Forspoken: An Imperfect But Promising Beginning
While the game has some rough edges, it's worth trying out
Opinions are everywhere these days. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for an input about a technical problem or a personal matter, opinions are very easy to come across since the advent of online debates. Do you have a computer problem? Look it up online! Are you interested in recent events? News sites have your back! Considering buying a new video game which was just released? Well…you could look up reviews and opinions online, but I’m afraid this doesn’t always guarantee a straightforward solution.
A game swirling with a vast array of opinions is Forspoken, the newly released roleplaying game developed by Luminous Productions. I was first exposed to Forspoken when it was revealed during one of Sony’s State of Play showcases. The game looked good, but didn’t come across as novel. Still, I kept my eyes open for it. The more gameplay that emerged, the sentiment that it was a game that followed a familiar path, but seemed perfectly fine to play, solidified. Most people, however, have already seemed to write the game off because “the main character is annoying”.
The same sentiment around an annoying protagonist continued to pop up over and over as the release date drew near. With the game being out for a few days now, there seems to be no consensus on just how good or bad Forspoken truly is. Some state the game is decent, others say it’s worse than initially imagined. Some are waiting for the price to drop while others are happily digging deeper into the game. Forspoken is becoming the most divisive game I’ve seen in some time, so of course, I had to buy it and see for myself.
I’m a person who believes in the “hands-on” approach. I might have some pre-release judgment, but I enjoy trying things out for myself before passing any kind of solid opinion about a piece of media. It is with this mindset that I popped Forspoken into my PS5 to give it a fair shot. So what is my opinion on it now that I’ve finally experienced it myself?
My thoughts from the trailers surprisingly didn’t change now that I have the full game under my belt. It’s a fun game that features an engaging enough story…yet it’s also flawed, with cracks that could be fixed through a sequel or through future polishing of the original.
Before getting into the game itself, I want to state a few things regarding how I played the game. There are a few customizable options I used and want to be transparent about how I set up the game in order to share my full experience.
I played the game on normal difficulty with no reduced damage or auto commands, such as dodging or aiming, which the game allows you to enable. I also chose the 4K option that still retains a reasonable performance with high frame rates. These two things will become relevant later in my discussion.
A Familiar Journey
Forspoken tells the story of Frey Holland, an orphan living in New York with her cat, Homer. Frey’s life isn’t the best as she’s constantly facing legal troubles and bad run-ins with drug dealers. One night Frey comes across a cuff which attaches itself to her and transports her to the magical land of Athia, grants her magical powers, and can talk…as cuffs often do.
Frey is initially seen as a threat by the people of Athia, but when she proves capable against the tyrannical Tantas, she’s seen as the kingdom’s protector. It’s up to Frey to battle the Tantas and, hopefully, find a way back home. The plot is nothing special and we’ve seen stories like this before, which doesn’t help when certain scenes try to be dramatic or impactful. However, the scenes' rushed nature makes it hard for the audience to empathize and immerse themselves further into the story.
You’ve seen this story before and you’ve seen these plot beats before. It’s your traditional “teen power fantasy escapism” story, which you’ve probably experienced at least once in your past. In no way is this a bad thing.
There’s a good joke every so often. Some characters have their charm, and even Frey isn’t as “annoying” as people claim she is. Like the story she leads, Frey isn’t perfect, and that makes her an interesting protagonist. She’s rude and abrasive while also being fun and charismatic. We, the players, assist her through this journey of self-discovery and maturity.
Can she get a little annoying? Sure, especially when her lines repeat during gameplay way more times than I would have liked. However, when I’m looking back at the entire experience? I think people blew the whole thing out of proportion. Maybe it’s “sarcastic hero fatigue”, but I honestly don’t think Frey is that much of a deal breaker. She’s just fine the way she is and I would like to see her return one day.
Missions and Gameplay
In order for Frey to get another chance at the spotlight, this game needs to deliver a fun experience, and it does…sometimes.
The game is an open-world adventure and if you’ve played games of the same nature, you know what Forspoken offers. The map is filled with missions which progress the story, along with additional missions and activities outside of the main plot. The main story took me around 15 hours to complete, which included completing a few additional objectives. There’s plenty of content here to keep a player busy, but the content can be repetitive and if you’re sick of it in the main game, nothing will compel you to do the side stuff.
