is best described as an awkward
experience. Its movement is awkward, its combat is awkward, its level design is awkward, its exploration is awkward and even its dialogue is awkward. And it takes some time before you feel comfortable living and playing amongst all of this… awkwardness
. And while many other reviews and reviewers -- at this written point -- might have a classic bait and switch like “but its redeemable qualities make it worthwhile to look past any such awkwardness” or “still, it’s a visual marvel to behold, so we can forgive some of that awkwardness” or maybe, “when you see past the awkward elements at play, the lore and world here is really great” there’s no such out
for Forspoken. The game is a mess of design ideas that don’t gel, a world bereft of life (even when there are people to converse with) and a heavily-touted traversal system that rarely inspires, let alone feels
good to use.
Forspoken is a game that consistently fails to deliver, despite some lofty ideas, and manages only to impress in the most obscure moments. Moments so few and far between we’d be surprised you made it there at all, let alone enough to even notice.
It’s a harsh intro, but stacked against the game’s own stellarly awkward opening sequence it doesn’t feel out of place. We kick things off as Frey in the most on-the-nose of ways -- a troubled delinquent facing court for the umteenth time on the cusp of turning 21, she is a smart kid who can’t seem to cut a break. She’s also acutely aware of her Good Will Hunting
condition and the nice judge lady gives her a break, sending her on her way with the sternest of warnings: stay out of trouble
. Of course, trouble finds our saved cat
and we get a glimpse of all the reasons Frey needs an immediate ‘out’ of her situation. Enter the rabbit hole
, not so subtly explored when we get some background on our soon-to-be-witch, who even has a copy of Lewis Carroll
’s Alice in Wonderland
in her abandoned apartment she’s clearly squatting in.
At this point you could make it a true Daily Double and just guess your way to the game’s eventual kick off point, and you’d probably pull ahead of all the other contestants.
"The game throws so much trope-flavoured juice at us that I’m surprised the fire meant anything at all...”
And I’m not even going to waste time on how the writing through all of this opening sequence is so bad that we’re told she can’t feed her cat wet food, despite having a bag full of (probably illegal) cash hidden away. Or that said cash gets burnt to a crisp when she doesn’t think to just grab it and take it in the direction away
from the fire she’s heading in anyway, because… reasons.
In fact the game throws so much trope-flavoured juice at us that I’m surprised the fire meant anything at all. Doused in the wet soppiness of proceedings as we were.
But I digress.
Eventually our troubled orphan (see: trope) steals (again) a pretty nice bracelet that just so happens to be voiced by an actor who clearly auditioned (and failed) for the role of J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man
and she finds herself in the not-at-all-colourful or Wonderland
-- a fantasy-esque place beset by a Corruption. And while we’re still troping away, our very clearly now person-of-destiny seems to be the only one who can not only withstand it, but also fight it back. And thus our journey begins…
Yeah, that was a mess of words. But the introduction to Forspoken is a bit of a mess in its own right. It takes some time before the player feels comfortable enough to just do
the land, and even then the game’s fairly substandard systems and loops barely scratch an itch to want to keep going.
"In between you pick flora for crafting and fight baddies to level up. When you level up you gain Mana and with Mana you learn more magic. Rinse, repeat...”
The setup is fairly simple. As a witch of destiny in the world of Athia, you (Frey) and your bracelet (Cuff) take on corrupted beats and parts of the world. You seek out safe shelters filled with lore and spells and beds and then you go on to the next space to do the same. In between you pick flora for crafting and fight baddies to level up. When you level up you gain Mana and with Mana you learn more magic. Rinse, repeat. There are breaks in this monotony of course. Friendly towns (eventually) let you frequent them and use shops and such, but it’s pretty standard stuff, and despite this all being of a design ilk, it’s not handled all that well, either.
Frey isn’t a terribly likeable character and she switches between angsty post-teen and bewildered fish-out-of-water so rapidly you’d think there were disparate writers from different age groups with different backgrounds both in charge or making her an affable
character. Moreover, even as an open-world game, I was in Athia for all of 15 minutes before Frey started repeating throwaway lines, and these came in on equal repeat every five minutes or so, which just reeked of laziness (a theme that carries throughout the game).
