From my four-hour demo with Fenyx Rising, I experienced a vast open-world packed with satisfying secrets, a snappy combat system that successfully balances defensive and offensive tactics, and a generally pleasing aesthetic that is far more colorful than the average Ubisoft game.
None of these elements are particularly excellent, but they’re adequate enough to make Fenyx Rising worth playing. Unfortunately, the game seriously stumbles with terrible writing, an unbearable cast of characters, and a rewards system that lacks immersion or excitement.
Regardless, I'm highly anticipating how this all plays out in the full game. Fenyx Rising has the potential to be a competent Breath of the Wild successor, but it could just as easily stumble in its latter areas.
Fenyx Rising begins with Prometheus chained atop a snowy mountain peak when Zeus visits him for help. Typhon, a monstrous creature from the underworld, has escaped his prison and is wreaking havoc around the world. Prometheus suggests that Fenyx, the character we’ll be playing, is the one who will save everyone from Typhon’s volcanic destruction.
Here’s the issue: every character in Fenyx Rising is intentionally obnoxious and at no point is this gimmick funny. Zeus is played off as an incoherent moron, and he frequently refers to how muscular and powerful he used to be. He’s essentially a brainless jock.
Prometheus is treated as a sensitive artist who wants to tell his story with as many sophisticated buzzwords as possible. Zeus frequently sighs and complains when communicating with him because, of course, he has a poor understanding of language. Many of the jokes between them devolve into Zeus looking like an idiot, protesting against Prometheus’ “cleverness.” This wouldn’t be as offensive if Zeus and Prometheus only interacted during cutscenes, but both are narrating every single moment of your journey.
Hermes is simultaneously cocky and cowardly, and he’s a great example of how the writing barely works with the mythology in exciting ways. There’s a scene where Hermes steals from Fenyx, and when the player confronts him about it, he goes on about how he’s a “God of Thieves.” It genuinely feels the writers just skimmed his Wikipedia page and refused to do any further research on how to cleverly utilize his lore.
Typhon is hard to take seriously. Not only does his design look like something straight out of a cartoony Diablo, but he’s incredibly basic. He frequently speaks to the player, and when he does, all he says is some form of “I’m gonna get you!”
And finally, Fenyx is overconfident and their entire personality revolves around saving people. There’s one moment where they try to save Hermes, and while looking down at him being surrounded by monsters, they decide to flex their muscles.
It’s hard to tell if this character will be further developed or if they’re just a self-insert for the player. If Ubisoft plans on sticking with the latter, I'd prefer if Fenyx didn't speak at all.
The only character I thought Fenyx Rising handled well is Aphrodite, as her wholesome passion for wildlife comes out of leftfield. This is especially funny when similar games like God of War treat her as nothing more than a character to sleep with.
Fenyx Rising’s combat is engaging, allowing the player to dodge, parry, throw objects, shoot arrows, use special abilities and attack with a sword or axe. There’s a decent bit to work with here, allowing for most fights to be flexible.
Some battles require crowd control with an axe, swinging at multiple enemies to deal lots of damage. Other battles require constant dodging and parrying to ensure you can evade devastating damage. And sometimes, you just want to pick up rocks and toss them at a giant cyclops.
I felt compelled by this gameplay loop, as I’m a sucker for any game that encourages defensive play-styles involving parrying and evading against challenging enemies. Although I was playing on the Hard difficulty, I enjoyed how nearly every foe could kill me in two or three hits. It forced me to play carefully and added much-needed intensity to most encounters.
Players also have access to special abilities later in the game. You can summon giant spikes up from the ground, charge at the enemy with a spear attack, and slam a gigantic hammer into a wave of enemies to deal insane amounts of damage.
However, parrying could use some minor tweaks. From my four hours of playtime, dodging at the perfect time seemed like the better alternative as it freezes every enemy in the vicinity. Even if the player misses the perfect dodge timing, they can evade the range of the attack.
