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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (448)

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Mario + Rabbids: Sparks... 4.5/5
Eiyuden Chronicle: Risi... 3/5
Psychonauts 2 4.5/5
Castle in the Clouds DX 4/5
Ocean's Heart 4/5
Just Die Already 2/5
Sable 2.5/5
Midnight Castle Succubus 4.5/5
Tower and Sword of Succ... 4/5
Thronebreaker: The Witc... 3/5
Battletoads (2020) 1.5/5
Door Kickers: Action Sq... 4.5/5
Biomutant 4/5
Dragon Quest Builders 2 4.5/5
Journey to the Savage P... 4.5/5
Wasteland 3 4.5/5
Daemon X Machina 3.5/5
Earthlock 2.5/5
Override: Mech City Bra... 3/5
SolSeraph 3/5
ActRaiser 4.5/5
ActRaiser Renaissance 4/5
The Outer Worlds 3.5/5
Cris Tales 3/5
Warframe 3.5/5

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Immortals: Fenyx Rising   PC (Steam) 

A Modern Legend    4.5/5 stars

“Immortals: Fenyx Rising” (“IFR”) initially made its appearance at E3 2019 under the much-less vomit-inducing title, “Gods & Monsters.” From its first cinematic teaser, I had a feeling this new IP would push my buttons in all the right ways. Combine that solid first impression with my glowing opinion of Ubisoft Sandbox games after playing “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” and the early word-of-mouth praise heaped upon “IFR” after its 2020 launch, and I found myself looking forward to this one title more than I’ve looked forward to any game release in quite a few years. Thankfully, Ubisoft – while still gripped by depravity and greed in a lot of ways – still understands the value of deep and frequent discounts on digital videogames, so I was able to snag the Gold Edition of the game (which includes all 3 DLCs) for 60% off during the collective gaming Summer Sale of 2021. I had great expectations for this title going into it, and – as happens oh-so-rarely – the final product met those expectations and delighted me in every way.

“IFR” is a fully modern open-world Sandbox game, built in Ubisoft’s proprietary AnvilNext Engine, which was tailor made to create this style of game. While most of Ubisoft’s Sandbox games aim at photorealism and re-creating a chunk of the real world in an interactive, digital format, “IFR” is less concerned with reality and history than it is with mythology. Thus everything from the environments to the characters to the monsters that populate the world have a vibrant, colorful, stylized look, somewhat reminiscent of the best of Western CG animation to come out of studios like Pixar. The game world, in addition to being gorgeous to behold, is enormous, and packed from end-to-end with interesting locations, hidden nooks, and gobs of puzzles. This huge world streams seamlessly as the player navigates through it, and even fast-traveling from place to place only invokes quick, unobtrusive loading screens.

Audio in “IFR” is superb, with excellent voice-acting throughout, for both dialog and narration. Furthermore, the soundtrack, composed by Gareth Corker – of ‘Ori’ fame – and performed on a mix of modern and authentic regional instruments, is stellar, and has far more of its own identity than the typical “AAA” Western game.

Technically, “IFR” is top-tier for an Ubisoft game. Yes… for an Ubisoft game. No matter how technically polished and bugchecked their games may be in the modern era, Ubisoft still insists on applying various quantities of what I like to call ‘Ubification’ to all of their products. Ubification typically takes the form of heavy-handed DRM, absurd quantities of DLC (with confusing bundles containing different configurations of it), microtransactions, and unnecessary Live Service elements bolted-onto what is nominally and functionally a single-player experience. “IFR” suffers from all of these except the DLC bundling fiasco, as there’s only the Base Game (with no DLC) and the Gold Edition (with all three DLCs) to choose from. However, there is plenty of DRM and phoning-home that happens with the Uplay Ubisoft Connect client, which causes initial startup times to be longer than necessary. There are optional microtransactions that allow incredibly stupid/naïve/inexperienced players to waste real-world money on easily-acquired in-game items or cosmetics. And, of course, there are Live Service trappings with time-limited side-quests that appear every few days of real time as well as Community Challenges where everyone playing the game contributes progress to a progress bar (things like killing monsters of specific types). While none of these Ubifications are so detrimental as to make the game unplayable or less fun, the truth of the matter is that they also don’t make it more playable or fun. They’re just kind of “there” because Ubisoft’s higher-ups expect all of their development studios to toe the line.

