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Forspoken Preview – Freaking Magical Parkour!

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A few weeks back, Bandai Namco was kind enough to fly me to their Sydney office to get hands-on with a special demo for the upcoming action-adventure game, Forspoken. At the time, I knew little about the game. It had just shown gameplay at Gamescom which I missed. I did, however, catch the achingly cringe narrative sizzle which featured protagonist Frey making a poor Bill & Ted impression as she describes her wonderment at the otherworldly setting and powers she had found herself with. We’ll come back to this trailer a little later on. 

Running on the PlayStation 5, developer Luminous Studios had crafted a kind of tech demo for the press to dabble with. Stripped of allusions to story and characterisation, this demo gave me an incredibly expansive environment, two elemental sets of abilities, menacingly designed enemies, and some magical parkour to tie it all together. 

The first order of business was to familiarise myself with traversal in this world. In this demo, Frey is already well equipped to explore the surroundings. By holding the circle button while moving, Frey will be lifted with a magical flourish and vault in a gravity-defying manner across all hurdles in her path. The world itself consists of valleys littered with cobbled stones, vast plains with sprinklings of foliage, debris frozen in the skies, and enormous cliffs which can be scaled by means of well-timed jumps and a magical lasso that can grapple onto crystallised protrusions. Frey glides in gymnastic style, while a tap of the circle button initiates an effortless dodge that shows off her breathtaking agility in battle. 

Summoning this conflagration with a DualSense in hand is incredible

Using the parkour requires little skill and there’s a deftness of mobility and spectacle that I’ve only ever seen pulled off this well in InFamous. Movement is not where these similarities end, either. The magical combat also builds on the archetypal third-person action combat in much the same way as InFamous did in presenting super-powered twists on the genre’s melee and ranged combat. Bound to the right triggers is a radial menu of offensive magics. These come in different varieties of elements to exploit enemy weaknesses but still share the essential flavour of melee, mid-range, and long-range spells. A particular favourite and good all-rounder was the flaming javelin, which could be launched from a distance and would explode satisfyingly after impact with great damaging effect. On the left triggers are the far more interesting utility skills. These allow for pits of flames to encircle foes, the summoning of spectral allies, and the creation of elemental mines and shields. In fact, rather than relegate utility abilities to being merely undercooked supporting skills, you’re unlikely to survive without them, and they add eye-watering bombast to battles. Finally, and most satisfyingly, each element can charge into an ultimate move. My favourite was the fiery conflagration, causing a dynamic screen-filling eruption of flames that would shred enormous chunks of health from stronger enemy health bars – or just kill them outright.

Are you not entertained?!

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It goes without saying, this game is goddamn gorgeous in its sheer fidelity, scale, and use of colour. The quality on display is staggering, like a world of concept art given life. This does come at a cost though, and in the 60fps performance mode I encountered occasionally noticeable slowdown, especially during battles with multiple enemies and when putting all my skills to use. 

On the topic of the world, occasionally there were some abandoned medieval buildings in this fantasy realm, such as fortresses, bridges, scattered trailers and abandoned shelters. These were the only indications of civilised life that may have inhabited this world. The forts and bridges were occupied by groups of hallowed, Dark Souls-like soldiers, but imparted no clues that would contribute to any semblance of worldbuilding. The world explored in the demo was only inhabited by hostile life, although it did feel eerily post-civilisation in a way similar to Breath of the Wild. An early farmstead I happened upon was able to be used as a kind of save point and base of operations for Frey where she could change and customise her cloak. 

While the cloaks look great, they are upgraded by scrounging resources from the foliage on the world’s plains. Upgrades provide no visual enhancements, just some minor stat boosts relating to backend bullshit like 5% bonus damage with fire elemental abilities. It immediately killed any enthusiasm I had for the gear progression. Hopefully, there are more significant customisation options in which to invest the various scavenger fodder around the world.

Enemies can barely stand their ground against Frey’s magical arsenal

Dashing through fields to pick flowers (the only real non-hostile activity in which I partook) was rarely without interruption, as harpies would constantly zero in on my position. Combat was so frequent in my exploration, that it seemed to bloat out my travels in place of finding any sites of interest. That this beautiful world merely felt like an empty battleground is likely forgivable considering this demo was not indicative of any portion of the final game and was deliberately stripped of context.

Back in the beginning, I made reference to a particularly infamous trailer that premiered a bit over a month back – one in which Frey riffed at the situation she has found herself in, with a very “holy frigging heck, dude” kind of attitude. Well, it gets so much worse. While moving through this beautiful world, Frey doesn’t shut the fuck up at any point, choosing to fill the space with the most vacuous quips to ever grace a pair of digital vocal chords. While I fail to recall a direct quote, I was left with the distinct feeling that her silence-filling observations would have made the new Saints Row blush. I can only assume her quips are supposed to evoke a kind of hip and street-smart New Yorker persona that has been upended in a fantasy world, but the sarcastic pithiness was grating. Not to mention, she’s constantly cussing out the enemies with f-bombs that sound uncommitted in their delivery and left this fuck-happy Aussie sucking his teeth and uncomfortably goose-pimpled. I remind the reader, though, that this session did not have the benefit of plot and characterisation – meaning that the tone of this demo and its dialogue was nebulous at best and may be redeemed somewhat as we get to know Frey in the final release. 

The enemy visual design ranks among FromSoft’s best

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Forspoken’s movement and especially its combat show off the PlayStation 5 at its best and needs to be played with the DualSense to really feel the power. If Frey’s journey and personality can get some meaningful context that explains and legitimises her potty mouth, this may be 2023’s first significant blockbuster title. 

Forspoken releases on PS5 and PC on January 24, 2023.

Written By Nathan Hennessy

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