Review: Forspoken [PS5]
Save the realm of Athia from ruin.
Reviewing a game like Forspoken is like running through a minefield. If you’ve seen any of the press and player responses surrounding this game in the past six months, you’ve already seen the negative criticisms flow in. No doubt you know about the derisive comments that plagued just about every single trailer that Luminous Productions and Square Enix revealed.
Needless to say, it made me apprehensive to tackle this one. Seeing all the mixed review scores from gaming outlets and fans alike, I was cautious in approaching Forspoken at all. Hell, if I wasn’t reviewing it, I might have skipped over this one entirely. Far be it for me to try and defend a contentious game like this.
Over the past few days, I dove headfirst into the realm of Athia to see what Forspoken was all about. Now that I’ve finished it, I’m even more apprehensive to review it. And in full honesty, that’s because I really liked it.
History is written by the loud ones
Looking back, it’s embarrassing how much people wrote off Forspoken because of one bad trailer. And make no mistake, that was a pretty poor attempt at marketing. But I’m willing to bet a lot of people’s perspective on the actual game is just a reflection of how they responded to a short video.
Still, I suppose, the specific criticisms raised are not without merit. Forspoken is going to divide people with a lot of its elements, and the narrative (especially its tone) will be a big one.
You play as Frey Holland, a 21-year-old New Yorker whose parents abandoned her as a child. She’s had to grow up on the streets all her life, scrambling to get enough money to escape. And escape she does — accidentally, however, to the land of Athia. It’s a realm of castles and old buildings which is currently under siege by the Tantas and a powerful force known as the Break.
Frey came into this world after acquiring a sentient bracelet who she refers to as Cuff. It allows her to use magic spells to defeat the zombified people and animals contaminated by the Break. It also loves, loves, loves to snark and make wisecracks whenever possible. And, as luck would have it, so does Frey.
This is the main sticking point for a lot of people regarding the story. Frey and Cuff both have severe attitudes, with terse sarcasm just dripping out of almost every line they speak. With Frey, I can at least attribute it to her upbringing, but I have no idea why Cuff decides to be so annoying.
You can, thankfully, reduce the amount of banter these two have during gameplay. It still persists in story cutscenes, but if you can’t stand these two talking, it’ll at least improve your experience.
Taking in the story of Forspoken
Now, here’s the thing. Tonal issues aside, I was genuinely invested in how Forspoken unfolded. That’s not to say the story is groundbreaking or something you’ve never seen before. But if you’re looking for a solid storyline with decent characters and a good twist, you can do far worse.
Even though Frey can be a bit of a motormouth, I still greatly enjoyed her as the protagonist. She’s naturally tough and cynical given her upbringing, but while I didn’t always agree with her thought process, I think she was written well. Her motivations are understandable given how poor her life had been up to that point, and it’s great seeing her come to grips with a different perspective by the end.
It isn’t going to be for everyone. In fact, I’d imagine it’ll turn a lot of people away even if they enjoy the game’s other factors. Personally, even with a few bumps in the road, I was invested all the way through. The main twist (which I dare not reveal) genuinely took me by surprise, and put the story in a different — but critically, not worse — light. That’s what I’m looking for in video game stories, and Forspoken delivers on that front.
Speed and sorcery
The story is what it is, and will get all the focus as Forspoken is dissected. And that’s a shame, because the gameplay is where it really shines.
As Frey, you journey across the lands of Athia with your parkour and magic traversal spells. The basis of your mobility moveset is the Flow, which lets you speed across the ground and navigate smaller obstacles with ease. Holding down the dash button gives you a speed boost and lets you jump over enemies and dodge attacks.
Some of your spells are purely for enhanced navigation, such as Zip for snapping yourself to context-sensitive objects and swinging off of them. Others give you an advantage over the terrain, like Glide to get across water without breaking momentum. They’re all very responsive, and getting around Athia never felt like a chore.
This is one area of the game that I think most can agree is top-notch: maneuverability. Frey has a lot of spells at her disposal that let her navigate the open area comfortably, and you’ll learn plenty along the way. It feels incredible, and with the open level design and tricky terrain, you’ve got a huge playground to unleash it on.
