Forspoken Review – Lacking in Confidence

Forspoken is 2023's first AAA game but is the action role playing title worth your money and time?

Posted By | On 23rd, Jan. 2023

Forspoken Review – Lacking in Confidence

Although Forspoken is developed and published by Japanese companies, the game uses many conventions that are more often found in games developed by western studios: an open world filled with things to do, an American protagonist, and a setting that’s more inspired by medieval fantasy than Eastern fantasy. It feels like a strange return to games from the PS2 era – a time when development budgets weren’t so high as to make taking risks difficult.

In many ways, Forspoken seems like two games clubbed together that are incredibly different, and most of the time, are constantly at odds with each other. At its best, Forspoken is a really fun game with great mobility options, an interesting combat system, and a simple but fun world to explore. At its worst, however, Forspoken is constantly interrupting whatever you’re doing to throw exposition your way, regardless of whether or not the situation might call for it.

Forspoken puts you in the shoes of Frey – a young woman in New York City who constantly finds herself on the wrong side of the law. Through a series of events, Frey finds herself the target of a local gang, and in pondering what to do about her situation, finds herself mysteriously transported to the world of Athia. Accompanying Frey in her travels is the rather talkative fashion accessory that goes by Cuff, and off they go on their merry adventure.

"In many ways, Forspoken seems like two games clubbed together that are incredibly different."

While the game likes to think that it’s starting off with a bang, Forspoken’s biggest issues become obvious right from the outset: it’s deathly afraid to let players do much of anything, especially early on. Every single time the game lets you actually play it; control is quickly taken away again in service of yet another largely-unnecessary cutscene or conversation where more exposition is thrown your way.

The game likes to think that its story is incredibly important, and regardless of the quality of the story itself, playing the game is often going to be much more enjoyable without the story getting in the way. Of course, it certainly doesn’t help that Frey and Cuff are both incredibly talkative. Forspoken will constantly interrupt the game in order to let us know what Frey and Cuff think about the situation they currently find themselves in, which, unfortunately, soured me on the story quite early on.

Frey is especially emblematic of this problem as a character. She’s incredibly chatty, which, while not bad in and of itself, starts getting annoying once it becomes clear that she isn’t a particularly well-written character. Just about any time she opens her mouth, from the game’s opening hours to well into its plot, she’s bound to say something stupid. Her conversations with Cuff come off as especially annoying, especially since these conversations often keep circling the same subjects constantly. Strangely enough, the character writing for Frey and Cuff often feels like it was written to pad out time for cutscenes.

Forspoken

"The character writing for Frey and Cuff often feels like it was written to pad out time for cutscenes."

Sure, there’s an option to reduce the chatter between the two, and while this does help quite a bit in regular gameplay, unfortunately, it doesn’t really help the general quality of writing between the two characters in the game’s cutscenes. Even if you can make them talk less, they still end up talking a bit too much, and the things they say aren’t particularly well-written.  On the whole, the story is, at best, does well as an excuse to set you free on the world of Athia.

On the flipside, when it actually lets you play, Forspoken is incredibly fun. The movement options make exploring the open world a blast, especially once you get a hang of it. The combat encourages a healthy amount of experimentation. Even the game’s boss fights, best exemplified by an early-game encounter where you have to take on a massive dragon through multiple phases of the fight, the boss gets new abilities, and new movesets throughout fight. Really, the only downside here is that the game’s control scheme feels a bit unwieldy sometimes, especially if you’re using a rapid fire spell that forces you to constantly mash on the trigger. 

There’s also a fair bit of variety in all the ways you can take on encounters. Forspoken has a thoroughly in-depth skill tree where unlocks happen in a more free-form way than restricting it to level requirements. Rather than “leveling up”, you get experience as you go about exploring and fighting things, both of which can be spent on getting new abilities, both active and passive. Once you get fairly deep into the skill tree and unlock a few more options for movement and combat, Forspoken really kicks it into high gear. 

Forspoken

"The combat encourages a healthy amount of experimentation."

The game’s open world offers plenty of side quests too. While these side quests don’t offer too much in the way of variety from what you’d be doing otherwise, managing to use magic to parkour your way up the side of a mountain and then fight a bunch of gnarly, mutated bears by throwing magic at them while a flower turret you summoned helps you thin out the herd is certainly a fun, unique experience. And you’ll want to explore the world of Athia quite a bit too, since there are all kinds of materials to find out in the wild. These materials can be used to upgrade your cloak, which in turn gives you other passive benefits, often helping you out in the open world exploration as well as in combat.  

On the graphics side of things, Forspoken wants you to know just how beautiful it can get. Offering three distinct graphics options—Favor Quality, Favor Performance, and Ray Tracing—the game defaults to Favor Quality. And make no mistake, Forspoken is a beautiful game. Even the opening sections, which take place in New York, can get downright beautiful. The frame rate in Favor Quality mode is sadly, pretty bad. I personally found it borderline unplayable with Favor Quality and Ray Tracing, but playing the game with the Favor Performance was a great experience. Sure, the graphics weren’t particularly impressive, but with a game that favors quick movements and fast-paced combat as much as Forspoken, you’ll find a higher frame rate to be much more desirable than fancy graphics.

forspoken

"Forspoken comes off as a game that seems to lack any real confidence in itself."

Even when favoring performance, the world of Athia comes to life. Sure, some of the low-resolution textures for things that are far-away might often feel a bit flat, but fundamentally, Forspoken is held up much better by its strong art direction than it is by having a high resolution or billions of polygons. Despite that, however, even when performance is being favored, animations remain smooth, and every battle is quite often a sight to behold, even when you’re fighting low-level enemies in the regular course of exploration.

When you get right down to it, Forspoken comes off as a game that seems to lack any real confidence in itself. It has some really good gameplay, and it’s set in a world that has the potential to be quite interesting over the course of the entire adventure. But unfortunately, just about every attempt to have any actual fun with the game is hamstrung by its incessant need to want to talk to you about things that you don’t really care about all that much. Despite being a fun game, Forspoken makes a downright terrible first impression, and throughout the course of the game, regardless of how much progress you make, the level of quality in the whole game tends to go down every time a character decides to open their mouth.

While Forspoken’s story is quite passable, especially when it comes to give you an excuse to explore Athia and take part in fights against epic bosses, its insistence on over-explaining just about every aspect reek of a studio not having enough confidence in the story to stand on its own. Which is a shame, since when it gets going, Forspoken is incredibly unique in some aspects, including its fun, varied combat system. If only the game knew when to shut up and actually let you play, we would be talking about a dark horse contender of the year.

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 5.


THE GOOD

Fun, varied gameplay; Downright gorgeous; Great combat and traversal mechanics.

THE BAD

Interrupts the game too often with unnecessary exposition; Mediocre story; Terrible character writing.

Final Verdict:
GOOD
Rather than letting its awful story simply be a good excuse for its excellent gameplay, Forspoken insists on constantly interrupting your fun to throw some truly bad exposition your way. Forspoken's character building and lore are a disaster but it manages to make it up with its incredible combat and traversal mechanics.
A copy of this game was provided by Developer/Publisher/Distributor/PR Agency for review purposes. Click here to know more about our Reviews Policy.

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