Forspoken (PS5) review: A game with so much potential but fell short
Forspoken (PS5) review:
Few games have shown so much potential but fallen so short, as Square Enix’s latest action RPG title, Forspoken. Boasting some really promising gameplay elements such as a unique combat system that combines magic spells with the fluidity of parkour and a protagonist that is a young woman of colour, Forspoken could have been an outstanding game that also offers a refreshing take on the fantasy genre.
In Forspoken, you take control of Alfery “Frey” Holland, a troubled young woman from New York who is desperately trying to leave her current life of crime and being involved with one of the city’s gangs. After a brief introduction where Frey sees her hopes for a new life outside of New York literally go up in flames, she finds a mysterious bracelet in an abandoned house that magically transports her to the world of Athia, where a mysterious force is threatening every living thing across the land.
Frey soon realises that her bracelet is sentient and that it can communicate with her, so she promptly nicknames him Cuff. With Cuff at her side, plus some newfound abilities to cast spells, the story then takes Frey to the city of Cipal, the only place in Athia that is not yet corrupted by an evil energy that our protagonist refers to as “The Break”. Frey also learns quickly that The Break was caused by Athia’s four fallen female rules, known as the Tantas, whom Frey must eventually meet to set things right.
The overused deus ex machina of a down-and-out young person suddenly gaining magical powers and being tasked with saving the world is a bad start for Forspoken’s story, especially after what was a rather intriguing opening in the first few minutes of the game. While there were some interesting twists and turns as the tale continues to unfold, it doesn’t really get much better.
The storytelling was mainly ruined by the awkward character animations and the badly-paced dialogue in Forspoken’s cutscenes: while the voice acting was excellent, characters often took too long a pause before speaking and replying, even though they were supposed to be engaged in an animated conversation. The wooden character movement and expressions also make them look detached from the happenings around them.
I loved that Forspoken chose a woman of colour as its protagonist, and centres its story on an interesting cast of female characters – something you don’t always see in games. But the bad animation and dialogue turned what was otherwise a passable story into one that is boring, and the potentially interesting characters into bland NPCs that gamers cannot quite form a connection with.
As you progress through Forspoken’s story, you will quickly get access to the very large game world of Athia, and Frey can explore any location she wishes. While the idea of exploring Athia’s massive landscape sounded fun at first, I was disappointed after the first couple of hours. Athia’s many picturesque locations were some of the nicer in-game environments I’ve seen in a while, but the game world is devoid of anything other than trees, rocks, ruins, and countless enemies that roam the map.
In the more than 10 hours that I have spent exploring Athia, I did not run into a single NPC outside of the main city of Cipal, save for a lone merchant selling some equipment. The land of Athia is a desolate, lonely place, so much that any movement you see in the distance is just a visual cue to prepare for combat. The city of Cipal too, is an expense of dull, brown and grey buildings and with an uninteresting collection of wooden NPCs living in it.
This was a massive letdown, especially since the beautiful landscapes in Forspoken seem to promise so much. I initially tweaked the game settings so that the gameplay experience is geared towards exploring Athia freely, but I quickly switched those settings back to a story-focused gameplay once I realised how lonely and devoid of life Forspoken’s world is.
While Forspoken suffers from a bad story and a bland game world, it is in the combat department where this game actually shines. This title’s unique game mechanics, which combines parkour movements with spell casting, is fun and refreshing. Players can use Frey’s enhanced parkour skills to move swiftly across the battleground and leap to great heights, as well as combine these movements into a fluid and dynamic combat style that is very satisfying to execute. If you enjoyed chaining combos by zooming across the battlefield in games like the Dynasty Warriors series, you will enjoy Forspoken’s gameplay.
However, it must be noted that Forspoken’s combat style doesn’t always work smoothly, and players may need more than a few battles to grasp how it works. Part of this is attributed to the finicky controls that can sometimes cause you to lose your pace in battle. While this gets better after players have learned to adapt to the game, it can still be a bummer, especially in the bigger battles.
Another gripe I had with the game’s combat mechanics is the painfully slow pace at which Frey unlocks her magical powers. There are four spell elements in this game: earth, fire, water, and electricity. In the beginning, Frey only has access to the earth spells, and she only gets some of the more useful spells, weapons, and gear almost halfway into the game. This is quite a waste, as Forspoken’s combat is so much more fun after Frey unlocks most of her powers and capabilities, something that players should not wait for half a game to experience.
Outside of its main story, there is little else to do in Forspoken. While the game includes a simple crafting system that lets Frey create new gear, boosts, and upgrades, it does little to make the experience more interesting or engaging . The game is also littered with a number of side quests, called “detours”, which offer rewards in the form of experience points or powerful items. However, most of the detours are either boring fetch quests, or ones in which you will have to go to a certain location to defeat an enemy, with hardly anything interesting in between.
In sum, Forspoken offers a rather bland overall experience, with its main highlight being the game’s flowy combat system. Forspoken started out with the potential to be a triple-A title, but the bad character animation, awkward dialogue, lonely game world, and an unexciting story have brought it down a few notches. This is a game you may want to pick up when you have time to spare, but is hard to recommend as a title that you must play right now.