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Sorry to alienate all the non-football fans in the room, but I feel that Mr. Jose Mourinho transcends the sport of football. He was in a Stormzy music video, for crying out loud! Well, to continue this immediate digression, one of Jose’s many famous quotes is the immortal line, ‘If I speak, I am in big trouble,’ and I feel the exact same way when referring to Forspoken, the new open-world fantasy RPG from Square Enix and Luminous Productions.
This game, much like a lot of Square Enix’s recent projects, has been met with tentativeness and hostility right out the gate, with most potential players voicing their displeasure at reported graphical quality drops in the demo accessible before release. Plus, a lot of players were quick to label the main character Frey as unlikable, the world hollow, and the gameplay as boring and lackluster.
However, much like Mr. Mourinho has been known to do, I’m going to say something controversial. I don’t agree with those who are so keen to vehemently hate this title. I feel that the game actually has a lot going for it. Albeit, coupled with a lot of things that drag the game down. What I’m saying here, is that I understand the hate; I can pinpoint where the first spark occurred that led the internet to throw fuel upon the fire.
However, in a rare turn of events for me, a known cynic who loves to stick the boot in. I’m actually going to be defending this game. Well, sort of. I have a lot of gripes, and I still want to vent, but overall, I feel like I’ll be more positive than most.
However, you may be asking yourself why I found myself in that camp, and what would possess me to defend this game that seems like a massive disappointment from the outside looking in. Well, I invite you through the looking glass to the land of Athia. Let’s jump into the Frey. Here is my Forspoken Review, conducted on PS5. Enjoy!
Style over Substance
Let’s kick things off by looking at the visuals on offer within Forspoken. So I feel like a lot of this review will be me surgically removing the opening few hours from the rest of the game, and that’s the case regarding the visuals. My immediate thoughts as Frey walked the streets of New York were, ‘God, they didn’t work too hard on this segment of the game.’ The streets looked bland, the textures were off, and immediately, it had my hackles up.
It actually gets worse before it gets better, because when the player arrives in Athia, they find themselves initially in Cipal, which is one of the most unnecessarily huge, hollow, and lifeless cities I’ve visited in a gaming format. The skybox felt off, making it very clear to the player that they were boxed into a closed environment, and the whole place just gave me an MMO city sort of feel.
This is fine in an MMO where these baren cities are usually packed with countless players. However, it’s a bad look for a single-player RPG experience.
Thankfully though, when you move beyond the city walls and start exploring the wilds of Athia, teeming with ‘The Break,’ you are treated to a vast and very attractive open world that looks the part. Parkour and combat animations feel smooth; combat effects look impressive, and you’ll encounter more than enough breathtaking vistas to make use of the game’s photo mode.
This immediately let me know that the developers had poured all their time into this open-world portion of the game, and as a result, this was where I knew I would have the most fun. So much so that a sense of dread kicked in when the same said, ‘Make your way back to Cipal.’ However, the open world portion of Forspoken and the game’s visuals within said open world, isn’t without issue.
The world, while pretty, is so sparse. Now I understand that this is by design, as the parkour system allows players to cover huge distances in a rapid fashion. However, there just aren’t that many points of interest that urge you to stop in your tracks.
There are no landmarks aside from those that offer Detours (side quests), there are no NPCs outside of Cipal unless you are doing the main story, and even when the same has you discover notebooks and items that expand the lore of Athia; they just feel like something Neil Gaiman would write on a post-it before tossing in the trash after a second glance.
Then to put the icing on this lopsided cake, I feel like the developers probably did scale back the graphical fidelity of the game, because the game really chugs when placed in Ray-tracing mode. Animations get jumpy, and when the screen gets busy with multiple enemies, the cracks really begin to show.
However, the good news is that in Performance Mode, the drop in visual quality is negligible, and the game runs pretty smoothly by contrast. So for the best experience, I would suggest playing in performance mode.
In short, once the game gets going, it begins to look the part, but it flatters to deceive.
