Forspoken is a fantasy adventure with a lot of heart and soul at its core. While some of its magic gets lost in translation, the expansive open world, unique controls and intriguing combat system help the game feel fresh more so than not. The cinematic scope of the story and main missions give it a premium look and feel, with virtually hundreds of side missions to complete and things to collect and explore. That being said things can feel a tad chaotic at times, as if the game doesn’t really know what it wants to be. However, once you adjust to the game’s combat system and unique storytelling ability, Forspoken is ultimately a fun open-world romp that attempts to offer up something different for one 2022’s most anticipated titles.
Goodbye, Concrete Jungle
Players take control of Freya Holland, played by actress Ella Balinska, a 20-something down-on-her-luck New York City local. Abandoned by her parents at birth, Freya is squatting in an abandoned building with her adorable cat when she gets in trouble with a local gang. After they attempt to run her out of the city, Freya stumbles upon a shiny bracelet in an abandoned building. Curiosity soon gets the better of her, as she puts the bracelet on is transported to a magical world known as Athia. The Cuff – a talking entity that won’t release from her arm is also along for the ride, and Freya must battle through the dangers of Athia while finding out exactly why she had been brought here.
Right out the gate, Freya is a little rough around the edges. She constantly throws out F-bombs when confronted by gangs of mutated wolves and bears, and she is not afraid to be honest about the situation she is presented with. Her complete lack of attachment to anything in New York and desperation to get out of the city immediately changes when she reaches Athia. She seems initially scared and confused, just wanting to return to the way things were. It’s admittedly a great way to create an instant emotion bond with Freya, by placing her in an environment we too are familiar with, all before whisking her away. It’s a shame the interesting personalities end here. Various NPC’s feel consistently lifeless, only serving as a way to add context to the world and events around you. The residents that do eventually talk Freya into helping Athia ion meaningful ways are more of a defining moment for Freya as opposed to the need for highlighting certain supporting characters. It’s still unclear if this was intentional, but it comes across as undercooked in-game.
Playing With Magic
Combat is guided by Cuff who wields magic blasts to stave off enemies. There is an upgrade system that lets you level up your abilities, and you can acquire new moves to help chain combinations together. This really comes in handy when you finally get out of the city gates and start exploring larger parts of the open world. This also combines wonderfully with Freya’s movement and traversal, as you start to whip about environments at impressive speeds to dish out fluid flurries of attacks. Most magical elements and spells are learned as you progress through the story and while it’s great to constantly be evolving, it’s a shame you don’t get the full kit till the end of the game. It would have been nice to either unlock or focus on certain abilities earlier in the game for the sake of choice in terms of gameplay style. While everything is unlocked gradually, earlier hours tend to feel a little repetitive as you rely on a smaller set of moves and skills.
Visually, Forspoken feels like a mixed bag. I played through half in performance mode and the other half in quality mode, just to get an idea of how both looked. While the quality mode offered some slight visual enhancements, from cleaner textures and impressive draw distances, it feels rather underwhelming when compared to performance mode, particularly when you start dashing across the world and chaining together moves. The mo-cap technology also feels like it’s not quite ready to compete with the quality seen in various Naughty Dog titles, but still looks fantastic, as the shading on Freya’s strands of hair in both the cutscenes and gameplay look spectacular. The world itself is a little sparse at times, even if creature and enemy designs are well-coloured and, given adequate attention to detail.
Ultimately, Forspoken does deliver an interesting new protagonist that feels both charming and relatable. Graphical fidelity can also feel like a mixed bag depending on the mode you choose. While the story only lasts for about 15 hours, various open-world events, side quests and character arcs are available to explore, giving players a sense of versatility and longevity, even if repetition eventually sets in.
There’s a great game hiding within the core of Forspoken. While the whole world isn’t fully realised, it is a great blueprint for further adventures in this world that could easily be fleshed out with more intriguing characters and more side quests similar to The Witcher 3. But I wouldn’t let that deter you; Forspoken is a great venture and definitely worth spending some time exploring on next-gen consoles.
THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Highlights: Huge open-world ready for exploration; Intuitive controls and combos offering a new way to play.
Lowlights: Graphics can let it down; Some performance issues.
Developer: Luminous Productions
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, Windows PC
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 with a pre-release code provided by the publisher.