Video games have a dad problem. My colleagues broached the topic a few months ago on an episode of Kotaku Splitscreen, where they dished on some of the worst dads in video game history. (What’s up, Kratos and Joel?) Now I’d like to nominate another member to the hall of fame of bad dads: Zeus, from Immortals Fenyx Rising.
Ubisoft’s ridiculously named open-world action game, out last month for consoles, PC, and the Switch (technically), is ostensibly about the titular character, a Greek shield-bearer named Fenyx. After beating the game, I’m less convinced that’s the case. Yes, you spend your time with Immortals in the bronze sandals of Fenyx, a front-row seat to yet another tale about yet another unexpected rise to greatness. But considering Immortals in totality, the game is really about Zeus, the Olympian gods, and the fraught nature of fatherhood—how any behavior, no matter how rotten, can, apparently, be written off and forgiven at the drop of a hat.
Spoilers follow for Immortals Fenyx Rising.
Immortals Fenyx Rising features a split narrative based on the Greek mytheme. At the start, Typhon (basically, the Balrog of ancient Greece) escapes from his subterranean prison, strips most of the Olympians of their powers, and declares war against the pantheon. Zeus turns tail and hits up Prometheus for assistance. Prometheus fires back with a bet: If a mortal can take down Typhon, Prometheus gets to not have an eagle swallow his liver every single day. If the mortal fails, well, then he’ll help. Zeus agrees.
Prometheus starts telling the story of Fenyx. Following a shipwreck, she awakens on a beach, and soon learns that every human has been mysteriously turned to stone. (You can play Fenyx as male or female. I chose the latter.) She teams up with Hermes, the fabled messenger god, to set things right.
Along the way, Fenyx assists Aphrodite, the goddess of love; Athena, the goddess of wisdom; Ares, the god of war; and Hephaistos, the god of the forge. In each questline, she learns about the horrible, unforgivable ways Zeus has treated his offspring. He married Aphrodite off to Hephaistos, treating her with no more regard than he would a chess piece. He repeatedly failed to trust Athena’s unparalleled insight, seeding some seriously deep insecurity. He undercut and criticized Ares at every turn, and literally threw Hephaistos off a freakin’ mountain. Short version: Zeus is a shitty dad!
You learn all of this stuff through Fenyx’s eyes, yes, but it’s also narrated by Prometheus and Zeus the whole way, with Prometheus telling the plot beats and offering context while Zeus cracks jokes and generally refuses to take anything seriously. The vocal casting for these two roles is phenomenal: Elias Toufexis, whom you may recognize as Adam Jensen from the recent Deus Ex games, plays Prometheus, and Daniel Matmor (Socrates in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey) is Zeus.
The top-notch vocal performance from Matmor is meant to make us believe that the chief Olympian has found redemption, and it almost works. In a late-game mission, Zeus reflects on his own father (the titan Kronos), and says, “He was a terrible dad, too—nearly as bad as me.” Matmor infuses so much somber reflection in this line that you want to believe Zeus truly believes that. Much of the rest of the mission is peppered with lines of dialogue where Zeus acknowledges his faults. For the prior 39 hours, all of Matmor’s dialogue is light and jovial. These heavier lines suggest an arc come full circle, or at least starting to.
And then the twist hits.
So, the whole time, Prometheus was putting on an act. Before the events of the game, Prometheus apparently tapped his brother Atlas to free Typhon and shipwreck Fenyx’s army. And then Zeus realizes that—plot twist!—Fenyx is his daughter. Oh, yeah, and Zeus is the one who turned all the mortals to stone. (I remain in the dark on how, exactly, Zeus forgot that point.)
It’s at this point that both plot threads—the one you play and the one you listen to—converge. Fenyx summits Prometheus’ mountain right as Zeus audibly admits to the turn-everyone-to-stone thing, citing the inherent imperfection of mortal beings as his rationale. Fenyx is equipped with some god-killing poison, which she attained after defeating Typhon moments before. Prometheus, we’re meant to assume, hopes that she’ll use it on Zeus. She declines. “I know you’re not perfect. But you’re my dad and that’s what matters,” she says. “You thought you were getting out of this that easy? Saying you made a mistake is the first step.” Classic.
Immortals then hurtles into a flurry of end-game plot beats. Typhon shows back up (who could’ve seen that coming?) and kidnaps Zeus. Fenyx pursues them, frees Zeus, and fights Typhon again. All of the gods team up and pummel the crap out of Typhon in a boss fight that, admittedly, has some thrilling moments.
I was with Immortals up to the very end. After Typhon’s good and dead, Zeus and his children just...reconcile. In seconds, they’re bickering like they’re in an episode of Arrested Development. Everything is peaches and gravy. I’m no psychologist, but it’s hard to imagine that a literal eternity of neglect and poor treatment can be washed away in one moment. I don’t buy it. There’s just no way fatherhood is that easy.
Immortals largely takes a brave approach with its storytelling. Zeus and Prometheus bickering are genuinely funny, and I can’t recall a game with such persistent narration that remains compelling throughout. I’m not saying I think Fenyx should’ve killed Zeus, because that’s not in line with her character, and also the death penalty is an unconsionable sentence that should be abolished yesterday. But I guess I expected the game’s finale to be as novel as the rest of the tale. How much more surprising would Immortals’ ending have been if, say, Aphrodite told Zeus to fuck off? Or if Ares said, “You know what? To Hades with you, dad—you’re a total jerk.” Yes, Zeus helped save the day, but he was still horrendous—unforgivably so—to all of his children. One righteous action doesn’t rewrite a history of wrongs.
I’ve never wanted to be a dad. The only moment in my life where I remotely questioned that, for just a split second—and this is embarrassing to admit—was at the end of The Last of Us, when Joel sets the fate of humanity aside for his surrogate daughter. Moral repercussions aside, that’s a powerful moment. The way Immortals’ story was going, I expected it to augur a similar reaction, to make me wonder if fatherhood actually is in the cards. But when the credits rolled, like a child of Zeus, I was let down.