After two delays, the eagerly anticipated next gen action adventure Forspoken has finally launched. We checked out Square Enix’ release of this Luminous Productions game on a PlayStation 5.
Perhaps it was the delays, but in terms of momentum Forspoken has been a bit of a weird title for us. We absolutely loved its reveal trailer due to its amazing production values, with gorgeous visuals, cinematic storytelling and an interesting “protagonist transported to a fantasy realm” narrative. We never saw the game at this year’s trade shows though, and when the release window was moved from the lucrative holiday period to January we didn’t think that was a great sign. There was a playable demo last month though, but that ability to go hands on presented us with more questions than answers – and we’re not sure the full game answers all of them either.
What it does do, is give us a lot more insight into protagonist Frey Holland and the fantasy realm she ends up in, as Forspoken’s narrative has a pretty epic scale to it. With some gorgeous set pieces and cinematic moments. Frey’s mostly just eager to get back home though, and the traversal system here certainly seems tailored to that notion – when trying to get from A to B, you’re going to be spending a lot of time rushing and magic-dashing your way over there.
But let’s back up from all the fantasy and magic for a second, because Frey’s actually a New York girl who’s had her brushes with the criminal underworld of the city and lives there without any parents to fall back on. She’s not on a good path, and a judge gives her one last chance to get her affairs in order. But just as she’s about to take that final wrong step, fate has her stumbling across a mysterious bracelet that suddenly transports her to the world of Athia. And although she’s still that New York girl, she’s also been imbued with magical powers and it doesn’t take long before we realize she might be destined for something great in this new world.
It’s a really interesting premise, and you instantly understand why Frey’s not one to easily trust anyone – especially in her new and strange surroundings. And even though her life in the Big Apple wasn’t perfect, she can’t wait to get back there as soon as possible. She’s a reluctant hero, and doesn’t want to have anything to do with the struggles of the people in Athia – until of course their fates start to intersect with her own destiny.
This sets her on a course to search out the Tantas – sort of the Founding Mothers of Athia who have now turned on their creation and want to see it undone. Unsurprisingly, these are the main antagonists in the game, but a far more interesting character is your magical bracelet – Cuff. Cuff comes to life once you’re transported to this new realm and starts talking to you, functioning as a partner/narrator during the adventure. The interactions between Frey and Cuff are excellent, definite highlights in Forspoken that keep you invested, especially in the early stages of the game (which can feel slow-going).
Gameplay-wise, you’ll quickly notice the traversal system that lets you sprint and jump through the gorgeously realized environments at a rapid pace. It’s simple and very fluid too, as just holding down the ‘magic traversal’ button sees you clearing most obstacles almost automatically, making sure you almost never get stuck in the environment.
This agility carries over to the game’s combat scenarios as well, though the sheer versatility of Frey’s moveset (which of course grows over time) stands in the way of the game’s fluidity here. Too often, you’ll find yourself having to switch between attacks mid-battle as other recharge, which tends to break the flow of the combat unless you’re some kind of gamepad wizard who can do all this on the fly at a rapid pace. With all the acrobatics combat looks great, but in the end we mostly found ourselves underusing our arsenal of attacks and magic for the sake of keeping things going, automating some of the mechanics as well. The downside of this? It’s less effective, so fights can feel like they drag on a little too long because of it.
There are other pacing issues as well, some of which are technical by nature and others that have to do with design. Every now and then the adventure can visibly stall as objects get loaded into memory, breaking immersion, and at other points it feels like you’re constantly doing fetch quests in order to progress. The total length of Forspoken is about 12 to 14 hours, but it feels like it would have worked better as an 8 to 10 hour cinematic adventure without the padding – though people would probably complain about the game’s price point at that length.
There’s a fair bit of post-game content to explore and uncover, letting you find additional magic spells and boss fights while also letting you dive into more of Athia’s lore. The main draw is the story-driven campaign though, which is an epic fantasy tale with a strong main lead and her entertaining and engaging interactions with Cuff. It’s definitely worth playing, but ultimately didn’t live up the expectations we had after the reveal trailer.
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