"It’s detrimental to the exploration experience here -- world design means nooks and crannies should be ripe for digging through, but once the immediate area is scanned you know where not to look...”
And while on the topic of the game being open-world, exploration is immediately ham-fisted by the game’s “Cuff-scanning” -- a tool to literally highlight parts of the environment housing things of interest, such as chests, flora and more. Think Odin Vision
from AC Valhalla
and you’ll know what it is. But as with that game, it’s detrimental to the exploration experience here -- world design means nooks and crannies should be ripe for digging through, but once the immediate area is scanned you know where not
to look. And Athia is already barren AF, so this leaves so much of the so-called ‘open-world’ as essentially set-dressing, which also happens to be not particularly easy on the eyes.
How the game tries to stand out then is in its stackable near-turn-based magic (defensive and offensive) and in its traversal system you’ve probably heard touted as “magical parkour”. We’ll tackle that second one shortly, but to begin with the game’s fairly interesting-but-far-from perfected combat setup is a good idea on paper, but rarely delivers in what it wants
to be. For one, the game’s controls aren’t very responsive, which can make aiming your ranged abilities among multiple baddies a bit of a pain. And two, the way in which you need to swap abilities on-the-fly with L1 or R1 -- where time slows -- is sluggish and convoluted. I get where the team was going with it, but it simply doesn’t flow, which is kind of antithetical to the ‘stylish’ fast and fresh angle Forspoken has been billed as.
Which is a perfect segue to that second point about traversal. The so-called “magical parkour” is a beefed up mess of a movement system. As if the dev team tried to reverse engineer Marvel’s Spider-Man
, removing his webbing and naming him Frey, but without any cool buildings or skyscrapers to move between. And it's problematic on the whole because the same system that allows for Frey to mantle and move swiftly through the game makes any close quarters movement a pain. She climbs on parts of the world you don't want her to, gets hung up on the environment and ultimately controls like Mr Bean
when in tight spaces, almost as if she’s fighting you
for control. And all of this is compounded by the fact Frey herself feels both floaty and
rigid; never attached or a proper part of the environment.
"Forspoken fails to endear any of that history or sense of import into its muted landscapes, and what is there feels like filler...”
And just on environments, Forspoken is a vapid game devoid of any real art
. There are ruins and other remnants of a world once alive strewn about the place, but nothing feels explorable or lived
. When walking the rolling hillsides of the earlier-mentioned AC Valhalla you got a sense for the land and its people; its history and your option to explore that. The Witcher 3
, which we’ve all just revisited, is a perfect example of how to fill a landscape with memories and mystique. But Forspoken fails to endear any of that history
or sense of import into its muted landscapes, and what is there feels like filler, amplified even more with the Cuff-scanning ability, making so much of the world simply… redundant
It’s a rough road to travel from here on out, because the game is lengthy should you choose to checklist complete it. And there’s plenty of meat here, if you’re willing to sift through its matted hide. But the larger question of “is it worth your time and investment?” reigns supreme and we’re hard-pressed to suggest you choose this over any number of other games available now. It’s not even remotely a benchmark for what the PS5
is capable of, for that there’s God of War Ragnarök
. And as far as open-world gaming goes, there’s just so much out there to choose from, it’s difficult to see how this even stacks up in the open-world gaming annals. Its magic is fun and can challenge you a bit when working out what to stack and when, but what you’re even fighting for just isn’t worth the time.
Moreover, the game’s heavily-touted magical parkour is a flash-in-the-pan system that really requires a fairly perfect line to ever feel great, and as mentioned earlier, in close and when trying to scale the environment in any sort of explorable form, it’s more hindrance than help.
Add to this a less-than-likeable Frey who barely manages to endear herself upon the player, and even less likeable NPCs and a bland, bland game-world I have no desire to learn more about, let alone live in (take me back to New York
and my real-world troubles there, please), and you have a game that just… lacks
. I tried to find value and good. I invested in the game’s systems and even poured into its lore -- budding writer that I am. And I came up empty. Because Forspoken is empty. It is awkward and empty; a game numb to character and charm, void of any personality or art or life
. It cast no spell on me, and gave me no want for more craft
. Rather, it left me feeling drained and confused and frustrated at poor writing, poor characters and a poorer world for them to exist in.
More importantly, it left me feeling awkward