It has been an interesting journey leading up to Forspoken‘s release. After the initial reveal made a huge splash, the repeated delays had players worried. To make up for the delay, Square Enix released a demo that became a divisive topic. With so much building to the release, there are a lot of questions about Forspoken. Will it meet expectations, how accurate is the demo, are these negative omens, and so many more? Now that Forspoken is finally out, does the unique world offer enough potential to warrant exploring, or is it still not ready for release?
Forspoken starts with a rather lengthy prologue. You control Alfre “Frey” Holland, a young orphan that is struggling to find her place in the world. Fortunately, her latest scheme resulted in enough money to finally execute her plan to leave New York with her cat Homer, but before she can start her new life, past mistakes catch up to her. Now at her lowest, she discovers a weird bracelet that, after wearing it, results in her being transported to another world that holds untold potential for Frey.
Nothing Says New York Like Musicals
While the story shows potential, once you get past the introductions and realization she can now use magic, it never quite capitalizes on it. This is for two incredibly obvious and unfortunate reasons.
Without revealing too much, Forspoken plays all its cards straight. Everything makes sense, which is great, it’s just extremely predictable. There wasn’t a single twist I didn’t see coming, making the journey rather underwhelming. I also wouldn’t call any of these things subtle, something that will be even more apparent if you’re familiar with the tropes commonly used by the genre. However, the more egregious error is presented.
Some Really Cool Designs
You can make up for poor pacing with flashy moments, or climatic details, but Forspoken just doesn’t know when to move on. I get the impression part of the reason is to make Frey’s journey feel more realistic, it just doesn’t work when the average player is five steps ahead waiting for her to grasp concepts that were obvious hours ago. And, even this would be fine if the approach was better.
Given Frey’s past, it’s understandable that she is selfish, slow to trust, and somewhat standoffish. This doesn’t make for a particularly likable character, at least initially, with her frequent swearing, and “realistic” reactions not helping her case. While I did grow to like Frey towards the end of her journey, it all makes for a rather underwhelming narrative. Something that is rather unfortunate, as many of the supporting players, such as Johedy, are handled much better.
Unfortunately, similar issues are present in the gameplay portions. Open-world adventures are no stranger to objectives in distant locations. Most tasks in Forspoken are around 5,000 meters away, forcing you to transverse the world. This makes everything feel empty, as there are only a handful of enemies/objectives you’ll naturally find along the way. It can also make progressing feel tedious, as it’s incredibly easy to get lost chasing resources, equipment, or fast-travel locations.
In addition to drawing attention to the lack of things to do, unlocking magic could be better. Frey starts off with earth magic, something that is extremely fun to use, with a handful of skills to further improve it. These include a flower turret, catching people in roots, to even a whip that heals you. By the time I made it to the first boss, I had almost everything, which is fine, except defeating bosses unlocks a new magic type.
Since there is a couple hour gap between the start and unlocking the first type, it almost feels like players are punished by not prioritizing narrative. This kind of makes sense, side quests are called detours after all, it just forces players to approach things a specific way. As a result, it just makes the first couple of hours feel really limiting, which is a shame, as the actual combat is pretty enjoyable.
One of Several Cute Familiars
After a couple hours you should have a good feel for how Forspoken is played, and this is when it really starts to shine. I had a blast jumping over enemies, taking out my flame sword for a powerful swing that dominates countless enemies, to firing a bow to stop threats from above. When it all comes together it feels incredibly engaging. There are countless ways to approach any threat, with specific advantages, or tools if you so desire. It also doesn’t have a massive learning curve, with it even being possible to remove all the difficulty if you want to just go crazy.
It’s unfortunate this takes so long to come together, as it helps make up for a lot of Forspoken‘s weaker points. The optional challenges for additional power also push players to explore what these powers can do. Simply being asked to hit three enemies with a charged slice forces me to, or to use a certain attack to heal so much health, bring attention to how these moves should be used. Even if certain moves have limited value, even with all the bonuses, it’s still great to have the option if you want to use them.
Probably Shouldn’t Engage
As nice as these options are, optional objectives almost always default on killing something. Sometimes you go to another world to kill them, other times you defend a point against them, but few tasks involve something beyond killing people. This is another thing that can make exploration underwhelming, as you’re ultimately doing the same thing. That said, I do like Forspoken‘s approach to loot. Incomplete areas have a purple icon showing what they give, making it a lot simpler to understand what you need to do, and what you get for doing it.
Unlocking new equipment is an interesting journey. They’re largely cosmetic, which does change Frey’s appearance, with the main benefit being access to new perks. Existing gear can be upgraded to use them, along with common resources being used to enhance them. Sometimes you can unlock different fingernail patterns for a buff as well, making these places important to getting the most out of Forspoken.
Forspoken Review Verdict
Forspoken: It's really hard to find the right score for Forspoken. Even if the story is bad, there are only so many tasks to complete, and equipment is largely interchangeable, it's still a lot of fun to play. The joy of running across the world, slicing a hoard of enemies with a flaming sword, or causing a rock explosion that sends everyone flying leaves a more lasting impression. For these reasons I would still say Forspoken has enough going for it to say it's worth giving a go. – Mark