Forspoken Review

Dan Webb

The origins of Forspoken developer, Luminous Productions, are rather interesting. Made up of former Final Fantasy XV developers, Luminous was an outfit originally set up in 2018 as an entertainment studio. But six months after its formation, former studio head Hajima Tabata departed, and Luminous Productions refocused. The reason why this is relevant, is because in its debut game, Forspoken, you can see glimpses of that Final Fantasy brilliance. And yet, it’s a game that’s doesn’t really have that same level of AAA magic and polish. It’s a little all over the place, in truth.


 

Forspoken sees you step into the shoes of Frey Holland, who after an unfortunate series of events, inexplicably ends transported to the fantasy land of Athia, looking for a way home. Athia is a long way from Frey’s previous home of New York City, not just in terms of distance, but with dragons, beasts and magic running rampant throughout the realm - it’s like something out of a movie. Thankfully, Frey isn’t alone. She’s got a talking vambrace called Cuff, who allows Frey to get her magic weaving on.

In essence, Forspoken is an action-adventure game, with fast-paced combat and parkour being at the core of the experience. On top of that, Frey has a ton of spells at her disposal, making the minute-to-minute gameplay a really interesting prospect. With a ton of support and offensive magic that range from distance attacks to something a touch more up-close-and-personal, combined with the fluidity of the movement mechanics, Forspoken offers an experience that’s pretty much unrivalled.

It’s not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and issues with the lock-on system, mainly because of how quickly combat can move, can prove frustrating. Forspoken is certainly unique, although I highly recommend turning off the haptic feedback for this game, unless you want repetitive strain injury after launching a thousand fireballs.

Forspoken’s world of Athia is a vast open world - in fact, it’s almost too big, and incredibly stark. By the time I’d run through the 20-hour campaign, I’d barely scratched the surface of the game’s colossal open world, meaning there’s more nothingness and repetitive open-world tasks to feast on should you want to. I, however, did not. The combat and traversal is fun, but it’s nothing without the plot and characters to link it together. Heck, the world is so big, that after a long-run on the game, it just wouldn’t load anymore and then would crash the game, suggesting Forspoken has a pretty severe memory leak.


 

Forspoken’s major issues, however, come from its actual pacing. While the original score (from Bear McCreary and Gary Schman) and the writing credits (which include Gary Whitta and Amy Hennig, alongside Allison Rymer, and Todd Stashwick) scream triple-A, the actual flow of the game is anything but.

There are too many awkward silences, weird transitions and things like static cutscenes, that really do hamper the game all too often. It feels like the game was designed in the 90s, with disjointed scenes that feel more at home in a Hollywood B-movie. Most scenes are so incredibly stilted, with unnatural pauses and delays in dialogue that really take the shine off the game.

Far too often was Frey locked in place while I waited for her to talk to her wrist, or I waited for the black screen to fade in that would signal the end of the scene. It makes what is otherwise a pretty solid experience enormously frustrating. It’s such a shame as well, as the world and the characters are so intriguing. Sure, Frey’s unwillingness to become the hero and her incessant whining and moaning do start to grate after a while, but other than that, we grew to like Forspoken’s fish-out-of-water protagonist, and her chemistry with Cuff - despite the fact that she’s perhaps the most selfish lead character we’ve ever come across in video games - an accolade I’m not sure Luminous should be too proud of.


 

While the interplay between Frey and Cuff does feel a little forced at times (and very Zoomer vs. Boomer), it actually works well as comic relief, in a game that is, for the most part, quite oppressive, foreboding, and humourless.

Forspoken is one of those games that really could have been something special. It checks a lot of boxes: the combat is great, the parkour traversal is fun, and the story and characters are actually pretty engaging. But its flow is all over the place, and that, coupled with some odd design decisions, means it’s nothing more than a could-have-been. That’s not to say that Forspoken isn’t a fun game, or even a decent one for that matter - it’s just hard not to look at it, and wonder what it could have been.

Forspoken

Forspoken is a really fun game to get lost in for a few hours, with a pretty damn good story and interesting cast of characters. However, with some unfortunate pacing and flow issues, and a world that feels large just for the sake of it, you can’t help but think about what could have been for Square Enix’s newest IP.

Form widget
70%
Audio
85%

The original composition from Bear McCreary and Gary Schyman is actually pretty fantastic - some of the open-world exploration pieces have a bit of a Skyrim vibe. Throw in a solid performance by Ella Balinska and Jonathan Cake as Forspoken’s bickering duo, and you can’t really complain.

Visuals
80%

There are times when Forspoken looks absolutely gorgeous, but the environments just feel so empty and formulaic, which takes the edge off the overall presentation. Same with the lip-syncing. Because the characters look so good, the less-than-stellar lip-syncing really stands out. The joys of the uncanny valley!

Playability
75%

The spell combat and parkour is great fun, if a little unwieldy at times, thanks to the speed at which you move. The lock-on system literally can’t keep up with the pace of the action.

Delivery
65%

A ginormous open-world that feels more dead than alive. Add to that some incredibly jarring and frustrating pacing and flow issues, and Forspoken’s delivery doesn’t match its ambition.

Trophies
50%

Honestly, they are so incredibly dull. They’re so by-the-numbers and lack any kind of creativity, that you can’t help but feel disappointed.

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