, you can't just knock out something as expansive as Breath of the Wild on evenings and weekends in between fistfuls of amphetamines, so the imitators are only just now trickling out, like Genshin Impact: "Breath of the Wild, but anime". I know Breath of the Wild was already pretty anime, but you know what I mean; there is anime, and then there is capital-A Anime, the kind of thing that's all pastel colors and jiggle physics, and all the characters dress like they got caught in a head-on collision between a truck full of random armor parts and a truck full of lace doilies.
And we also have today's subject, Ubisoft's contribution to the new "like Breath of the Wild, but..." subgenre (ugh): Immortals Fenyx Rising. What's the strategy here, guys? "Hey, if we give our game the worst title in the history of anything, maybe the rest of the game will look good by comparison." "Good thinking! Now, are there any I's in the name we can replace with Y's?" Immortals Vomit Rising is a fantasy open world hack and slash collect-a-thon where you can pursue your objectives in any order and free-climb anywhere as long as you've got enough energy drinks; so yeah, it's the faintly sinister cheaply-made knockoff of a Disney film hoping to sucker in a few elderly relatives in time for Christmas.
But how, you might ask, could any game replicate Breath of the Wild without the backing of decades of heritage like what Zelda has, the eternal Link/Zelda/Ganondorf monomyth? "Well," said Ubisoft, "can't get much more 'monomyth' than actual myth, can you?" So obviously, they went to the Free Idea Bucket again and just made another fucking game about Greek mythology, only in this case, you're trying to bring back the Greek gods who've all been put out of commission by the big baddie, in what's academically termed a "reverse Kratos". The Titan Typhon gets loose, turns humanity to stone, and lets all the monsters out for afternoon play, and our protagonist Fenyx - no relation to Marcus - must prove their worth as a warrior and save four of the Greek gods so that they can help you kick Typhon in the tighty-whities.
Boy, I wish I could list all the original ideas that went into Immortals Bile Churning, but I fear I might never... start. The last desperate Hail Mary attempt to establish at least some kind of fucking identity for itself is the, open-quotes, "funny" dialogue, wherein all the characters communicate entirely in sassy quips; there's a narrative device where Prometheus is recounting the story of the game to Zeus, so every now and again, they'll comment on your actions like Statler and fucking Waldorf, and it's like they're auditioning for How I Met Your Mother: Classical Antiquity Edition. Leaving aside the fact that the quips are as funny as an Ebola outbreak at a rescue shelter, every cutscene is lent an awkwardness of tone, probably from the way the characters seem to pause after every line to wait for the canned laughter to die down.
"All right, we get it, Priscilla, Queen of the Snooty Internet Piss-Grumps! You're sniffy about any attempt at humor that doesn't fully bisect your sides; we know that. How does the game actually play?" Well, like Breath of the Wild, mainly, with a few significant divergences. You remember how Breath of the Wild was restrained about populating its world to lend an atmospheric sense of wide-open wilderness? Well, Ubisoft couldn't fight their usual instincts to splatter icons across the map like saliva droplets across a Fortnite player's headset mic.
Also, remember how in Bee of the Wee, we'd stand on lookout towers and find places to go to by looking for them with our eyeballs, like how looking for things in reality works? Well, Immortals Violent Diarrhea doesn't have the sterling visual design to pull that off, so instead, you have to systematically move your cursor over a load of seemingly empty landscape, waiting for the little sensor to go "widdly wee", at which point another icon gets added to the map like a cornflake in the beard of an ill-fated first date. And there are so many fucking icons to find from any given location that this process is incredibly tedious: standing there, slowly rotating like a car park security camera, checking off every random chest and collectible and adding it to your little notebook, until you're thinking, "This is a fucking day job! I am cataloguing! I am validating data! I am a trainspotter in the middle of a loading depot!"
So we forget about all that, run back down the mountain, and get into some combat instead, which is pretty generic and not terribly hard when you have the basics down; the parry window is roughly the length of an episode of The Great British Bake Off. The only X factor is making sure you craft enough attack power upgrades with your various multicolored crystal meth supplies, to keep up when the baddies' health bars start getting long enough that they have to book two seats when they go on commercial flights. There's some of that systems exploitation that Breath of the Wild had, where you can try to kill enemies in roundabout ways with physics objects or other enemies' attacks, but we also lack Breath of the Wild's weapon degradation, so there's not a lot of point in finding workarounds when very little is as effective or convenient as just stabbing dudes in the bum.
There's also not much point in going out of our way to collect new weapons and armor, since they're all functionally identical, but with slightly different bonus effects; in fact, there's not a whole lot of point in doing anything, is there? Why are you brushing your teeth? You're just going to die or catch fire at some point, and the worms in the ground won't care. Wait, was I talking about a video game? Oh, yes. In Breath of the Wild, I felt like I went to the final boss because I'd finally built myself up enough to be ready; in Immortals Penis Softening, I did so because I felt like I had nothing better to do, with the story missions done and everything else doing little more than adding to the clutter in my wardrobe.
There's something terribly dispassionate about the game, what with its utter void of original ideas, the constant idle quipping making every character seem like they're more interested in the contents of their nasal cavities than they are about the ongoing world-destroying plot. The risk with making all your dialogue snarky and self-effacing is that the audience might end up agreeing with your self-effacement. I'm also iffy about the eventual message of the plot essentially being, "The all-powerful beings that run your life might be fickle, self-centered, and dangerously incompetent, but hey, they own you either way, so you might as well like it!"; coming from a corporate publisher, it seems a bit uncomfortably on-the-nose. Ubisoft, between this and monastery-pillaging in Assassin's Creed, do you have anyone left there who knows anything about human emotion? "Sure we do! Um... it was a song by Smokey Robinson, wasn't it?"
- His hate will live forever: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Mind you Zeus is a lot more relatable than Jesus because who among us hasn't occasionally thought about fucking a swan
- "COMMUNICATE! COMMUNICATE!" went the Dalek marriage counselor