Certain enemy attacks are unparryable, and even when the player does parry to fill up an enemy’s posture bar, it only temporarily stuns them. While the enemy is stunned, the player can beat on them freely, but it rarely felt like a practical risk to take due to how little damage was done.
Players can also damage enemy posture bars by throwing objects at them, which not only does tons of damage, but is a more satisfying and effective alternative to parrying.
This isn’t to say parrying was always a less successful alternative to dodging. In my battle with Lieutenant Aello, parrying ranged projectiles deflected them back toward the enemy, dealing massive damage.
Solid exploration, unexciting rewards system
Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s formula is undeniably effective, and even though Fenyx Rising doesn’t come close to its level of mystery and intrigue, it still does a solid job at presenting a world jam-packed with secret fights, puzzles and unique locations.
The puzzles are quite creative in how they utilize the game’s mechanics to present players with obstacles. It rarely feels like there’s a mystery that needs solving, as the mechanics are quite clear. Instead, the game is asking the player to successfully utilize the systems at play to overcome what lies ahead.
For example, one puzzle had me shoot large metal balls through box-walls to try and land them on a button to activate the path forward. One involved having to press pressure plates in the correct order while fireballs launched across the arena. And another forced me to carefully stack boxes atop each other to glide across large gaps. Pretty much every puzzle I was faced with felt different than the last.
Additionally, the game rarely let me down when I checked the hidden corners of the world or tried to climb atop tall structures. There are tons of secrets everywhere, but unfortunately, the world is mostly occupied by upgrade materials. The issue is that every unlockable is immediately presented to the player in the Hall of the Gods. Here, you can unlock and upgrade new abilities. You can also enhance your armor, weapons, stamina, health and potions.
Instead of the player reaping these exciting rewards within the world naturally, they simply need to find the currencies needed to unlock these rewards back at the hub. This is still a fine progression system, as the game provides an incentive to explore with worthwhile rewards, but it’s not very immersive or exciting.
It would be rather engrossing to have players discover a secret trial with a challenging obstacle to then receive a powerful ability as a reward. Currently, players need to find the necessary currencies scattered across the world to unlock those abilities.
Additionally, it seems like the discoverable weapons merely change the players statistics rather than their moveset. This might change, but it seems like you’ll always be slashing your sword and swinging your axe regardless of how many new weapons you collect.
Fenyx Rising also deserves credit for including a fully customizable UI that lets you turn everything off. When the full game releases, I’ll definitely mess around with this more, but I personally turned damage numbers off (because they suck).
Fenyx Rising presents a more fantastical world than we typically see in the average Ubisoft game. It’s full of humorous designs, colorful environments, and it looks far less realistic or grim than something like The Division, Far Cry and Ghost Recon.
The game's environments are pleasant, as the foliage, trees and water look like a soft-brushed painting. I also enjoy the color scheme of the second area, blending pink and green trees against sandy beaches and marble temples to create a cartoony reflection of ancient Greek architecture. The Tartaros Rift is also nice, as shattered stone platforms floating around a dark purple fog with bright white stars dotted across the sky creates a delightful cosmic visual.
While the world looks nice, the character designs are ugly. The base playable character, in particular, looks awkward, and although I managed to clean them up, they still looked strange in cutscenes.
Enemy designs are generic, with giant cyclops, mythical Greek soldiers and gorgons lacking distinct traits. At no point have I been impressed or compelled by these, and rarely did I encounter a new enemy type I hadn’t seen before.
If you’re a fan of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, you’ll likely enjoy what Fenyx Rising has to offer. However, feel free to skip every cutscene you come across, as it boasts some of the most abhorrent writing I’ve experienced in a game this year.
Thankfully, the poor script is balanced out by an aesthetically pleasing world full of exciting secrets, challenging boss fights and unique puzzles. After my quick hands-on with this demo, it’s hard to imagine that Fenyx Rising will be remembered as a great game, but it’s undeniably fun so far.