Forspoken has had it a bit rough. One infamous trailer, tonnes of delays, and a little too much hype have made it hard to fully summarise how good it might be. It's a game that lives in parallels - fun enough to keep playing yet dull enough to leave you wanting more.
In my time with it, I've flitted back and forth on what I truly think. This has led to me wanting to drop it after just a few hours but also playing on after the final credits to mop up all those objectives. Forspoken lingers in between being a bad good game or a good bad game and I think that is exactly why I kind of like it.
It grabs the sensibilities of modern open-world design and throws it into the gameplay and story of the 360 era - giving something that is both an indictment and celebration of the worst parts of gaming. It's unique in a wholly unexceptional way.
Table of Contents
As most peoples entry to Forspoken, let's start with Frey Holland, our main character. She is feisty and naive, a 20-year-old New Yorker ripped straight out of the MCU. She comes from a rough background, was abandoned as a child, and has been left to fend for herself most of her life. This lead her to bad people and a life of crime - not many chances left.
She lives to collect shoes, watch her cat, and make just enough money to get away. When, late one night, her savings and apartment are burned down by other criminals, she finds a magical cuff that transports her to another world. To put it simply, Forspoken is an Isekai tale - a trope in anime and manga about a character leaving their old consumerist life behind for something fantastical. A side character suddenly becomes the most important person in the world.
If this sounds like a basic plot, it is. Forspoken has a very rough few opening hours, filled with needless dialogue, exposition explaining what's in front of you, and even some stealth sections. This isn't helped by its choice of dialogue. Frey is a fish out of water who never quite knew how to swim in the first place. She occasionally comes off like a parody of a '90s sitcom without the self-awareness to stand on her own two feet. This is especially strange given only she and the cuff act that way. She is seen as an outsider to the world she finds herself in but I doubt she fits in much in New York.
There's a part early on in Forspoken where you have to trek out to Reddig castle. Here, you find six paintings in a hall leading up to the throne. Most games may give you the option to read them and get a little more information on the world. Forspoken forces you to interact with them one by one, getting your cuff to explain them to you. It takes what should be subtext and makes it text. This storytelling by blunt force approach permeates the entire game.
The first few hours are very slow because Forspoken doesn't quite trust you to just explore the world. You are given parts of the game piecemeal and catch up to the rest later on. It feels like linear storytelling injected into an open world. Instead of tightening the story and loosening everything else, it ends up with everything becoming just a little messy.
This is a shame as the flashes of that open world you see early on are interesting. Athia, the land you have been transported to, is filled with terrain and cruel creatures - inflicted by a curse called the break. Being immune to its powers, you are tasked with helping out one of the final settlements by collecting the research of those who have long passed. You and your cuff have powers that help you fight off enemies and climb the world's huge cliffs.
Parkour is fluid and fun, favouring speed over accuracy. If you choose to slow down, you catch on objects and can't quite land properly but none of this matters when you are just so quick.
A world worth exploring
In order to incentivise really investigating the open world, Forspoken's level system is a bit different to what you might think. Frey has a handful of skill trees throughout the game that give you access to new spells. They then shake up combat and allow for better combos. You spend Mana to unlock them and levelling up gives you more Mana.
This being said, stats are increased through challenges, monuments, and gear. You do not see a stat buff when your level increases. This means fully exploring the world is how you get stronger. This is a great system that disincentivises grinding and encourages curiosity. Unfortunately, the story of the game doesn't really take you around the whole map.
By the time you finish the game, you will have only seen half of the map and will have left many of your skills locked. This does technically mean there's somewhat of an end-game but it's less fun without a narrative to chase.
A storied history
For the most part, the narrative is decently told and picks up quite a lot near the end. You may not want to push through those first few hours but there's quite a lot of fun there if you do. Everything about it, from the pacing to the big twists, reminds me of the offerings of modern Marvel, in both bad and good ways. It focuses on continuity, never locking you out of stories or overly committing to a finite ending.
This leaves some place for interpretation but also feels narratively cowardly. I don't feel much accomplishment from beating it but do from beating the game's toughest challenges. The most satisfying part of the game is how Frey's magic works. There are a few styles of magic you pick up throughout the game that focus on different colours.
These colours then decide which creatures are vulnerable or resistant to you. If you want to be really good, you have to figure out when to play moves and when to store up the next big hit. There's a mechanic called surge that lets out one big move from any of your trees but the cooldown is shared by all of them so you have to plan out and execute your very best moves. This feels great
Falling from a great height
For every good system or idea Forspoken has, there's something dragging it down. It has a solid combat system but many of the combat pieces don't fully fit together. Enemies often attack at the same time and don't always have the best rhythm, leading to many of their shots missing for no apparent reason.
Though the world is big and occasionally interesting, it is often not explored organically and is just a little too big to really hold my attention. These little issues hold down Frey as she jumps over tall buildings. They are anchors around her feet, never quite allowing her to climb. She sees heights above her but knows she can never reach them.
A copy of Forspoken was provided by the publisher.