“IFR” spins a new Greek myth based firmly on the Greek myths of the classical era. Couched in a framing device where Zeus climbs to the top of Mount Caucasus – were Prometheus, the Titan of foresight, has been forever chained – to seek advice, the King of the Gods is instead subjected to a long-winded story. As the game opens, we are greeted with the central plot point: Typhon – the horrifying Father of All Monsters – has broken free from his prison in Tartarus, and has set about remaking the world in his own ‘perfect’ image. The Olympian gods were all powerless before Typhon’s wrath, with some of them simply going into hiding, while those who attempted to fight back were transformed (in the manner so prevalent in the stories in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”) into various harmless things. Meanwhile, every mortal in the world was turned to stone.

Every mortal, that is, except our titular Fenyx. Fenyx can be a boy or a girl (or *sigh* any manner of thing in between, such as a girl with a beard or a boy with a girl’s voice), but defaults to a (very cute) girl, so that’s what I rolled with. Fenyx serves as a shieldbearer for her older brother, Ligyron, an accomplished Athenian soldier whom she idolizes. The duo were out on a ship with a number of other Greek soldiers when Typhon’s catastrophe struck, thus Fenyx’s adventure begins as she washes up on the shore of a mysterious island. Seeing her companions and brother petrified, Fenyx nearly falls into despair when Hermes, that most-nauseatingly-French member of the Olympian pantheon, shows up and, after a few requisite tests, decides that Fenyx is a good enough champion to send out into the Golden Isle to reunite a number of other gods with their stolen essences, freeing them from Typhon’s curse and allowing Olympus to put up a united front against the powers of Chaos.

Throughout the course of the game’s events, we are treated to a number of retellings of Classical Greek myths (no weird alt-myths like the Orphic system), narrated by Prometheus, as he regales Zeus with Fenyx’s exploits. There’s a great sense of humor running through the entire narrative, with none of the gods treated with undue respect, but instead presented as the deeply-flawed and archetypal characters they were. Zeus, in particular, has no shortage of snarky quips and one-liners, even going to far as to comment (via text notes) on every single loading screen tip. Perhaps my favorite bit of Zeus-ery is his insistence that Aphrodite, Goddess of Love, was born from the foam whipped up when a giant pearl fell into the sea. Prometheus tries repeatedly to correct him before whispering the X-Rated answer in Zeus’ ear, to an expectedly fantastic response.

Even while it remains faithful to Classical myth and portrayal of the Olympian gods, “IFR” isn’t a stuffy old British translation like “Bulfinch’s Mythology.” Instead, the characters speak in modern terms – with Zeus even going so far as to proclaim himself ‘Woke’ because he understands that the child of Hermes and Aphrodite (a.k.a., Hermaphrodite) is ‘non-binary’ – making the foundational literature of Western Civilization much more accessible to a modern audience than it otherwise would be. Furthermore, as Zeus and Prometheus continue their back-and-forth narration, we begin to see that Prometheus isn’t just being long-winded, but is actually psycho-analyzing the King of the Gods, eventually allowing for both modern moralizing and character growth that never feels forced, preachy, or partisan.

Ultimately, the base “IFR” experience manages to tell a compelling, semi-linear modern myth that cleaves to tradition while forging new ground with its excellent interpretation of a wide range of Classical stories. The basic experience lasts about 60-65 hours, which feels just right for this type of Sandbox game.

The DLC stories do not integrate cleanly with the base game, unfortunately. The first DLC, “A New God,” picks up after the spoilerific ending of the base game, and follow’s Fenyx’s trials on Mount Olympus as she attempts to officially ascend to godhood. It lasts about 15 hours, and doesn’t really have a lot of room for storytelling, as it is laser-focused on gameplay.

The second DLC was made by Ubisoft’s Chinese studio instead of their French Canadian one. “Myths of the Eastern Realm” is a super-condensed and bite-sized take on the base game, only with a new Chinese hero named Ku who must help the goddess Nuwa and the demi-god Gong Gong of traditional Chinese myth fix a yin-yang-shaped island which has been overrun by a leak of Chaos energy that has caused Heaven to fall to Earth. I’m in no way well-versed in Chinese mythology, but the narrative and characterization seem faithful to what I do know. The most shocking thing, however, is that the entire story can be completed in less than 10 hours (I took around 8), yet still manages to have the exact same ‘feel’ as a beefier Ubisoft Sandbox, only in microcosm.

