Forspoken was not an easy game to review. Square Enix’s newest action RPG has a lot going for it, but also so much holding it back. It’s got a big, beautiful open world with a pretty radical combat system and a relatable, interesting story backing it all up. However, it’s also a repetitive slog during many points, with few real side-quests and wide swathes of open land with no NPCs to interact with or talk to other than the protagonist’s magical cuff. It’s difficult to fully recommend this game, but at the same time, its high points make it difficult to completely write off.
I won’t say that I didn’t enjoy my time with Forspoken. I was immediately compelled by the hard-luck story of Frey, a New Yorker with a bad childhood and even worse living conditions in the present day. She happens to stumble upon a magic talking cuff and is thrust through a portal into a world of wonder consisting of a land where an evil corruption has taken almost everything from its people.
If you’ve seen the movie Army of Darkness, you’ve seen this plot play out. A rough-around-the-edges hard case is plucked from his life and sucked through a portal into a medieval alternate dimension, in which he is enslaved but quickly released to go on a quest that could help against the evil surrounding the land in exchange for some assistance in getting back home. Eventually, he comes to understand and accept his status as “The Chosen One” and helps the people of the land defeat the evil that oppresses them. Frey is essentially Ash, acting as the rude, caustic interloper with an unwanted but nevertheless useful arm attachment.
That’s not to say the story isn’t enjoyable, which is unsurprising since it was conceived by Amy Hennig of Uncharted fame. It has enough disparate elements to make one root for Frey and get lost in her journey. Ella Balinska makes Frey’s guarded demeanor charming, and Jonathan Cake’s prim and proper Iron Man AI JARVIS-like Cuff complements her attitude to a tee. Some who have played the demo have already complained about the sometimes annoying and repetitive nature of Frey and Cuff’s banter, and these two voices are the only ones the player will be hearing throughout most of the game’s lifeless proceedings.
As for the fantasy land of Athia, Forspoken‘s world is expansive and gorgeous, boasting colorful skies, detailed ruins, and lifelike flora. Traversing the landscape is a pleasure thanks to Frey’s parkour abilities and a sort of ziplining mechanic that comes later in the game. These allow the player to magically speed across the ground, leaping over obstacles and wall-running up mountains. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of zippy fun and smoothness achieved by, say, Marvel’s Spider-Man‘s web-swinging, but it’s a much more preferable method of travel than simply running across the game’s barren stretches. It is also quite useful in combat for dodging attacks and hitting enemies from different angles.
Frey has an extensive set of skill trees for each of the four types of magic she eventually gains. Each lends itself to different kinds of combat and support abilities, which are stunning to behold. For instance, Frey’s initial purple magic excels at long-range attacks, while red magic is more for close-quarters combat. Defeating Tantas will earn Frey new magic types.
The Tantas are powerful sorceresses that once guarded over and provided for the denizens of Athia before the Break, a sinister force of evil that washed over the land, corrupting everything and everyone in its path and causing madness in the Tantas. As a result, they stopped caring about humans and turned against them. The fights against the Tantas are visceral and cinematic, making them exciting boss battles at the end of the long journeys through each of their territories. However, even after defeating a Tanta, the region remains devoid of human or animal life, continuing to be infested by Breakbeasts, which is a rather disappointing missed opportunity to add more desperately-needed towns and NPCs to the game.
Frey eventually acquires so many abilities that they can become overwhelming. Switching between spells and magic types is a snap though, and this system always ensures that there’s an attack or maneuver ready to go while others charge back up. The mechanic is complex enough to please hardcore gamers who like to strategize and perfect their combat, but it also retains enough basic simplicity and difficulty options to accommodate button mashers.
The enemies are diverse, ranging from zombie-like humans to crystallized animals corrupted by the Break. Their designs are beautiful and disturbing in equal measure, making the player feel for the poor people and creatures that were ripped away from any sense of normalcy or joy. The wide variety of foes provides for more powerful and detailed versions springing up later in the game, including beasts made up entirely of the Break itself. However, there is an annoying glitch in the AI of some of the enemies. If the fight moves too far away from their spawning point, they will turn tail and go back to it in the middle of combat. Hopefully, this will be fixed with future game updates.
Battles takes place outside the walls of Cipal, a city that stands as the last bastion of human civilization and the only place safe from monsters and the effects of the Break. There are some interesting and likable citizens of Cipal for Frey to interact with and help out. However, most of the “Detours,” or side-quests, are pretty basic. These include feeding sheep, praying, and following cats around town to come upon items that can be traded in at vendors for gear upgrades and other things.
While a few Detours are more involved, requiring fetching items from the outside world or descending into labyrinths to kill everything inside and claim loot, almost none of them have the complexity or drawing power of deep RPG side-quests, like those in The Witcher 3. There also isn’t much player agency with regard to choices or moral decisions that influence the rest of the proceedings. Short of one major decision that triggers one of Forspoken‘s five different endings, Frey doesn’t have much choice but to play along with the game’s relatively linear story, something that seems to conflict with its vast open world.
Regarding loot, this is another area in which Forspoken falls short. While there are cloaks and necklaces that serve as upgradeable armor to be found, the vast majority of drops and chest contents are composed of crafting materials and tradable items. This takes much of the anticipation and excitement out of the loot-gathering process. After the 17th or 18th time collecting spinestone or an old coin from a hard-won chest, the anticlimactic nature of the prizes weighs in rather heavily.
At the end of the day, whether Forspoken is worth the time and money or not depends on what the player is looking for. Those who simply want a new, extraordinary open world to explore with a riveting narrative and innovative combat will find that Forspoken scratches that itch. However, gamers interested in deeper gameplay elements like satisfying loot, compelling side-quests, and plenty of interesting NPCs to chat up and help out won’t find that here.