Here is our review of Square Enix's Forspoken. Is it good? Find out here!
Reviewed on PlayStation 5
Discourse and Prologue
Despite middling reviews, Forspoken has been a big talking point over the last month or so. After dropping a demo that did not quite manage to show off the game's better qualities, rumors of a botched PC Port (I hear it's fine just very hardware hungry), and other weird discourse. It was apparent from the get-go that this game wasn't going to get the fairest treatment by both reviews and the internet landscape.
And it just shows how much one trailer that people clown on for a while can derail the entire conversation around a game and poison the well when it comes to the collective opinion on a title.
So I had the pleasure to play Forspoken right as the reviews started to roll in, which made for an interesting experience. So before we get into the nitty-gritty of things, let me tell you one thing: You all need to chill out. Forspoken is a fine game with a lot of fun to be had, even if it's a little rough around the edges.
Story and Tonal Whiplash
At this point, everyone has probably heard and laughed at the ‘Oh so bad' dialogue of Forspoken. While I don't think it is bad at all, especially within the context of the game. I will also admit that I'm way more tuned into the whole ‘It's just like one of my Japanese anime' aesthetic of it. As an enjoyer of trash and lowbrow media, I found Forspoken rather entertaining.
Sure the writing isn't going to win any awards, but in the year 2023, it's refreshing to play a fantasy narrative that plays it straight for the most part. There is this weird thing in media these days, especially in games and genre movies/TV, where the work often comes off as ‘ashamed of itself'. As if it has to make some sort of excuse for its existence. A fantasy story these days isn't worth much if it isn't a deconstruction of the Hero's Journey, apparently.
Forspoken fools you. With its aesthetics and PEGI-18 rating you might get the impression that it is such a work. But it turns out that under the hood, Forspoken is just a more western take on the popular Isekai (Japanese: 異世界, transl. “different world” or “otherworld”) genre with the vibe of a young adult novel similar to something like Percy Jackson. It happily lives in the space of ‘Genre-Trash' and revels in it.
In Forspoken, you take on the role of Frey Holland, a young woman from New York City who can't catch a break. She gets into trouble with the law and tries to make due by any means necessary. The only good thing in her life is her cat, Homer. And the prologue does a decent job of getting you into her headspace; she's a down-on-her-luck young adult with a good heart. The kind of protagonist you'd expect for this kind of story.
After some hijinks, she finds herself transported into another world and bound to a talking bracelet she names ‘Cuff', who'll also serve as your travel companion. The world she finds herself in is called Athia, a fantastic world that has fallen to ‘the break' a kind of miasma that corrupts, twists, and degrades everything it touches. But thanks to the help of Cuff, Frey can fight back against the horrors of the break with newly found magic powers.
All of this is a somewhat generic setup but in 2023, a straightforward fantasy story that takes itself just seriously enough is oddly refreshing. Frey is a charming, well-realized character, she puts up a tough girl front that her snarky, smug jewelry constantly chips away at. She gets hyped up, she gets frustrated and she's not good at that whole getting along with people thing. I like her.
I think Forspoken's story sort of falls apart when it tries and tell the story of a young woman coming into magical powers and turning into the hero of another world is the PG-18 rating. And is fascinating because the team's previous outing, Final Fantasy XV suffered from a similar issue. It feels like Forspoken wants to go two ways with its narrative, be this fun coming-of-age story while also telling the tragic tale of a world falling apart.
And while Forspoken manages to navigate this into a perfectly average, not-so-special story. Like many other games, it takes itself a little too seriously for its own sake. The game tackles some hard subject matters without getting into them too much, but it feels like the fantasy fluff clashes with the more fleshed-out world and characters. And by trying to have it both ways, Forspoken falls a little flat in both departments.
Another thing I found interesting is also the amount of writing and world-building that is scattered around the world. This is probably due to the open-world nature of the game, but it feels a little disjointed that most of the world-building and backstory happens in item descriptions you find scattered around the world. But at least you get Frey and Cuff commenting on these notes, which pulls you back into the world after it kicked you into a menu.
Open World Galore
Confession time. After finally acquiring PlayStation 5, I've been playing some of Sony's last-gen offerings. Namely Ghost of Tsushima and Horizon: Forbidden West. The context of this is important because Forspoken felt like a breath of fresh air after these two. It's still full of the usual open-world stuff, with the Ubisoft towers (at least you don't have to climb them), collectibles, and outposts to clear out.
At least Forspoken doesn't indulge in the tried and true ‘play it your way' gameplay gimmicks that are so prevalent. Not having the option to stealth and or do tactical takedowns is rather refreshing. But the tradeoff is that you, quite frankly, won't find much variety in what to do here.
This makes it sound like the world of Forspoken is not worth exploring, but I didn't mind checking off objectives on the map when it was fun to get there and the combat was engaging once you got there. What's also nice is that the game will always tell you what your rewards are before you even get there. So you can decide if a place is worth checking out if the rewards are new gear or a boost to your stats.
