What type of game is Forspoken?
Forspoken is an open-world, action-adventure game developed by Luminous Productions and published by Square Enix. It comprises magic, monsters, and a vast fantasy world to explore with a unique and enjoyable parkour traversal system. It’s available on PC and PS5.
What To Expect From Forspoken
I’d like to preface this review by saying I’m afraid I must disagree with many other reviews I’ve read about this game. Is it perfect? No. Does it deserve the absolute slaughter it received? No. Not even close. Forspoken isn’t by a long stretch as bad as people are crying that it is. Now look, yes, I know the studio has been folded into Square Enix, and that doesn’t bode well for how they think it went, but the fact remains. Forspoken is solid. Let me explain why it deserves a chance.
Forspoken is the urban-fantasy-come-high-fantasy tale of Frey Holland, a girl growing up on the streets of New York. She is transported to a new, confusing world of magic, dragons, and monsters when she’s at her lowest. Discovering her own power, and with the help of a sarcastic sentient cuff, she sets out to save the world. Reluctantly. With writing from Gary Whitta (Rogue One, The Book of Eli), Amy Henning (Uncharted), Todd Stashwick (Star Trek Picard, 12 Monkeys) and Alison Rymer (Shadowhunters), there are high expectations. Mostly, the story is very good, with some exciting concepts and one major choice.
The world of Athia is beautifully crafted and fun to explore, and the story will draw you in. the biggest appeal is the magic parkour. The magic system is a treat with great-looking and varied abilities you can develop as the game progresses. The traversal system is fun, running at speed and jumping over and up all the things. It makes the world feel very explorable and is a lot of fun. Crafting is helpful for potions, upgrades and more. Similarly, your magic abilities can also be expanded and upgraded.
How Long Is Forspoken?
The game comprises 17 chapters, each with many quests that make up the main story and many side quests and dungeons to explore. The world itself is a sandbox; when you’re travelling to a quest point, you’ll be able to explore all sorts of areas that can lead to new discoveries, some impressive monsters and treasure. In the game, these dungeons are referred to as detours. Side quests have an interesting range; a particular highlight was taking photos for the kids using Frey’s mobile phone. On average, the game will take about 12-16 hours to beat the main story and over 20 hours to complete everything. Someone worked out that Athia is the size of Manhattan, so as you can imagine, it’s a big world to explore! The world is split into four main areas, and new exploration methods open up as you develop additional skills.
A Whole New World
People complained about how the game looks visually, but you can see from the screenshots that it doesn’t look bad at all. On both PC and PS5, I enjoyed what I saw. I didn’t notice stuttering, poor framerates, too much bloom or strange colours. While I’m not here to say that all the reviewers who did experience these things are wrong, and perhaps it’s been patched in the interim, this wasn’t my experience. The game looks great. The magic looks better, and I had no complaints about the animations.
You can enjoy the visuals in several modes, performance, quality, and ray tracing. For PC, the spec requirement is high, so you’ll want a pretty decent machine to run the ray tracing without issues. The recommendation for ray tracing mode is at least 16GB RAM and an RTX2060S.
The game uses AMDs FSR2 tech to use AI to upscale images. What really impressed me, though, was the magic. The spell effects were a visual delight, and when you combine this with the parkour traversal system, you get a true cinematic spectacle in combat. Monsters, NPCs, and bosses all looked good to me and had a variety to be interesting and fit into the unique world of Athia.
When it comes to the world itself, it feels very much in line with high fantasy environments. Big sprawling worlds of mountains, hills, and deserts with a few medieval towns and cities for good measure. One of the complaints people had been that the world felt boring. Again, I’m afraid I must disagree with this. As a high fantasy lover, I enjoyed exploring this vast open world. While it felt familiar in places, it did offer some unique elements.
We Have To Talk About Sound
Regarding the sound, we need to talk about the voice acting and SFX alongside the soundtrack overall.
The soundtrack is a beautiful blend of traditional orchestral music that fits so well in a high fantasy world, with rising crescendos for those boss battles. The use of the harp throughout gave it a subtle uniqueness. In addition, you then get these more modern tracks with the vocals of India Carney. Overall, the blend works so well and perfectly highlights the dichotomy of the character’s journey from present-day New York to Athia.
