Forspoken Review

A magical fan-tanta-stic experience

By Paul Hunter

2023 will surely be full of many surprises, but Forspoken's latent greatness hitting me like a bolt from the blue wasn't on my bingo card. I had a chance to demo the game back at Tokyo Game Show 2022, and then I played it again when the PS5 demo dropped late last year. Both times my impressions were the same: the magical parkour gameplay was novel and amazing, but I had concerns that the open world was bland, lifeless and devoid of activities.

Now that I've put over 50 hours into the final game I'm amazed to report that those demos were a far cry from just how inspired and exciting this game world really is, and the sheer breadth of activities that are always just a sprint away. The overall experience isn't without its faults, which I'll get into later in this review, but the game certainly exceeded my expectations in a few unexpected ways. Let's open a 'whoosh' gateway to Athia and see what Frey's journey has to offer, here are three things I liked about Forspoken...and two I didn't.

Liked: Magical Parkour and Combat

Forspoken's gameplay feels like what would happen if you mashed together some of the best elements of Spider-Man, InFamous and Prototype. While those titles have the closest gameplay analogues, Forspoken still manages to carve out its own unique spell-based rhythm and style. It was quite refreshing learning and mastering all of Frey's many magical moves—which include magic parkour and spell-focused combat.

Early in the game, you'll acquire Frey's Purple magic, which unlocks her 'Flow' ability that enables you to run at super-fast speed and automatically scale low-level obstacles in your path. It's exhilarating to traverse the game's surprisingly large game world (equal in size to Ghost of Tsushima, I'd say) at a blistering pace. In no time at all I was effortlessly running across bumpy terrain, scaling castle walls, skimming the top of shallow water and dashing right up mountains all without breaking a sweat.

Forspoken does a great job expanding on your initial magic parkour skill set, first with a wall kickflip that lets you scale even higher and next with a shimmy move to accelerate even faster by jumping and kicking off from the ground. At this point I was effortlessly climbing most tall objects in the game and travelling through zones at incredible speed—it was a blast, but little did I know that I was just getting started.

As I quickly discovered, as you beat the game's three all-powerful 'Tanta' matriarch bosses you'll unlock their magic skill sets that are associated with the colours Red, Blue and Green. Red magic gives you a speed boost every few seconds to run even faster, plus it allows you to kickflip multiple times up vertical walls to climb even higher. Blue magic lets you glide across deep water as if you were surfing and you get an extremely handy float ability to help you cross far wider distances. And finally, Green magic grants you a vertical scaling spell where you create phantom footholds. When you combine all these movement spells together you'll be able to traverse virtually anywhere in seconds. Zelda: Breath of the Wild popularized the 'if you see it, you can climb it' gameplay, and Forspoken leans into this mantra hard.

To aid in your traversal you've also got your buddy Cuff, who's literally a sentient spiral gold cuff stuck on Frey's arm and can talk. As long as you've got the stamina to spare he'll protect you from damage—including fall damage—and it's incredible just how far you can fall without sustaining damage. You can jump off a mountain ledge and dive hundreds of feet downwards without a single scratch thanks to your buddy Cuff.

Forspoken really takes advantage of your ability to climb gigantic mountains in seconds (and then dive off them just as fast!) by having a game world with tremendous verticality. There are some regions where you'll fall a large distance to a plateau only to find that there are several massive drop-offs just beyond that. There were several times in the game where I thought 'no way' would there be yet another big cliff to dive off of, only to find out I could keep moving down. No joke, Forspoken may just be the game with the most verticality ever.

Turning our attention to the game's magic combat, wow is it expansive. Frey gets around 100 offensive spells total, roughly 25 spread across the four magic types: Purple (earth-based), Red (fire-based), Green (lightning-based) and Blue (water-based). Each magic colour has three main offensive spells, which can all be upgraded twice, plus eight support spells that have a variety of effects.

It's mindboggling how different your support spells are, ranging from defensive to offensive ones to healing or protective ones to spells that can even summon support units into battle. You've also got spells that can inflict status effects on your enemies, such as confusing them so they attack each other, and for the stealthy types you even turn invisible and cast illusory images of yourself to trick and disorient foes.