The final DLC, “The Lost Gods,” returns to Greece, where a now-deified Fenyx needs to help repair the natural order after Typhon’s tirade, but can’t due to some sort of divine rules. Instead, Fenyx chooses a mortal champion, an orphan girl named Ash, who works as a temple maiden. Thus the player is thrust into the role of Ash, who must travel to yet another mysterious island to petition a number of other Olympian deities to come back and work with Zeus to restore order, in spite of the fact that they’re all pissed-off at him and he’s too proud to ask in person. I found the characterizations in “The Lost Gods” to be a bit off the mark, and cartoonish to the point of satire. However, it has enough solid moments throughout its 15-hour runtime that it isn’t a complete disaster from a story perspective… the gameplay, on the other hand…

All told, I got roughly 100 hours out of “IFR,” and thoroughly enjoyed myself. While all three of the DLCs are something of a step-down from the base game in quality, they’re still good enough that I’d recommend buying the Gold Edition of the game instead of just skipping the add-ons altogether.

Back when Nintendo released “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild,” a lot of people gushed over the game’s massive scale, non-linear structure, and novel methods of navigating that huge ‘open-air’ world. Of course, these were people who clearly had never played an Ubisoft Sandbox game before, since Nintendo blatantly cribbed most of their ‘innovations’ straight from the Ubisoft ‘How to Sandbox 101’ textbook. Well, turnabout is fair play, as the adage goes, and with “IFR,” Ubisoft stole the handful of non-Ubisoft mechanics Nintendo used in that ‘Zelda’ game for their own use.

Yes, “IFR” is almost exactly like the game I refer to as “Break of the Weapons”… except it doesn’t have breaking weapons. As Fenyx, the player will navigate a huge open world dotted with puzzles and dungeons. While the puzzles are visible in the overworld, dungeons – known as Tartarus Vaults – take Fenyx out of the world map into self-contained voids filled with platforming, object manipulation, and skill mastery.

Unlike most Ubisoft Sandboxes, “IFR” includes a stamina meter that depletes as Fenyx runs, climbs, glides, swims, or invokes other special abilities. While I was initially annoyed at this limitation, having come from the tradition of “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey” and “Assassin’s Creed: Origins,” which allow for indefinite running and climbing and (surface) swimming, I quickly warmed to the stamina meter’s presence, as it transforms navigating the vast open world from a mundane task where taking a straight line between objectives and bulldozing through any and all terrain is the best option, into a series of puzzles, where figuring out how to reach certain puzzles, vaults, and treasures with the smaller early-game stamina pool takes some thought. Indeed, it’s obvious that a lot of deliberate attention to detail went into crafting the landscapes in “IFR,” in order to make them both navigable and interesting.

Combat involves the modern standard fare of light attack, heavy attack, block, and dodge, as one would expect. However, the light and heavy attacks are assigned to two different weapons – a sword and axe respectively – which can each have their own different attributes. Furthermore, Fenyx gains access to a plethora of special God Powers throughout the game, which enable potent special attacks. While combat can be a bit rough in the early game, by midgame, with a few God Powers and potions at the player’s disposal, even huge, terrifying bosses feel well-balanced, while a fully powered-up endgame Fenyx can destroy every foe with ease.

I was actually incredibly impressed with the potion system in “IFR,” as far too many games either make potions feel useless or make them so hard to come by that players are afraid to use them. In “IFR,” potions are all crafted from four different harvestable plants – pomegranates, mushrooms, figs, and nectar – to create healing potions, stamina potions, attack potions, and defense potions, respectively. Furthermore, upgrading the potion cauldrons scattered throughout the world with amber resin (found by chopping down trees) helps potions scale to Fenyx’s increasing health/stamina bars, and adds useful effects to boot (things like adding lifesteal to attack potions and projectile reflection to defense potions).

Potions aren’t the only thing the player can upgrade to make Fenyx more potent. Weapons and armor can be upgraded by spending adamant shards at the Forge of Hephaestus in order to upgrade each gear archetype – sword, axe, bow, helmet, and breastplate – granting increased attack or defense numbers. Each individual piece of gear starts with a single, unique perk attached to it, with a second unique perk unlocked about halfway through each archetype’s upgrade process. Equipment is deliberately placed in specific item chests throughout the world and vaults, and if a player would find a second copy of the same item, they instead receive an alternate-colored cosmetic that can be applied to any piece of gear of the corresponding archetype. I was mildly surprised by the relatively small pool of unique items in the game that aren’t cosmetics, but it hardly mattered in the end, since I ended up using the starting helmet and starting breastplate for the entire game, only swapping out my starting weapons for new ones with more useful perks (specifically, the helmet with the ability that causes uninjured enemies to take drastically more damage allows many, many things to be one-shot, while the bow that randomly freezes enemies for a few seconds is amazing, since it even works on Typhon himself). Likewise, the player can increase Fenyx’s health and stamina meters by collecting ambrosia and thunderbolts, with the former hidden (mostly in plain sight) all over the open world and the latter serving as the prize at the end of nearly all of the Tartarus Vaults.

