Ubisoft's latest title, Immortals: Fenyx Rising released to the public a few days ago, and whilst you might still be early in your journey through the Golden Isle, we've had the opportunity to explore what the RPG has to offer, even producing a review, which went live earlier this week. To build on the final AAA release for Ubisoft in 2020, we had an opportunity to attend a roundtable event with some members of the development team, Ubisoft Quebec, as well as having a one-on-one interview with the title's Narrative Director / Lead Writer, Jeffrey Yohalem, where we asked a bunch of questions about the recent release.
Listening to the Immortals: Fenyx Rising Game Director, Scott Phillips, he details how the title came about, and what led Ubisoft Quebec to exploring this lighter, mythological world. "We had an objective of making an epic open world in the fantastic mythological world of Greece." You might have thought that the team had already accomplished this with Assassin's Creed Odyssey, however Phillips thought differently. "You could think you've told all the stories that have been told, but with Assassin's Creed, you're mostly focussed on the events, so most of the mythology remained untouched."
When starting up development, the game's identity was still very much in flux, at least that was the case until the Narrative Director / Lead Writer, Jeffrey Yohalem delivered an early script as Phillips recalls; "Jeffrey gave me a reference to Guardians of the Galaxy and said it's like this. It's very much like the Ancient Greek Guardians of the Galaxy."
When asked about using Guardians of the Galaxy as inspiration, Yohalem, stated; "There was the route of doing something really dark and atmospheric and serious about Greek mythology, and it just felt like because of the richness of the source material, there was the opportunity to do something that was not the old way of doing a Greek story. I guess you could say, it was always the plan, once I decided it was the plan. This felt like a no-brainer to me, that there was this opportunity to take this material that is comedic and really run with it, and do a comedy in videogames."
With this style of narrative in place, Immortals could develop further and continue to establish this unique less explored territory, Thierry Dansereua, the Art Director for the title, explained how they expanded on this. "We wanted to make sure to make it looks very different to an Assassin's Creed game. We wanted to do something different to the Ubisoft catalogue, we thought why not be the surprise? Why not do something different?"
He continued on saying; "The world was designed like a theme park, so each zone was made to look completely different," and as for the art style, he simply said, "we wanted to stylise it, to please the old and the new."
Being able to please the old and the new meant for a variety of new approaches, such as the introduction of narration. Within Immortals: Fenyx Rising, Zeus and Prometheus are the primary ways the storyline is conveyed, by almost being an extra voice in Fenyx's head, following her around and elaborating on even the simplest of things. We asked Yohalem about why he chose to incorporate this, he said:
"First of all is the oral tradition of mythology, you know all of these stories are told orally over generations and generations before they were committed to paper. Then, there's the drama and comedy of the Zeus and Prometheus relationship. There's this wonderful odd-couple feeling to the whole thing, and they are frenemies. Then, because they are narrating every action the player does, the player basically has interactive narrators following them everywhere, joking about everything they are doing. That dynamic eliminates a lot of the awkwardness you have in videogames when you have a protagonist talking to themselves."
But, narration isn't the only part of Immortals that went all out. The crazy combat, intricate puzzles and epic music and cutscenes all pile together to make a truly awesome experience. Speaking about the matter Phillips said, "We were really able to go all-in on this over-the-top mythological combat," before Michelle Plourde, the Cinematic Team Lead mentioned, "Striking a balance was really challenging for us. It was mostly just the challenge of how do we not go too far in the comedic tone, and that the story still felt epic in the player's shoes."
As for the soundtrack, it was really important for the title's composer, Gareth Coker that it tied every part of the game together. Coker showed off a custom-made lute, built to the specifications of a similar Ancient Greek instrument; "It's made with a tortoise shell and cow gut for the strings, and it's made the same way as they did 2000 years ago."
Back to the narrative, Yohalem also mentioned how important it was to ensure the title was telling a story at all points, even during regular exploration and during solving puzzles. "It's very important to me that the narrative is connected to everything you do in a game. You know, the narrative should not be this separate thing you experience when you are playing the story of the game. I felt like the puzzles offer a route into the mind of Daedalus the Inventor."
You can really see how the approach for this game has been a stark change to what Ubisoft Quebec are used to. Yohalem seemed very excited about the project, and how it allowed him to explore a new style of narrative and writing. To wrap out the roundtable and interview, I asked Yohalem one final question about the future of the game, and whether or not we can expect a similar style of narrative in the Immortals: Fenyx Rising announced postgame adventures. He replied succinctly: "Oh, for sure."