Forspoken Review on PS5
Few games could hope to make a worse first impression than Forspoken. Heavy with corny dialogue and host to a series of lines that made the internet meme circuit prior to its launch, the game was infamous well before people even had a chance to get their hands on it. Once its demo was released, few were swayed from their opinions, with the dialogue still acting as the defining trait of the title.
All the same, I went into the game with an open mind, and I’m glad I did. While I can’t say it fully redeems itself, Forspoken ended up being a solid effort at establishing a new IP and shouldn’t be counted out for stumbling at the starting line.
Which is saying something, as it definitely does stumble. Following an isekai-esque storyline, the game sees Frey Holland transported from New York to the land of Athia after attempting to steal an enchanted cuff. She is then dragged into a conflict that has been tearing the land apart, with an otherworldly force known as “The Corruption,” twisting the people, animals, and terrain of the land into nightmarish, broken versions of themselves.
This is in some way linked to the former rulers of the land, called the Tantas. Each harbors otherworldly magical powers, and though they once used them for the good of the world, they now use them to satisfy their own desires.
Fortunately, Frey is in a position to stop them. Granted magical powers of her own, she has the tools necessary to stop these corrupted rulers, save this world, and figure out why she was brought to it in the first place.
This setup in and of itself isn’t bad. Though a little by the book, it presents a fantasy premise that gets players from point A to point B and offers enough new twists to keep things interesting. There’s likewise more than enough additional lore that can be found throughout the game, which bolsters the feeling of being immersed in the narrative and setting, establishing it as one of the better new IPs based on the AAA framework in recent memory.
Where things do fall apart is how it paces, introducing all of its broad strokes to the player. Most all of the game’s exposition is front-loaded into the first few hours. One would be hard-pressed not to be exhausted by all of the new terms and story beats tossed at them all at once, and the lack of actual gameplay during this stretch is noticeable.
Compounding this is the admittedly cringy dialogue. While not any worse than a Sony game in terms of its sarcasm and constant quips — and the voice performances are just as well done, especially by Frey’s voice actor Ella Balinska — the sheer volume of Whedon-isms and snarky banter is a bit much, and only makes the crawl of the opening section that much harder to get through.
It’s about as rough as an opening can get. Fortunately, Forspoken redeems itself and then some as soon as this introduction is over, and players are set loose on its full experience.
The game’s open world, while not as full of life as some might have hoped, is still a sizable sandbox for players to get lost in. There are a wide variety of biomes and regions that feel distinct from one another and provide a healthy amount of side content for players to get distracted by.
This is most certainly enhanced by the game’s stellar graphics. While the Forspoken’s specs are certainly demanding, it’s undeniable that the graphical fidelity enhances almost every visual element of the game. The realistic character models, paired with the stunning fantasy vistas of arching rock formations, towering ruins, and landmarks twisted by the Corruption, really sell the feeling that this is a modern-gen gaming experience.
The music and sound design improve the title’s overall experience just as much. Ranging from softer, catchier beats to booming orchestral arrangements mixed with chanting choirs, the soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to the snarling of corrupted animals and humans.
And then, there’s the gameplay. To say this is the main selling point of Forspoken would be a massive understatement, as it provides some of the best open-world gameplay mechanics one could hope to find.
Its traversal mechanics, in particular, are some of the most entertaining features the game has to offer. Allowing you to zip and zoom across large swaths of terrain in a matter of seconds, these abilities make moving from one point of the map feel less like a chore and more like an opportunity to have fun and see the wider world from new perspectives.
There were plenty of times when I opted out of fast traveling just so I could sprint across the map with the Parkour abilities and dart around at lightning-fast speeds. The fact that I was in full control of these abilities made things even more fun: If I decided I was bored with sprinting and bouncing around on abandoned buildings, I could just as easily fire off a magic tether and send myself hurtling through the air, cutting the travel time in half as I did so.
Speaking of magic: The magic-centric combat of Forspoken is just as fun to take part in. Blending simple shooting mechanics with melee attacks and defensive spells, the game provides players with a wide array of tools to take on enemies with. It also makes it incredibly easy to allocate and reallocate Mana points earned from level-ups toward upgrading one’s spells of choice, helping to encourage experimentation with different magical loadouts.
These elements are paired with a heavy focus on dodging and repositioning one’s self in battle. Though Frey can tank some damage, she’ll almost always need to dodge away from enemy attacks in order to avoid an untimely end. This blends the wide array of traversal options with the combat in a novel way and lends a level of speed to battles which keeps them feeling fresh even in the game’s latter sections.
Making things all the better is the title’s approach to incentivizing a better understanding of combat. As players take part in battles, they’ll be assigned a grade based on their performance. The best parallel is that of a character action game like Devil May Cry: Like with those titles, players will need to maintain combos and avoid taking damage to keep their grade as high as possible. The higher the grade they maintain, the more experience and items they’ll be privy to once the skirmish ends.
All of these elements come together to make the gameplay feel leagues above other titles in the genre. Even with its early issues, it’s clear that the title is worth playing simply to get the chance to experience what makes it a proper game.
Even with its unfortunate first impression, I’d hardly recommend Forspoken. Its exceptional gameplay is more than enough to make it worth playing and is all the more noteworthy, given it’s a fresh new IP. If nothing else, it lays the groundwork for a new series that has plenty to build from and could go on to be remembered for far more than some rough dialogue.
Reviewer: Keenan McCall | Award: Editor’s Choice | Copy provided by Publisher.
- Exceptional Traversal and Combat Gameplay
- Stunning Graphics
- Solid Music & Voice Acting
- Very Cringey Writing
- Painfully slow and Exposition-Heavy Introduction
- Open World Feels a Bit Lifeless
Jan. 24, 2023
PlayStation 5, PC