First revealed as Project Athia, Forspoken dropped many jaws when it was revealed as a graphical showcase for the power of the PS5. The trailer looked absolutely amazing with stunning art direction and plenty of sweeping vistas of a fantastical world, all rendered with an astute attention to detail. It’s been more than 2 years since that trailer was released, and we finally have Forspoken on our hands now.
While it might not match the precedent it set with the first trailer, Forspoken is still a graphical powerhouse. With this feature, we will be diving deep into the PS5 version Forspoken for a complete graphical analysis to find out what’s good and what’s not.
Forspoken uses the developer’s in-house Luminous Engine, which is a powerful tool capable of rendering detailed models and vast open-worlds, and when it comes to Forspoken, the team seems to have done a lot of updates to its rendering pipeline to make it better suited for a new console generation.
The first change is in terms of lighting, where we get full support for ray-tracing support for global illumination and shadows. And the second change is that the engine has been made to be a lot more flexible than before. Since Forspoken is the Luminous Engine’s first multi-platform release (it releases for PC at the same time) for current-gen hardware, it needs to account for a ton of system configurations both on the highest end and the lowest end. So, the game needs to scale accordingly with respect to performance for those variations.
This is why it isn’t surprising that Forspoken on PS5 gives players a total of 6 graphics modes to choose from. The engine also seems more robust than before in terms of handling tons of visual effects at any given time like alpha particles and Forspoken makes good use of that with a combat system that’s heavily reliant on such visual blemishes for its appeal. On the same note, character models seem to have high polycounts. Other minor changes include an uptick in asset quality for the environment among other general improvements which we will be discussing in detail in further sections of this feature.
Environment and World Streaming
Forspoken takes place in the kingdom of Athia, which is a vast land filled to the brim with interesting structures and varied wildlife that you will face through your journey. Environmental assets look really crisp with high polycounts throughout. The Luminous Engine renders a ton of foliage from grass to trees at any given time, and while those assets aren’t as reactive as say Ghost of Tsushima, it looks pretty dense nevertheless.
Water bodies in the environment use cube maps for reflection, which have a surprisingly low resolution. In addition to this, the water isn’t transparent as well and this comes together to make the water implementation one of the weaker elements of the visual presentation. On the same note, traditionally casted shadow maps also tend to show shimmering artifacts around the edges which is a stark contrast to the ray-traced shadows (used for the player character) which are crisp and clear.
The world streaming tech is mostly solid, and everything usually streams in and out of view without any hitches. Frey Holland can scale obstacles and cover large distances pretty quickly, and the world streaming usually keeps up with the fast pace of the experience. That said, the level of detail swapping system can get a bit wobbly at times which can result in some unusual pop-in as you get around the open-world.
These visible pop-ins seem to be a direct result of low-quality shadow maps on objects at a distance, and your mileage will vary depending on your choice of graphical presets. Forspoken also uses a lot of fog to mask low detail in faraway areas and give a sense of scale. While it does use volumetric fog which allows for light diffusion, it’s nowhere as thick and dense as we saw in the original Project Athia trailer.
Character Models, Animations, and Visual Effects
The developer paid a lot of attention to Forspoken’s character models, which are all rendered with painstaking detail and large polycounts. The clothes are composed of physically-based materials, and there are also physics-based objects which allows the cape to naturally sway with Frey’s movements and the wind. The skin meshes are similarly complex, and the hair rendering is also appropriately detailed. It’s the same story in terms of enemy design as well, where you can make out scale patterns on the skin surface and other intricacies if you observe closely.
Over on the animations side of things, Forspoken utilizes dozens of animations for its fast-paced combat proceedings. These animations seamlessly blend into one another, and the combat never breaks its sense of flow regardless of how intense things get on the battlefield.
This extends over to the movements as well. Frey can clamber up cliffs and hop over obstacles with relative ease and since most of it is automated through a single button on the controller, the contextual animations governing those movements can get a bit random at times.
Now let’s talk about the visual effects. The Luminous Engine really shines when it comes to rendering high-quality alpha particles at any given time. Everything from a fire blast to a swing of your elemental sword and summoning the forces of nature generates a ton of particle effects, which look absolutely stunning. If you fall from great heights or sprint through the map, you will also notice dense trails of such particles at Frey’s feet which looks really cool as well.
Graphics Modes on the PS5 and Loading Times
As mentioned previously as well, Forspoken offers players the choice to choose from a whopping six graphical presets. There are three main graphics modes namely performance, RT, and quality setting for 60fps and 120fps display types so that makes it six options. Those wanting the best-looking experience should obviously go with the quality setting, which comes with all the graphical bells and whistles at a resolution of a dynamic 4K which internally ranges from 1080p to 2160p. But the downside to these visually taxing effects and high resolution is that performance gets locked to 30 fps.
Over on the performance side of things, the internal rendering resolution and environmental detail gets pared back for a smooth 60fps experience which generally hovers at an internal resolution of less than 1080p. It uses FSR 2.0 to scale the image back to a 1440p output. So, most artifacts get cleared out during the process and we get a reasonably crisp image.
Finally, we have the ray-tracing mode which keeps the lighting tech intact alongside a higher internal render resolution when compared to the performance mode but knocks the target down to 30 fps once again. The internal resolution can vary from 828p to 1620p in this mode but the upscaling does a fine enough job of presenting a palatable 4K output image through FSR 2.0.
Switching over to the 120fps options, the quality mode knocks down environment detail slightly to give a marginal boost to the performance which now targets 40fps instead of 30. The target remains the same 40fps for the 120Hz ray-tracing mode, but it keeps ray-tracing enabled for some extra visual flair. As for the internal rendering resolution in these modes, it wiggles around the same numbers as the 60fps quality and ray-tracing modes but they hover around the lower limits more often since the frame target is higher than before. The performance mode even on the 120fps output mode targets 60fps, so it’s pretty much the same in function as its 60fps counterpart.
Talking about performance, Forspoken usually sticks to its target frame-rate most of the time during general exploration and story beats, and this remains true for all graphical presets. But when swords and spells start to fly and the screen gets peppered with particle effects, frame rate can take a hit.
In terms of loading times, Forspoken utilizes the PS5’s SSD to great effect. It doesn’t waste much time to get you in the action, and the load times are generally mere seconds which is really impressive.
In conclusion, Forspoken might not be the best-looking game on the market, but it does many things right, right from the plethora of visual effects to the immaculately detailed and artful character designs to the snappy load times and much more. It might not match up to the standards of the original Project Athia trailer, but it is a technically competent current-gen open-world nevertheless.