With such a so-so overview of the visuals and world design, the question remains, what does the game do well? The simple answer is anything related to the core gameplay. When the game allows the player to engage with the vast open spaces of Athia and run free, the game is truly at its best. I’m going to make a bold statement. Forspoken succeeds in areas that franchises such as Assassin’s Creed, Middle Earth, and Dying Light failed to innovate in.
Forspoken offers a genuinely fluid, fast-paced, and functional parkour mechanic that makes traversal around Athia easily one of the best aspects of the experience. This accessible system allows you to travel long distances in seconds, free-running up bare cliff faces, and forging creative paths to get to your next objective.
Then as the game progresses, you gain new abilities to help you become even faster, more fluid, and more proficient. The only modern game I think of that makes traversal more fun is the Marvel’s Spiderman series, and being a close second to this game is a huge accolade for this title.
However, it’s the confined sections that pull the game down. When in Cipal, or completing story quests, the player is often stripped of their abilities and forced to sprint around at a normal pace. Now, in most games, this would be fine, but in a title where you move like lightning, every second not magically phasing at the speed of sound feels like a drag.
I imagine it’s like driving a Ferrari and then trading it in for a Fiat. Another football reference. If you know, you know. Plus, these sections don’t even offer basic parkour like climbing or leaping off buildings, leading to a lot of frustrating moments where invisible walls force you to walk around structures.
I Feel like a Badass
Moments spent in Cipal will rarely make you feel like a badass, but when you are out there in the Athia Wilds and enemies try their luck against you, the interloper, you’ll feel like a genuine superhero. Forspoken’s combat takes a little while to show its true value. In the beginning, the mechanics seem to lack cohesion. You can run around, flip through the air and shoot projectiles. However, there is no way to mix things up, and there is no way to consistently block attacks either.
The good news is that when the player gains access to their respective skill trees, the game gives you an abundance of options for laying a smackdown on enemies. You’ll begin with Frey’s base magical set, which allows for ranged attacks, airborne attacks, and a variety of stun-lock, Hp regeneration magic.
Then as the game progresses, the player will defeat the main bosses of the game, the Tantas, and absorb their magic, meaning multiple skill trees. This, incidentally, is a great mechanic that kept me invested and motivated to progress in spite of the pitiful storyline, but more on that in a minute.
This then allows the player to play in new and exciting ways, with Tanta Sila, the game’s first boss, offering access to a variety of melee-based magical abilities, for example. It’s this ever-growing set of abilities that keep the combat feeling fresh, and with so many options comes the ability to experiment and combine magic in innovative ways. The combat feels deep, but somehow, the combat also feels very easy to engage with.
Even with a basic understanding of the combat, the player will find themselves performing a series of complex gymnastic feats, moving at breakneck speeds, dealing huge damage, and it never feels too taxing. Again, much like Marvel’s Spiderman. The player character always looks super busy on screen, but everything feels pretty chill and satisfying for the player.
The only time I would say that this works against the game is during boss battles with the Tantas. While the production value and the scenes themselves are pretty action-packed and exciting, the battles themselves feel no different from a standard encounter with a relatively strong enemy.
It’s clear that the developer tried to implement gimmicks and special obstacles for players to overcome. However, there always feels like there is an ability that can make a mockery of this god of the realm, making each fight fall flat.
That being said, though, Overall, I feel like combat within Forspoken is a slow-burn that, if given the time to expand and develop, shows itself as a pretty engaging and dynamic combat system.
Sometimes It’s Better to Say Nothing at all
So far, the game sounds reasonably competent, right? It sounds like a game that really doesn’t deserve the hate it has been getting. Well, here’s the part where I sympathize with those that have given these colorful reviews of this game online and voiced their disappointment so adamantly. Forspoken does nothing to carve out a unique path for itself within the RPG genre, and that is largely down to the story and the characters that serve as vehicles to deliver the story.