The gameplay is functional and some of Frey’s abilities can be fun, especially during traversal. But soon, little problems begin to pile up.
Frey can parkour, which would serve as your main traversal method throughout Athia. While parkouring, Frey runs faster, elegantly jumps over things in her path, automatically leaps to great distances, and if an enemy attacks her during parkour, she automatically dodges the attack.
This sounds really fun, and it is…until you realize how limited the parkour is. Frey might cover great distances, but she’s pretty useless in scaling a mountain. She has an option to gain more height if she’s in contact with a wall, but only once, and if it happens again, it’s a miracle. This makes using the parkour to climb a wall or a mountain more complicated than it should be.
In addition, Frey takes fall damage, immediately feels at odds with the kind of free-form movement experience the developers are going for here. If you want me to maneuver and explore your world, why limit me when it comes to climbing and falling down? Isn’t this supposed to be a wish fulfillment scenario?
Problems like these also plague Frey’s powers during combat. Our heroine has two sets of attacks: close range and long range. You can also activate a joint attack once the special meter is full. With the PS5 version, L2 serves as the melee move, while L1 allows you to choose between the moves you have, and R2 is your long range attack, with R1 allowing you to choose which attack you use. It takes a bit to get used to, but it’s adjustable.
However, what I can say for certain is that the way actual attacks work is broken, and not in the sense which makes a game too easy. Each attack, especially in the long range department, can be charged for a stronger version if you hold down the button instead of just pressing it over and over. It’s not a bad idea on paper, a nice risk vs. reward mechanic. What baffles me is that neither attack really changes the amount of damage caused to enemies. A simple shot or a charged shot will net you the same results. While the concept is great, it’s poorly executed within the game.
Worse than that is Forspoken's weakness system. If you played Mega Man, you’re familiar with the concept. You take down a boss, you get their weapon, and then you use the weapon on a boss who’s weak to it. In Mega Man, however, not only did the weakness apply only to boss fights, but you could also take on the bosses in the order you want. Forspoken has a set narrative which determines which Tanta you’re going after next. The Tanta aren’t weak to each other’s weapons. The regular enemies are, however, and you might come across an enemy which you have to take down without the means to use its weakness to your advantage.
I should stress that it is possible to take down enemies without their weakness, but it takes a long time. Don’t be surprised if your finger hurts while playing.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: “It’s probably a game challenge and once you get the weakness, the enemies go down like flies.” Well, no. The enemies go down just as slowly, even with you using a weapon that targets their weakness. I had to look up videos to make sure wasn’t accidentally doing something wrong. In the end, the enemies take a long time to kill, and if you’re not careful, they can end your journey before can utter out: “Why is this weakness system even in the game if it affects nothing!?” Believe me, I timed it.
As a game, Forspoken is an unbalanced experience which can be fun until the lack of balance raises its ugly head and destroys any kind of goodwill it builds.
The frame rate, for example, tanks when things get busy. While it never becomes too distracting or unbearable, it’s a noticeable issue given that similar settings in other games (on the same console) seem far more stable.
Forspoken doesn’t have terrible graphics by any means, but we’ve seen better in this generation and it’s a shame that this 2023 game cannot match releases from months (or even years) ago.
Like its protagonist, Forspoken is a game that’s very troubled and flawed, but has commendable features within it to keep you engaged. If you were even slightly curious about it, I say it’s worth a shot. From what I can see, it's not a super expensive release (I got it on lunch day for about $50), so if you want to try something to play between the big releases and not break the bank, then this game is worth a shot.
I want to address that this is the debut game by Square Enix’s new studio, Luminous Productions (including several team members who worked on Final Fantasy XV). Considering all the fire this game receives online — some justified and some not — I think it’s important to mention that this project seems like a very personal endeavor for the team. Throughout my playtime, I felt the passion and love they poured into this game. It doesn’t excuse the faults or means you have to like it, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning that care was put into this game.
In case someone from Luminous Productions is reading this, I want to state that the flaws I mentioned aren’t intended as an attack; hopefully this feedback means Frey's next adventure will be even better. The DNA of a good game can be found here; a great game, evne. I know that with some fine-tuning and additions, a sequel for Forspoken can definitely establish this as a successful new franchise for Square Enix.
If Frey gets another chance to parkour, while learning from this first outing, I’ll be more than happy to journey to Athia once again and see this up-and-coming studio become something big.
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