But I also believe if you play Forspoken like a checklist open-world title, you probably won't have a good time at first. Most of the objectives are way more fun in the late game when you have all the abilities unlocked and traversal becomes much faster. And luckily, Forspokens generously placed Fast Travel points as well as almost instant load time, making it super easy to clean up the map of objectives.
The game will often point you toward a faraway point on the map and it's up to you what objectives you want to tackle on the way there. It also lets you place multiple waymarks so you can plot a route to get there. And that's how I tackled the open world, marked a few objectives I figured were worth doing since none of them take long anyways, and picked up whatever I found in between.
And Forspoken's open world would've been rather boring if you would have to travel through it by foot or ride some sort of steed. Instead, you get magical parkour and an ever-increasing arsenal of spells to supplement it. So by the midgame, you can effortlessly scale mountains, zip through forests, or magically surf along the little rivers and lakes.
I love the way you can move in Forspoken, it just feels right. It reminds me of Assassins Creed Unity in a way, with its more involved parkour and movement. Yes, you could just hold down sprint and get to a place promptly, but if you make full use of your arsenal of jumps and magical grapplehook, you'll get there way faster, which is probably where we should talk about the gameplay.
Gameplay as the Sorceress Thief
If Frey had a character class in a DnD campaign, it would probably be a cross between a sorceress and a thief. Quick and nimble while also unleashing devastating spells at a second's notice. Combat in Forspoken is fun, it's fast and all about using the right kind of magic at the right time. At first, you only have access to Frey's magic which is based on earth and plant life. You can chug rocks at the enemy while tying them down with veins or infecting them with a flower that deals damage over time effect.
It's a system that grows gradually because as you progress through the story, you unlock more types of magic to play around with. Fire magic, for example, gives you access to magical melee weapons as well as the ability to create minions that fight alongside you as well as a grapple that drags enemies to you or you to the enemy.
Here I want to note that despite not being the biggest fan of the PlayStation 5 controller's adaptive triggers, I love that it is used here to give you alternative fire modes for your attack spells.
Spells in Forspoken come in two varieties, your main attack spells and supportive spells. Your attack spells range from an autofire and a charged-up rock throw to flaming fists of fury and summoning a thunderstorm. And all of them can be upgraded and enhanced to make them even more powerful or get specific bonuses out of them.
Support spells range from temporary shields and counters to special attacks and debuffs. And once you've unlocked more types of magic and more support spells the game really starts to open up. There are some nasty ability combinations in there and most of the fun I had with this game was experimenting with all types of magic.
Combine this with the fast, fluid movement and being surrounded by a staggering amount of enemies on the harder difficulty and you're going to have a good time. And that's probably also the reason why Forspoken adopted Devil May Cry's style meter. You're rewarded for doing well in combat and using a variety of spells. Suddenly combat is no longer about killing everything on screen but also about doing it as stylishly as possible.
Combat is best when you're surrounded and have to deal with evil minions while also fighting some gargantuan eldrich horror. The only issue I found is that the camera is a little too zoomed in at times, but it also adds to the chaotic nature of combat. Parry's are also a little weird because you can only use them after you get hit by a normal attack and it takes a bit to get used to.
A little side thing I'd also want to praise is the variety of enemies you get to fight. While Forspoken also falls victim to the tried and true enemy design concept of ‘human but-‘, the types of enemies you'll fight at least have their own identity. You have the zombies that'll crowd you if you're not careful, tiny creatures that are fast and hard to hit, hulking goliaths you can only really damage from the back, and a variety of creatures.
While none of them stand out visually, in combat, all of them have their own distinct identity, which especially shines when you're going up against big groups with all sorts of them. I didn't see anyone else mention it in their reviews, so I'd like to put a spotlight on it here.
Beautiful RPG Progression
What's also praiseworthy is Forspoken's progression and equipment options. It's honestly everything you'd want from this kind of action RPG, giving you a lot of options to kit out Frey exactly as you need her.
You learn new abilities by spending Mana, which you can either collect in the overworld since they are dotted in clusters and enticingly laid out paths, or by leveling up. Just collecting these is already fun in its own right, they are just naturally placed in paths you would run down anyways. But you can spend them to unlock all sorts of ability trees.
Every type of magic gets its own skill tree. Some of these skills are locked behind mana wells you'll have to visit in the overworld but most of your offensive and supportive capabilities are hidden here. Little pro tip: you should invest early on in the skills that enable more crafting options; you'll thank me later.
It's also great that you can just change your entire skill tree on a whim. If you don't like a particular set of magic or can't find any use for it, just take back the mana and spend it on something else instead. The system would be perfect if some of the supportive spells were not locked behind others that I found less useful.