Looking specifically at each magic colour's main offensive spells, damn are they visually impressive and deadly. Frey's purple magic can hurl rapid-fire rocks at enemies, or you can charge up and unleash gigantic, deadly boulders. Red magic lets you equip a flame sword, launch fire spears or dash at opponents and unleash a barrage of earth-shatter fire punches. Blue magic allows you to unleash a spray of water-infused arrows, pelt foes with charged arrows or my favourite, the ability to launch a ton of arrows upwards that come crashing down with a large area of effect. Lastly, Green magic, which is the best magic set in my view, lets you embed magic green darts into enemies that target them for massively powerful lightning bolts. You can also send out a deadly electrical shockwave that fries any opponents in your vicinity.

Each magic skill set is awesome on its own, but the real fun comes with how easy it is to switch between them mid-battle. By pressing left or right on the D-pad you can instantly swap magic sets, and this is particularly useful since enemies tend to be strong against certain elements and weak against others. The other benefit is since support spells take time to recharge, instead of waiting you can switch magic sets and immediately have access to all of its support spells. Pro tip: In the game's menu you can make support spells auto-rotate after you use one, letting you cast rapid-fire spells without ever opening your magic spell wheel.

Liked: A Stuffed Game World

Any concerns I had about Forspoken containing an empty game world were immediately alleviated as soon as I left the city of Cipal, the last remaining sanctuary in Athia that serves as your main hub. The world is divided into four big regions—Junoon, Praenost, Avoalet and Visoria—with each having several sub-regions to explore. Each major zone has hundreds of map icons indicating areas of interest or chests to discover. I actually thought the map had too many things to do, a stark contrast from the initial demo where I thought the world was kind of empty.

The actual activities are mainly your standard open-world fair, so those who enjoy Ubisoft games like Far Cry or Assassin's Creed will surely like what's on offer here. There are belfries used to scan zones and reveal map icons, plus caves, ruins and villages to cleanse of monsters and corrupted humans. Zones tend to have at least one photo spot as well, and it's sweet that Frey snaps the photos to show the kids back in Cipal. There are also cute cats in the wild to befriend, called Tanta Familiars, that have adorable unicorn horns, ram horns, little wings or pretty flowers on them. There are also dozens of Pilgrim Refuges that act as fast travel points and house all your cat familiars. By the time I finished the game my pilgrim homes had around 15 mystical cats in them, so if you're a cat lover you're in for a real treat.

The open world includes a bunch more combat-focus points of interest each offering something unique. For starters, there are mutants in the wild that are generally larger and more deadly versions of enemies you've faced before. There are also multi-room challenge labyrinths that culminate in generally impressive huge boss battles. Sometimes you'll encounter fortresses where you'll battle a huge number of enemies with waves of reinforcements and often times ends with a unique boss. And finally, there are Flashback challenges where you'll go back in time and reenact massive battles from the past. While we've seen variations of these side activities in lots of other open-world games, I liked how every combat challenge offered something a bit different and was also impressed with the sheer boss variety.

After a certain point in the game, you'll start encountering random 'Breakstorms' while out exploring, and these storms consume the world in a violent maelstrom where you'll be attacked by Nightmares—and your health will gradually drop to boot. To escape the Breakstorms you'll either need to defeat all the powerful Nightmare creatures or run far and fast to escape them. Towards the endgame, you'll also find yourself inside giant Breakstorms that are even more deadly and contain gargantuan bosses protected by a huge number of lesser Nightmare. The storms can be a bit annoying when all you want to do is explore, but they do provide a great challenge and add unpredictability to roaming the world.

To help you contend with all these threats there are around 50 monuments scattered throughout the land, usually in hard-to-reach areas that'll test your platforming skills. After reaching the monuments and clearing away some of the Break (a devastating miasma spreading corruption throughout Athia) you'll be given various stat boosts from increasing your health to boosting your attack or defensive powers. Completing some combat challenges also rewards you with Cloaks or Necklaces, the game's two equipable items that can increase your health, defence, stamina and magical prowess. The toughest battle challenges will give you unique nail designs, which you can equip to get special perks like faster spell recharge times, boosting specific spell types, and more.

Liked: Game Lore

It's no secret that Forspoken has received its fair share of criticism for its dialogue, and I agree that at times it can be a bit much (more on that later). But looking past the Frey and Cuff's questionable chatter is a game rooted in some pretty interesting lore.