A lot of people like to complain about Ubisoft games, proclaiming that they just throw the player into an open world with a map covered in a projectile-vomit of icons. While I will gladly accuse “The Witcher 3” of doing just that, I have never found Ubisoft map icons to be particularly overwhelming or annoying, and “IFR” is probably the least offensive game in Ubisoft’s stable in this regard. The world map starts off completely fogged out, with no icons except for a couple of story quests that hint at where to go to get started in each of the world’s different regions. Upon climbing to a specific high point in each region, the player can un-fog that specific region, which then only shows discovered icons. In order to discover an icon, the player must switch Fenyx’s point of view into a special first-person spotting mode, and can then pan around her current field of view in order to ‘discover’ points of interest, ranging from puzzles to chests to ambrosia to vault entrances, then manually adding them to the list of icons that will appear on the map. This is truly the best way of going about mapping and icons, since it allows people like me who like waypoints to have a number of them active at any given time, while those who hate ‘handholding’ maps need never use the feature, and are free to stumble around half-blind.

In general, though, “IFR” primarily revolves around a well-balanced blend of open-world exploration, well-balanced combat encounters, dungeon-like vaults, and gobs and gobs of puzzles scattered throughout the overworld. While all of these puzzles fall into a handful of different archetypes, they display increasing complexity the further they are from the game’s starting point, and are delightfully fun to solve.

The gameplay in some of the DLCs, however, differs somewhat from that of the base game. The first DLC, “A New God,” doubles down on the puzzle designs found in Tartarus Vaults and grants Fenyx a number of upgraded God Powers to solve these more-devious puzzles, but completely nixes the open-world and exploration aspects. The third DLC, “The Lost Gods,” however, deviates quite harshly, and suffers greatly for it. First of all, “The Lost Gods” tries to invoke old-school ‘Zelda’ by fixing the camera into a top-down view instead of the modern third-person view used by the rest of the game. For a game that has so much verticality and wide-open space, this terrible camera serves as nothing but a source of frustration, giving the player tunnel vision and making climbing while watching stamina consumption a gigantic pain in the ass. Moreover, the well-designed and temperate combat encounters from the rest of the game have been replaced with outrageous enemy spam, in which every fight the player starts will have no fewer than 6 monsters, but additional waves of no fewer than 6 monsters will *poof* into the fray out of nowhere no fewer than twice. Even worse, everything that the player takes for granted as quality of life features, such as healing, fast traveling, and saving suddenly have costs associated with them in this DLC, which is incredibly annoying and tedious, even if the materials required to perform these tasks aren’t terribly uncommon. About the only good thing I can say about “The Lost Gods” from a gameplay perspective is that it does have a novel augment system, where each skill and God Power the player unlocks can have up to four magic gemstones attached to it, giving it a different perk depending on the stone’s color and the slot it’s in. Unfortunately, this system is mostly limited to making skills usable while airborne (base game functionality that was removed only in this DLC) increasing Ash’s health and stamina meters (Why not just use the collectable McGuffins mechanic from the base game?), and reducing stamina costs to actually-reasonable amounts. They even managed to break the ability to freeze enemies by making them immune to damage whole frozen… only in this DLC! At least the ability to randomly stun enemies does basically the same thing…

“Immortals: Fenyx Rising” is – in spite of the terrible name change – one of the absolute best games of the last few years. Not only has Ubisoft demonstrated that they are still the undisputed king of the open-world Sandbox genre, they even managed to out-Nintendo Nintendo with unparalleled levels of polish and excellent design. Ubisoft has also demonstrated their incredible skill with storytelling and their respect for the roots of Western Civilization by taking Classical mythology and doing something with it that is not only faithful to the source material, but innovative and joyful. Outside of the dubious final DLC, this new IP left me nothing but impressed, and I’m eagerly looking forward to where Ubisoft takes ‘Immortals’ in the future.

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 5/5
Base Game: 5/5
A New God: 4.5/5
Myths of the Eastern Realm: 5/5
The Lost Gods: 2.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5



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