Let’s start with Frey, the protagonist of this title. In a nutshell, Frey was abandoned in New York’s Holland Tunnel as a child and has been a product of the U.S. foster system ever since, seeing her passed from family to family, and as you would expect, she has developed a frosty, untrusting and hard exterior to protect herself.
She’s your typical down-on-their-luck kid who seems destined to be swallowed up by the legal system, as she has constant run-ins with gangs and, by extension, the law. Then after these gangs burn down her makeshift home, she finds herself squatting in; she seems to be out of options. That is until she inexplicably discovers a portal to a fantastical realm, and through the power of a magical, sentient cuff/vambrace, she follows the path before her that forces her to take on the role of a reluctant hero.
It’s a generic story that never really gets any deeper than that. Honestly, the whole campaign after this, which is barely ten hours in length, does next to nothing to expand on her character, or have the player form a bond with Frey or anyone around her.
The only motivation the player really has to trudge on through is to find answers regarding how Frey arrived in Athia, and to learn about Frey’s Estranged parents. However, without giving anything away, you can see where the story is going hours before it reveals its ‘shocking revelations.’
The generic story is one thing, but the real pain point, for me at least, is how unlikable Frey is. I understand she is initially meant to be tough and hard to take in the early stages. However, there is no attempt to bond her and the player. She retains this headstrong and brash demeanor, relentlessly swearing and undervaluing the use of the word F**k. Which, let me tell you, I put a lot of stock into.
I love a well-timed cuss, but if you are doing it in practically every voice line, you dilute it. A great example of endless swearing done right is Malcolm Tucker in The Thick of it, and I can only imagine the vile and hilarious things he would have to say about Frey’s character.
The problem lies within the writing for this game also, because the game never really gives Frey any hope of being a beloved character, because they write her like an obnoxiously overconfident Robert Downey Jr as Ironman type. There is rarely a moment that goes by where she isn’t being defiant where it isn’t warranted, making a sarcastic comment that doesn’t land, or commending herself on a job well done.
It’s exhausting to listen to her; there is no nuance to these moments, which, to Marvel’s credit, they tend to manage by using them more sparingly. Then, as a result, when the game tries to paint her as a caring, empathetic character of moral standing, it feels so unnatural. There’s no room for a believable redemption arc here, and as a result, she is, from start to finish, inherently unlikable.
I will say that I personally enjoyed some of the characters in spite of their cartoonishly stereotypical portrayal, like Break Bob and Cuff. However, this was a drop in the ocean and did very little to make the game’s story worth engaging with.
A Stuttering Delivery
I could have focused on a few technical issues within the game. Getting stuck in the scenery when free-running is a common frustration that springs to mind. However, I felt that this deserved a little section for me to rant of its own. I have no idea why this occurs, but the game has a tendency to pause for what feels like an age between lines of dialogue, when entering new scenes or when granting control back to the player.
It’s one of the most jarring things about playing this game. You’ll end a story scene, you’ll return to third-person, and you’ll push the analog to sprint off, only for Frey to stand there frozen for about ten seconds. Then the game may begin some dialogue and keep you locked in place, or it may mercifully let you zoom off.
This is bad enough within gameplay, but it also happens in cutscenes, leading to moments where characters uncomfortably stare at each other. In those moments, I could practically hear Frank Reynolds chomping on deli meats in the corner, saying, ‘Dead Air.’ One for the Sunny fans. It’s a problem that makes the already weak writing even more fragmented and underwhelming, and I feel like it may be down to the developer overreaching.
At times the game feels like it’s trying to do more than it’s capable of from a technical standpoint. Leading to cutscenes that are no more than ten seconds long, before a hard cut to another scene. Or animations that feel ridiculously unpolished in an otherwise quite well-presented scene.
In a gaming landscape where games such as God of War and The Last of Us have made cinematic, seamless cut-scenes an industry standard, this feels miles behind in terms of production value, and it is to the detriment of the player’s overall enjoyment.
Ubisoft, Is That You?
