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Review

Forspoken Review

A fumbled kind of magic

It’s been an awkward ride for Forspoken, a title that held plenty of promise when revealed as Project Athia back in 2020 as the debut title for Luminous Productions. For a team largely comprised of former Final Fantasy XV crew members, there was a high level of expectation for this action-RPG, especially after the first few teaser videos debuted a rather high-quality world with particle effects just about everywhere. But after a few delays, which saw the game slip out of its early 2022 release date to almost a year later, expectations wavered to the point of disappointment when Square Enix dropped a playable demo during the 2022 Game Awards. Perhaps the writing was on the wall, maybe they bit off more than they could chew, but despite some obvious flaws that can be seen from a distance, there is more to Forspoken that deserves to be talked about.

Opening within the confines of New York City, we’re introduced to Frey, an unlucky young woman who constantly gets caught up with the wrong side of the streets and gets one last chance from a local judge after her latest misdemeanour. Having built up enough money to escape the city for a quieter life, well, anywhere else, Frey’s life gets turned upside down when a strange portal pulls her into the realm of Athia, a perilous, fantastical land full of mad creatures, magic and dragons out for blood. Or at least, that’s what the game wants you to believe.

Forspoken’s opening is poorly crafted, dull and clichéd, to the point where Frey picks up a copy of Alice in Wonderland off her coffee table, a not-so-subtle hint as to what will transpire later in the game. Not long after arriving in Athia, Frey is introduced to Cuff, a sentient bracelet that grants her magical abilities and also becomes an unlikely friend with whom to exchange quips as she stumbles through the opening few hours of world building and character introductions. Despite its best attempts to put you off of the adventure to come, you are thrust into a quest to save Athia from its former rulers (the Tantas) and the blight that’s wrecking the land. It’s by the numbers stuff, but if you can get past those slow and cumbersome first two hours there’s an interesting and fairly enjoyable action game waiting for you.

Let there be light

Frey’s abilities are based on various kinds of elemental magic which, without spoiling the story, constantly evolve and grow over time across a handful of skill trees. Coupled with a parkour system that allows you to dodge just about anything and climb just about everything, you’ll be slinging spells and switching in and out various attacks that can do some massive damage to whatever enemy or creature you come across. Stringing it all together feels good under the control of the PS5’s Dual Sense adaptive triggers, I genuinely had a blast battling some of the bigger monsters and dodging around them Infamous style, and later spells are impressive to watch in action when the enemies come thick and fast.

Combat is Forspoken’s biggest selling point and one that clearly received the bulk of development time because, outside of that, the rest of the package struggles to show the same kind of quality. The simplistic hero’s journey sticks to the script of a reluctant protagonist who eventually finds her place despite a continued need to find her way home, with most of its twists and turns spotted a mile away. The open world, though technically solid and showing glimpses of beauty, has plenty of large empty spaces amongst its locations that are otherwise filled by a lot of the usual enemies that can at times be difficult to spot in the wild thanks to their colourless textures. What ones you do find, giant bears and the like, have some potential and can loom large, but never really impress with their designs. Thankfully there are exceptions, such as a particular dragon that shows up and steals the spotlight visually, while the Tantas add some much needed colour and flair.

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Much has been made about Forspoken’s awkward dialogue moments and, yes, there are a few situations where little quips and the constant chatting to Cuff can come across poorly. But it’s less to do with the performances and more to do with editing and pacing, where what should have been emotional moments for Frey and the supporting cast don’t illicit the kind of response from players that they should. Cutscenes fade in and out almost every few seconds, creating a disconnect between each scene, and I couldn’t keep up with the amount of times Frey ended a conversation and stared off into the distance before the game loaded into the action again. It felt less like a modern, next-generation game taking full advantage of its platform (a la God of War Ragnarok) and more like an Xbox 360-era action game cosplaying as one.

Dragons, fire and particles, oh my!

Most of my experience was played in performance mode running at 120Hz, which is far and away the best way to play Forspoken compared to both its quality and ray-tracing options. It’s far from a bad game to watch in action too, but for all the particle effects and visual flourishes to Frey’s attacks, a little more time should have been put into the texture details of the world and the facial animations of its cast. Similarly, despite the likes of Bear McCreary attached to the project, the musical score is surprisingly lacking the kind of inventiveness the composer is known for. Again, there are those brief glimpses here or there, but it never amounts to much more than just another fantasy soundtrack you’ve heard many times over.

Perhaps it was a development team that ran out of time to really polish things up, maybe it was the lack of complementary ideas to build upon its combat mechanics, but it’s hard to ignore Forspoken’s many flaws. Truth be told, I enjoyed the moments where I could run around and explore in my own time, fighting off vicious critters while tumbling about like a crazed acrobat and throwing all sorts of spells. As soon as the game slowed to a crawl to reveal another vital piece of lore or dialogue to push things along, I just wanted it to end so I could get on with it. There are a few brief hints of what could have been narratively but, again, it never tries to be anything more than generic in Frey’s growth from reluctance to acceptance. We’ve been here so many times before and that’s the most disappointing part of it all. Yes, creating a new IP is a challenge that I do not envy anyone having to work on, but all this needed was that extra spark to push things forward.

There’s a bear in there

Final Thoughts

Forspoken is a decent action game stuck within the confines of a one-note, clichéd fantasy tale. Its problems are obvious from the outset, but dig a little deeper and there’s fun to be found underneath a rough, seemingly underdeveloped exterior. When I reached the open world and went my own way I had a blast, but so many times it drags itself down and pulls you back into a narrative that never really gets going. The latter half of the game is a slog to get through, but if you do manage to fight it out and reach the other side of the credits you’ll find some decent objectives, side quests and added abilities to uncover. It’s just a damn shame the world of Forspoken never reaches its full potential, a wasted opportunity that is an okay time waster instead of the memorable, inventive tale it could have been.

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Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher

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Forspoken Review
If only
Despite some moments of genuine enjoyment, with a combat system that does its best to entertain, Forspoken never makes the most of its potential. Ultimately, there are bigger, bolder and more inventive action games both already out there and soon to be upon us in an already stacked 2023 release schedule.
The Good
Enjoyable combat mechanics
Spells are well designed with plenty of variety
The open world holds some interesting side quests
Particle effects, everywhere
The Bad
A wasted narrative that’s far too been there, done that
Outside of the combat, the rest of the package feels surprisingly poor
Too many particles, not enough texture quality where it’s needed
Open world feels sparse in places
6.5
Has A Crack
  • Luminous Productions
  • Square Enix
  • PS5 / PC
  • January 24, 2023

Forspoken Review
If only
Despite some moments of genuine enjoyment, with a combat system that does its best to entertain, Forspoken never makes the most of its potential. Ultimately, there are bigger, bolder and more inventive action games both already out there and soon to be upon us in an already stacked 2023 release schedule.
The Good
Enjoyable combat mechanics
Spells are well designed with plenty of variety
The open world holds some interesting side quests
Particle effects, everywhere
The Bad
A wasted narrative that’s far too been there, done that
Outside of the combat, the rest of the package feels surprisingly poor
Too many particles, not enough texture quality where it’s needed
Open world feels sparse in places
6.5
Has A Crack
Written By Mark Isaacson

Known on the internet as Kartanym, Mark has been in and out of the gaming scene since what feels like forever, growing up on Nintendo and evolving through the advent of PC first person shooters, PlayStation and virtual reality. He'll try anything at least once and considers himself the one true king of Tetris by politely ignoring the world records.

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