The game is based on isekai, a popular genre of fiction where an everyday person is transported into a fantasy world. Well-known western isekai stories include Alice in Wonderland, Labyrinth and The Chronicles of Narnia, while in Japan stories like Spirited Away and Ni no Kuni are great examples. Forspoken focuses on Frey Holland, a young New Yorker who finds herself magically transported to Athia.

To avoid spoilers I won't get into too much detail about Athia's lore, but it's an interesting world full of curious history. In a nutshell, the land used to be ruled over by benevolent Tanta matriarchs who mysteriously become corrupted by the 'Break' and start slaughtering civilians and poisoning the land.

Over the course of the adventure, you'll visit the Tantans one by one and learn about their histories, areas of governance and personalities. A lot of the backstories of these characters and the major battles they took part in are found in dozens of books, scrolls and paintings found all over the land. I really recommend taking the time to read them all as they shed light on a tragic kingdom that went from prosperous and kind to deadly and disastrous. Beyond the lore notes, there are plenty of plot twists over the game's 12 chapters—some of them out of left field—that'll keep you guessing.

Didn't Like: Cringe Dialogue

Going back to the dialogue, yes, at times it can be hard to take seriously. Forspoken feels like a game that hasn't decided what its tone should be. Frey's sarcastic, profanity-laden discourse felt out of place in contrast to the high fantasy tone the main characters in Athia have. After several hours and several chapters I finally began to accept this is who Frey is and from that point on I appreciated her words a bit more and even found humour in them, at times. I had the same experience with Square Enix's Stranger of Paradise, a game that also has cringe dialogue but borders on 'so bad it's good' territory. But it makes me wonder: What's up with Square Enix thinking this kind of dialogue is what we want to hear? Because it really isn't.

My biggest complaint with the game's dialogue is actually Cuff though. He's extremely chatty as you roam the open world and he repeats himself so often. You know how in God of War Ragnarök where most of the dialogue lines are unique and contextual to where you are physically as well as where you are in the story? That's how Forspoken should have been, but it's not by a long shot. I heard the same one-liners from Cuff dozens of times, with Frey of course responding the exact same way, too, every time. It got so repetitive that when I actually heard something new from the two I almost had to do a double-take. The saving grace? You can go into the game's Accessibility settings (which are rather robust) and set Cuff's chat frequency to minimal. I highly recommend it.

Speaking of the game's dialogue, the cutscene quality oddly can jump from high to poor quality with little consistency. I was amazed that this premier PlayStation console exclusive, which Sony and Square Enix have been heavily promoting for three years now, could have scenes where the lip-synching is so blatantly off. Characters' facial expressions can also cross the uncanny valley, not in a good way, with stiff, unnatural movements and awkward prolonged blank stares. The cutscene animations are a big step down from top-tier PS5 games like Horizon Forbidden West and Death Stranding Director's Cut, and it made me wonder what happened here.

Didn't Like: Performance Issues

Let me start by saying that playing Forspoken in 60fps performance mode is overall a pretty smooth experience. That said, when you're travelling around Athia at top speed you can notice both frame and resolution drops that can be a little distracting. Much like with the poor frame pacing in Gotham Knights (especially on the Batcycle) it really does make me wonder why games based on speed would have performance like this, which to a degree defeats the whole purpose. I'd much rather cut Frey's traversal speed by 25% if it meant lessening the hardware demand to eliminate the frame and resolution drops. And again, Forspoken is supposed to be a marquee PS5 so it shouldn't be released in this state.

Another unacceptable performance issue is I had the game hard crash on me four times over the 50 hours of game time I put in. It's frustrating and annoying to be in a battle or roaming the land only to have the game crash, forcing a full reset. To the game's credit though, autosaving is frequent so I only ever lost a minute or two following each crash. Still, better stability should be expected for a game of this magnitude.

The Verdict

Going into Forspoken I had cautious optimism, but I walked away happy with the experience. The gameplay is the real winner here: from the hyper-fast traversal to the deep magical combat there's a lot to appreciate. Yes, Frey and Cuff's dialogue often made my eyes roll but at least the game's lore is intriguing and worth exploring to its fullest. I got a good sense that Forspoken will ultimately be a divisive game, but I enjoyed it warts and all.

Final Score: 8/10 - Great

Forspoken details

Platform: PS5, PC
Developer: Luminous Productions
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Action Role-playing
Modes: Single-player
ESRB Rating: M (Mature)

A key was provided by the publisher.