Mechanically, it’s great, yet there are some snags that hold it back for me. First, specific movement spells are locked behind certain sets of magic (more on that in a bit). That can disrupt the flow of movement and can be annoying when you start fighting enemies.
Second, you won’t be able to unlock all the movement spells throughout the main campaign. Some of them are locked behind additional challenges that take you off the beaten path. That might be fine for some, but I never felt like Frey was fully equipped by the time I reach the final boss.
Kill them with fire
The focus on maneuverability doesn’t end with getting around, though. It’s also a vital part of the game’s satisfying combat.
When Frey enters Athia, she gains access to a set of magic spells that lets her summon earth-based attacks. As you progress through the game, you’ll pick up other tracts of sorcery that all function differently. Each one has a standard attack which can lead into a charged attack of your choosing, and if you like variety in your combat, Forspoken has it in spades.
Support magic is also dependent on your current school of magic, and they can turn the tides in battle. Each one has a recharge period, but in addition to stronger attacks, they can perform functions like healing, curing status effects, or enhancing attack power. Finally, each spell set has its own ultimate attack that delivers a devastating punch. With a grading scale that gives you better drop rates and experience the better you do, you’re encouraged to learn and master fighting.
I’ve heard some describe the combat as repetitive and annoying, but honestly, I don’t understand why. I found chaining together attacks and strategizing based on the enemies to be a lot of fun. With enemy weaknesses to consider, you have to switch up your strategy every so often. You can’t rely on one magic school throughout the entire journey, and I found a combination of spells that work for me in each one.
Where I might take issue is the latter game’s fondness for throwing hordes of enemies at you, especially within the last few hours. As you close in on the final storyline missions, the game does raise the difficulty significantly. That’s accentuated with combat sections where you’ve got what feels like hundreds of foes hanging around, making it hard to manage everything. Still, you never feel incapable of dealing with the threat, so it all more or less balances out.
Things to do, places to see, people to visit
My playthrough of Forspoken clocked in at around 14 hours; if you’re just going through the main story without taking on the sidequests, you can probably expect it to take about that time — probably shorter if you’re really good at the game.
If you’re of the completionist mindset, however, don’t fret: there’s plenty of stuff for you to take on.
This comes in two varieties: NPC sidequests and challenges. The main hub city of Cipal hosts a number of people who all have requests for Frey to complete. Some are just there to flesh out the world while others ask you to accomplish a specific task or bring back a certain item. It’s all standard stuff, and though I can see the appeal, I wasn’t much interested in seeking these out myself.
Then there’s the challenges, a set of tests and combat encounters scattered across the open world. There are a ton of these little mini-adventures, ranging from clearing out an enemy town of monsters to finding a treasure chest in the wild. Taking these on nets you with a reward, usually a set of materials — but these can also permanently increase some of Frey’s stats, so they’re worth going for if you come across them.
It looks like there’s a lot of stuff to do here if you want to go for everything. I can imagine your playtime would, at the least, double if you decide to achieve 100%. Whether or not that’s worth it is up to you, I suppose — but I can tell you that there’s enjoyment to be had in the side content.
With Forspoken, seeing is believing
The sad reality is that many people have already made their minds up on Forspoken one way or the other. The haters have already written this one off, and will probably knock it at any chance they get.
There are some things worth criticizing — the awkward tone and the occasional design quirks, for instance. I haven’t even mentioned the performance problems with the PC version. And even with my defense of the game, it’s not gonna be for everyone.
But I still found plenty to love in Forspoken, and I’m glad I stuck with it. Its engaging narrative and fun-as-hell gameplay made up for several of its shortcomings. I can’t give it a hearty recommendation; again, your mileage is going to vary heavily. But if you approach it with an open mind, you’ll likely have a good time here.
What do you think of Forspoken? Let us know!
Despite some hangups, Forspoken is a solid, thoroughly enjoyable action RPG that remained satisfying all the way through. It may have some tonal issues with the story and a few annoying design choices here and there. Yet the parkour gameplay and combat are enjoyable enough that you can look past some of its issues.