Fenyx Rising initially presents as a light take on Greek Mythology. It has a colourful art style, cartoonish characters and a banter-heavy story presentation. After spending days with it, I can say it is as broad, deep and work-like as any major Ubisoft product out there.
The sheer volume of tasks awaiting you stands in the dozens of hours. It is not a Breath of the Wild wannabe, although the similarities are many. Fenyx Rising is an adventure heavily reliant on simple physics puzzles combined with the sting of some very tough combat. It is also very customisable. Combat too much? Change the difficulty to easy. Just want to do puzzles? Seek them out from high ground and place stones on weight plates to your heart’s content.
Fenyx Rising is a huge game.
It is just massive in terms of both geography and the sheer busy work you will do within. Each of the four main biomes is designed around a specific god, with a huge statue overlooking that landscape. Your task is to climb each statue (hello, AC scouting points) and then manually scan the surrounds to mark all manner of things to do – from chests and ambrosia (which increase your health bar), to Vaults of Tartarus, which are dungeons by another name. You’ll invariably see some point of interest relating the the god you are currently straddling, which then sets in motion a ten hour quests chain in the region for that god – repeat for each region.
Nothing is simple or done quickly, to the point where your first ten or fifteen hours will feel almost chore-like as you are led through repetitive tasks that will get you ready to tackle the rest of the game. Once you are kitted up with a sword, bow and protective gear, you’ll gain a double jump and the wings of Daedalus, which truly open up your exploration options. Equipped with the ability to glide, the world becomes much more of a playground, especially once you level your stamina up a couple of times. Before this, traversal challenges can be frustrating, causing you to wonder why they would hamstring fun for the sake of a stamina bar.
But after a while, it becomes clear that Fenyx succeeds in becoming it’s own thing, an experience that focuses strongly on the sense of epic exploration.
Epic truly is the word.
Nothing is small and no task is done simply. Even an instruction to find a pearl and roll it to the sea, became a forty minute quest. To get to the place, fight a giant mythical beast, then a long physics puzzle of rolling the pearl, dealing with obstacles and pockets of enemies in the way. Similarly, opening a gate can become an epic invasion of a massive fortress, with two long puzzle arms across a derelict city. A lot of effort has gone into keeping you busy, so much so that you’ll either let it envelop you or decide it’s all a bit too much.
It’s all done quite well and feels very videogamey, but then there’s also not really anything that stands out as truly original or great.
The puzzles exemplify this.
Obviously inspired by Breath of the Wild, there are some sparks of creativity in changing wind direction or – 40 hours in – turning box puzzles on their heads, requiring you in one dungeon to move them out of the way without destroying them rather than placing them on switches. But for the most part, things come down do finding weights of a few different kinds to put on switches, then standing on another switch and doing something with an arrow. Okay, there are also some slide puzzles and a few carry quests, but still nothing that feels actually new. What made BotW so incredible was that you could often cheat the puzzles, coming up with some new way to solve them. Here, however, the way forward is rigid and, again, work-like.
More puzzles present themselves in the Vaults of Tartarus, which can be as short as five minutes. Or as long as an hour for the final, multi-part dungeons that end each God’s chapter. You are forced through enough of them with each storyline that you’ll gain enough resources to level up anyway. While I could appreciate the effort put into these, I felt that they dragged out the concepts too much. Breeding repetition by the time you are 20-30 hours in.
The combat is surprisingly deep.
With skills opening up as you meet each God and they bestow upon you new perks and powers. At its heart, there is your sword and axe, the former of which deals damage while the axe builds up a stagger meter. Once full, enemies will pause and take extra damage for a short while. But really, combat can be as difficult or easy as you want it to be. On Story difficulty, most enemies will shoot off into the sun after a few hits and bosses will not cause you any issues. Bump it to Medium, however, and higher tier enemies and bosses are deadly. You’ll need to make good use of health, defence and attack potions just to survive.
The entire tone is light hearted. Zeus and Prometheus providing both reliable and unreliable narration, constantly breaking into gameplay with a wry joke or pithy comment. I didn’t find anything actually funny, but I do admire the way the writing sticks to a humour level between G and PG. Managing to stay there, never straying from almost-painful-but-not-too-bad.
The best compliment I can give Fenyx Rising is that the more I played it, the more I enjoyed it. In turn, the more I wanted to keep playing. There was always some new distraction that would set me off on a chain of tasks. Then, before I knew it hours had passed. It is satisfying without being compelling, epic in scope yet narrow in practice.
There’s a place for such busy work games and I’d say Fenyx Rising is one of the best of these. You can lose yourself in easily for hours without needing to think too much or worry about story progression. The customisable difficulty means that younger or less experienced players are accommodated. The simple yet involved puzzles even make this worth going through in a group. While the rest of the family watches and helps out – a gateway title to Assassin’s Creed or Zelda.
A download code was provided to this writer from Ubisoft Australia