The story may have been a swing and a miss. However, considering the game is at its best when out in the open world, when the story wraps, you would assume that things pick up. Well, sadly, not. The game has quite a lot of side content and events that players can participate in, and as you would expect, they are provided in abundance.
You have Flashbacks that have you clear out forts and ruins of all enemies. You have monuments to discover, and you have mini-dungeons to find, which see you fight a mini-boss at the end.
These are all relatively interesting little detours while traveling from point to point to progress the main story, and while they aren’t incredible, they are serviceable aspects of open-world filler content.
However, when the story ends, and this is all that remains, it feels like busy work. There aren’t really any lucrative rewards for most of these events; there are too many of these events, meaning that they become tiresome and repetitive pretty quickly. Plus, due to the sheer size of the map, it takes an age to get from one to the next.
It’s a classic case of open-world bloat, where developers have felt obligated to pack in uninspired events and tasks to beef up the runtime. However, unless you really get a kick out of collecting familiars, collecting assorted nail art, or beating repetitive dungeons, you will probably lose interest pretty shortly after seeing the credits roll.
Perhaps Better Left Unsaid
This score may come as a shock to some, but I feel that Forspoken does enough to be considered a game that does a lot of things commendably, but sadly, it’s pulled down by a few things that lack a USP, or some things that are just plain awful. On a positive note, when the player is let off the leash to explore the vast open world, take part in Detours, and parkour around the map to their heart’s content, the game feels really fun and satisfying.
Then when you find yourself engaged in combat, this freedom to mix parkour with a series of abilities and magic skill trees feels incredible at times. All the while feeling very accessible. You genuinely feel like a superhero without ever having to work that hard, which will appeal to some more than others, but you can’t deny, it’s fun to feel powerful.
However, an open-world RPG cannot survive on gameplay alone, and sadly, the game’s world, story, characters, and writing all fall short of the mark. Most characters are unlikable, most notably the protagonist, who never shakes off this defiant and cartoonishly obnoxious street rat persona.
The world, while expansive and pretty, feels largely hollow with nothing to keep the player engaged after the sub-par story draws to a close, and while you can argue that the core premise and the Tantas have the potential to be interesting, the game never expands on these themes enough to capitalize on this initial intrigue, making the game feel like just any old fantasy tale.
Then throw in some graphical issues, some issues like huge pauses regarding the delivery of dialogue and an oversaturation of Marvel-esque quips and voice lines that grow tiring mere hours into the journey, and you have a game that had all the potential to succeed, but in spite of itself, is just okay.
- Parkour and open-world traversal is deeply satisfying. Especially as the game gradually grants you more abilities
- The combat is initially pretty one-note but quickly expands to offer fun, open-ended encounters
- For those that appreciate lots of side content, the game has plenty to engage with, even when the credits roll
- While it won’t win any awards for visuals, the game looks great, even in performance mode
- The writing is ham-fisted, generic, and, despite decent vocal performances, delivered woefully
- The story and world-building in this game wash over you, completely forgettable
- It’s nearly impossible to form any sort of bond with Frey, Cuff, or any character in this game, for that matter
- After the story wraps, the game does very little to motivate the player to continue playing
- The opening 1-2 hours is one of the worst openings to any game I have ever played
Question: Is Forspoken a PlayStation Exclusive?
Answer: If we are talking consoles, then yes, the PS4/PS5 is the only console that Forspoken is available on, as this title is not accessible on Nintendo Switch and Xbox Series X/S. However, PC players looking to jump into the world of Athia will be happy to know that this title is available on PC.
Question: What is Project Athia?
Answer: Project Athia was the codename or working title that would later be renamed Forspoken. Forspoken was first teased under this pseudonym in 2020 when Square Enix released a teaser trailer for Project Athia, where we got to see Frey, as well as a lot of recognizable assets that are present in the final product, Forspoken.
Question: Is Forspoken On Sale?
Answer: This is a testament to how poorly that the game has been received by critics and gamers alike. The game has already been listed on marketplaces like the PS Store and Steam with quite sizable discounts to try and attract players who passed on this game on release day.
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