Ella Balinska does a fantastic job at bringing Frey Holland to life. From her trouble with the law in the opening scenes through to her arrival in Athia and then her growth throughout the game, there is a clear lineage of development in the performance.
Meanwhile, the exasperated mentor ‘cuff’ is portrayed by Jonathan Cake. His performance reminded me of JARVIS from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and I will admit to referring to the character as ‘magical JARVIS’ when talking about the game. The relationship between the two characters develops nicely, and I will admit to enjoying their back-and-forth interactions.
This brings me to another elephant in the room and another of the game’s most common critiques. The writing. People objected to the cheesy dialogue, surface-level development, and tropes aplenty. Now, sure, there are plenty of tropes. But I challenge anyone to point out any work of modern storytelling that doesn’t utilise some tropes. Is this a problem? Not really. We accept it in so many other mediums as perfectly fine. While Forspoken uses plenty of fantasy tropes, I didn’t feel the story was predictable, nor the world. It was an immersive experience.
The Dialogue Isn’t That Bad
Regarding the dialogue and the pairing of Frey and ‘Cuff’, I was astonished when people were so critical, calling them ‘insufferable’. The dialogue felt suitable for the characters and felt very on par with mass-market movies like those in the MCU. There were some cheesy comedy and dramatic lines, yet I reckon it would have been lapped up if it were a Marvel hero and not a new IP. It also wasn’t half as bad as people have said. At least, not in my opinion.
I will also say the emotional development of the character Frey from a selfish, loner child to a hero of a whole world is quite the journey to go on. Sure, Frey isn’t likeable initially, but she grows on you. This emotion-led character is perfectly tempered by ‘Cuff’, who offers plenty of sarcasm and dry humour. Sure, it isn’t for everyone, but if you like what Marvel has done, you’ll probably like most of this.
While Fantastic, Forspoken Has One Flaw
So, as I said at the start of my review, this game isn’t perfect. At the same time, I can’t justify being as critical about it as others. I genuinely did enjoy playing it on both PC and PS5. The game does have one major flaw. The pacing. Forspoken suffers from a disjointed approach to the narrative that is hard to forgive. Excessive uses of fade to black and being frozen on the spot during long dialogue scenes. This forced wait resulted in frustration and unnecessary pauses in the story or action sequences. Overall, it felt disjointed when this happened, and I can’t understand why you can’t run and talk to cuff or why fade-to-black was required in many places. It makes it feel prolonged.
How Does Steam Deck Handle Forspoken?
So, as I had both the PC and PS5 versions to test, I had to check out the game on Steam Deck. Steam Deck is incredible as a piece of kit, and I genuinely love it. Having a large selection of my PC game library on the go is a dream come true. So, I was shocked when I discovered that Forspoken worked on Steam Deck. Sure, the game will start you on the lowest possible settings, but it can be tweaked to get a slightly improved visual without detriment to the performance. I experienced a few stutters occasionally; otherwise, it was very playable, even if loading times were longer than I had hoped. The fact that it works at all is basically magic.
Is Forspoken better on PC or PS5?
If you have a high-end gaming PC, go with that version. The PC version gave me a much higher graphical quality, but that’s down to my PC, and replication will depend on your machine. It also allows for play on the Steam Deck. PS5, on the other hand, is pretty much play-and-go. Controls-wise, I would recommend a controller on both platforms as it makes the game so much more intuitive and responsive, especially in combat. If you only have a PS5 or prefer a console to PC, then you won’t be disappointed with this version either. It’s still very, very good.
Forspoken Doesn’t Deserve the Hate
I thoroughly enjoyed Forspoken. Genuinely. I know some people may find that difficult to believe because of the hate it received online, but I liked it so much that I played it on both PC and PS5 to completion. If you’re a fan of high fantasy and want to check out the magic parkour, I urge you to give Forspoken a chance and try it yourself. Yes, you might find the dialogue cheesy in places, and sure, the stopping to get info dumps or fade-to-black can disrupt gameplay, but this is one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played in 2023.