Equipment is similarly great, instead of having certain buffs tied to a particular piece of equipment, unlocking that piece of equipment also lets you craft its buff for other pieces. Later you can also increase all individual stats on a piece of equipment once you've unlocked the corresponding skill. This lets you customize any piece to your heart's content and shape it to your play style.
I created a set that boosts my damage across the board as long as my health was full with the ability to heal up passively whenever I land a critical hit, which encouraged a very dodge-heavy playstyle. And that's a bit of a running theme with Forspoken in general. You get out of it what you put into it. Just like the combat, if you start to tinker around with your equipment, you can come up with some nasty combinations that make this kind of RPG shine.
You'll also unlock later the option to take on little challenges for individual abilities. Like using them a certain number of times or setting them up in a specific way and so on. Doing these will give you a passive bonus to your stats and sometimes enhance the ability, like reducing their stamina cost or cast time. Which also encourages you to use abilities you'd usually ignore.
Looks Good, Sounds Meh
Forspoken looks exactly like what you'd expect an early ‘next gen' title to look like. Its graphics surely won't win any prizes either but a strong, maybe a bit uninspired art direction and the sheer volume of things on the screen at a time.
Especially the animations in both combat and traversal are amazing. Frey rushing towards a door with 100 miles an hour only to backflip off it and kick it open just feels right to look at. The entire game just ‘flows'. The only thing that's a bit disappointing is the facial animations in cutscenes; they look a little stiff but never reach the BioWare/Bethesda dead inside levels.
Graphically, all the zones you get to visit also look amazing in motion. If you stop and smell the roses for a while, you'll notice some ugliness here and there. I noticed that whenever the game ran for an extended amount of time, some textures wouldn't load properly and Frey's coat would look like a blurry mess. This was particularly bad in one of the last cutscenes in which an important object's texture and model wouldn't load properly.
The level design is probably not everyone's cup of tea, though. I'm perfectly fine with generic fantasy zones designed after whatever element they're supposed to represent. But I do like how each location has its own visual identity.
From desert hellscape with steep cliffs to vast plains of green and beautiful Lakelands. It's not Horizon: Forbidden West pretty, but I do like that the locations have a unique look that looks like nothing else in the game. My personal highlight was a collapsed Castletown hanging off a cliff.
Wish I could say the same about the music though. It's a bit of a mixed bag with the fantasy hip-hop tracks probably being a standout. But similar to the story and atmosphere, it's a little too gloomy for my taste to encourage wanderlust. I also can't really point to a track that particularly stuck out to me either. That doesn't mean the soundtrack is all over the place, it's fine but nothing special. I kinda wished they would've leaned more into those fantasy tracks with hip-hop RnB vibes.
7,5/10 I Kinda Like it Even if my Brain tells me Otherwise
Forspoken falls into a really weird niche of video games. It is one of the first big next-gen titles, made by a studio that had to ‘redeem itself' from a company whose brand is Japanese fantasy RPGs. And they made a very western open-world action RPG with all the design trappings of that genre, as well as that style of writing. No matter what, Forspoken had to fight an uphill battle, even without the memes spawned from its marketing.
So I'm not going to sit here on a high horse and tell you that the influences, Twitter users, and other review sites are wrong about the game. But if it isn't apparent yet, while I think some of the criticism is valid, I do think Forspoken was yet another victim of the internet hype machine.
And had it come out a few years earlier, no one would've cared as much. But now that we're all fatigued by the expansive open worlds and painfully mature writing, Forspoken was somewhat unjustly thrown under the bus.
Instead, let's try and figure out who Forspoken is for. If you can enjoy an average fantasy story, with no aspirations to be anything but. I think you'll have a good time with it. It's nothing to write home about but I thought the world-building and characters were charming enough to get me through the experience.
The real meat, however lies in its gameplay and open world. While the open world is a rather standard affair, the way you engage and move through it is more entertaining than it has any right to be. And combat is also one of these cases in which you get more out of it if you start putting more into it. And I hope that Forspoken spawns a small community of people posting clips of their stylish combat.
On that note, I really hope that we get some more postgame content. I would happily pay the money for some DLC if we could get a Bloody Palace-like combat gauntlet with limited healing resources and some cool gameplay gimmicks.
Critically, I believe Forspoken's big problem is that it tries too hard to be a mature fantasy story, while clearly being set up and written like a young adult novel. But it plays really well and that more than makes up for the rather generic content you'll find in its open world. And last I checked, docking points of something just because everyone else does it isn't exactly fair criticism. The execution isn't even bad, it's average at worst.
I'm feeling a 7.5/10 it's closer to a 7 than an 8 and it's not exactly something I'd recommend buying, especially at full price if the gameplay doesn't look remotely interesting to you. But I really hope that Forspoken enjoys success in the future after some DLC and a reduced price. But it's Square Enix so I wouldn't bet on it.
Forspoken is now available on PlayStation 5 and PC. For more reviews and the latest in gaming and esports, visit us here at ESTNN