Transporting Frey, a young woman from the 21st century, to a mysterious fantasy world is an interesting basis for a story, albeit one that can lead to the awkward moments we saw in that ill-fated trailer. The super speed parkour traversal is also something that has the potential to feel great and set Forspoken apart from other open-world games.
Recently, I got the chance to play about four hours of Forspoken and get a better understanding of the game’s story, how combat works, the scale of the open world, and a lot more.
Forget about that trailer
To get it out of the way and focus on the meat of the game, I first want to allay fears that Forspoken is full of cringey dialogue and countless eye-roll moments. I won’t pretend it’s perfect - many of the lines you’ll have seen in the trailer are there verbatim - but they don’t stand out quite as I feared.
Dialogue can be a little wooden and Frey (your character) doesn’t always speak like a young woman from New York actually would, but it’s no worse than almost any other Square Enix fantasy RPG.
It’s the traversal that really stands out in Forspoken. With the help of her talking Cuff - think the ten rings in Shang Chi but with the voice of a 1950s English gentleman - Frey can dash around the world when you hold Circle. You can leap over enemies, run up walls, and jump from any height without having to worry. It makes running around Forspoken’s world pretty seamless and adds breathlessness to combat.
Sometimes, it’s too fast for its own good. Controlling exactly where Frey is going when she’s at full pelt isn’t as easy as I’d hoped. It sometimes suffers from what I always think of as old-school Assassin’s Creed syndrome, where Frey will mount things I didn’t want her to, or climb buildings in not quite the right direction. Sprinting around isn’t exactly precise. That being said, it’s fun when it all works as you envisage.
I was a little disappointed that the parkour wasn’t really utilised in exploration much, too. I’d love for there to be more of a reason to run up buildings or to hard-to-reach places. In the three chapters I played (two, three, and five) it didn’t have much use beyond just getting from place to place quickly.
A lot of potential in combat
Frey’s Cuff, and her running ability, are a big part of Forspoken’s combat too. Using various spells, of which there are 100, you try to dodge and strafe while chipping away at enemies’ health.
As expected from a Square Enix RPG, it’s fast-paced, but the variety in spells allows for a lot of experimentation. I only had the chance to use one type, but there will be red, blue, and green magic, each with a range of defensive, ranged, and close-range attacks. The one I stuck to mostly was pretty conventional, firing shots from the Cuff as a gun would. It’s a mid-range spell that allowed me to follow enemies and it was particularly useful in boss fights.
I’m really interested to see how the huge variety of spells changes the combat and whether there’s one approach that really stands out. With my chosen spells at least, I didn’t love the combat when multiple enemies attacked me at once. Forspoken’s lock-on mechanic is unreliable and it’s so difficult to know where enemies are attacking from. I couldn’t really grasp dodge timing, which is made even worse when the screen is filled with an explosion of fire, magic, and numbers.
The lack of feedback in combat also hampers the boss fights. The ones I played are well designed, and they come thick and fast, but limited indicators of when you’ve dodged successfully and when attacks are incoming make the learning curve a little frustrating.
I also relied on healing items in boss fights but such encounters come out of nowhere. I went into a particularly tough fight at the end of chapter three with no healing items in reserve and no way of getting them or quitting to go pick some up, which made the fight so much more frustrating.
Artificial open world
That’s not so much of an issue in the open world, where you can leave to go and do something else. There’s quite a lot to do in the open world too, from gauntlet-style sequences of fights culminating in a boss to simple collectible searching, but it’s just a bland world.
Athia, the fantasy world you’re in, feels artificial. There’s no sense of scale or majesty, just some rocky areas to run through. It’s not pretty or exciting, so I didn’t really feel compelled to explore. The cinematic story quests are so much more appealing, even if Athia is full of stuff to do.
The side quests I did play weren’t particularly compelling either. They were short and often involved speaking to poorly written characters who I just wanted to escape.
That poor level design isn’t limited to the side quests though. While the majority of the main story’s mission design is good, a ‘stealth’ section in one of the chapters I played was painful.
You’re tasked with “staying out of sight of the guards,” but it’s essentially on rails. Frey just follows another character when told to, wandering slowly through bright open areas and pretty much right in front of guards. It feels so stilted and awkward. Thankfully, it was the only section I played that was like it, but I can’t speak to whether it returns in the rest of the game.
After my four hours with Forspoken, I still want to see more. It’s not completely put me off. The premise and potential for hugely varied combat are interesting, but some aspects aren’t as good as I’d have hoped. The combat needs some tweaking, the traversal feels imprecise, the world is a bit bland, and some quests are far below the quality I expected.