Forspoken is a weird game.
There’s a lot to like on the surface. This is a tale of a native New Yorker who gets whisked away to a fantasy realm and given swanky powers in a gorgeous open world. Forspoken’s elemental action combat and magical parkour movement abilities come together to provide 15 to 20 hours of goofy fun, but there’s a lot of chaff to cut through to find it.
Even if you don’t find Forspoken to be a particularly good game (I don’t), it’s still possible to enjoy your time with the game.
For those of you considering spending your hard-earned cash on Forspoken, here’s how I managed to have a decent time with a game that doesn’t always live up to its potential.
Give it time
Put simply, the opening hours of Forspoken are a drag.
The game starts in the mean streets of New York as protagonist Frey Holland tries to navigate life as an orphan who needs to commit petty crimes just to get by. It doesn’t seem like a fun existence, but at least she has a cat named Homer. That’s a great name for a cat.
Anyway, Frey eventually finds a magic, talking bracelet and is transported to the continent of Athia. Things aren’t so hot in Athia. A mysterious magical corruption called The Break has been slowly eating away at all of Athia’s realms, leaving just one inhabited city in the center of the map. Naturally, Frey has to use her newfound abilities to beat back the Break, save everyone, and perhaps even find a way home.
Unfortunately, Forspoken takes way too long to set the player loose in its expansive open world with an arsenal of arcane abilities to smack baddies with. You’ll spend the first three hours or so doing a lot of forced slow-walking as exposition plays out, occasionally stopping to do a boring tutorial fight using weak, undeveloped magic.
I can’t put this any other way: It’s boring. However, if you can force your way through the doldrums at the start, Forspoken isn’t totally without merit.
Don’t ignore the main quest if you want more cool powers
Why swim when you can glide?
Credit: Square Enix
When I previewed Forspoken last year, I came away both charmed and concerned at its basic open world structure. The landscape is littered with extremely rudimentary Video Game Tasks™, almost all of which involve going to a spot on the map and clearing it of enemies. Sometimes there’s a time limit or there’s a slightly more challenging boss or something, but the fact remains that you’ve probably seen it all before in other games.
It reminds me of a different time in video games. A time when games like Crackdown, Prototype, and Infamous dominated sales charts. These were super elementary open-world adventures that got by simply on making it really fun to move around and fight bad guys. Forspoken is no different, for better and worse.
One thing that’s interesting about Forspoken is that its structure is inverted compared to other open-world action games. Personally, I like to clear out as many icons on a map before moving onto the next story objective as I can. Here, it’s the opposite. Forspoken’s magical combat and movement are the main reasons to play this game, and you can’t unlock the most fun abilities without mainlining the story.
The fire spells are especially sick.
Credit: Square Enix
The developers at Luminous Productions nailed the feel of Frey’s acrobatic movement mechanics, making it a blast to zoom across open plains with magic parkour. But in order to get the most out of the parkour, you need to beat each of the game’s major bosses to unlock their school of magic. After doing so, you can use a flame whip as a grappling hook or glide across surfaces of water instead of swimming.
The same goes for unlocking the best combat spells. At first, combat is pretty plain, as Frey’s opening abilities are pretty basic projectile attacks. But rush your way through each of the big villains and you’ll get flaming swords, water tornadoes, and even lock-on lightning missiles, all of which are incredibly fun to use. Enemies all have elemental strengths and weaknesses, too, so making it a priority to unlock all the magic is the easiest way to give yourself an edge in combat.
Whether or not this is the intended way to play Forspoken, I found that ignoring side content was key to finding the fun. Plus, once you have all the best magic, you can clear out the side quests much more easily.
Maybe find a nice podcast to enjoy while playing
Zooming around the world while listening to a podcast is fun.
Credit: Square Enix
The last and biggest problem I had with Forspoken is that the writing holds the game back quite a bit.
Frey and her talking bracelet (known somewhat affectionately as Cuff) are simply too quippy. There’s a snide remark for every scenario, and these repeat frequently. I heard Cuff inform Frey that she needed to make some distance to use a spell, only for Frey to respond “Uhh, I kind of guessed that!” dozens of times throughout my adventure.
It gets old quickly. The main story itself is also nothing to write home about, delivering a pretty typical coming-of-age, stranger-in-a-strange-land story that’s held together by a couple of interesting concepts and villains here and there. To put it bluntly, my motivation to get through Forspoken had more to do with finding new spells than unlocking the mysteries of its story and world.
In other words, it’s a perfect podcast game. You know that podcast series your friend has been raving about for months? Go ahead and break it out here. It’ll go perfectly with the kinds of repetitive (but fun!) open-world tasks Forspoken is overflowing with.
Sidenote: This also makes it a perfect weed game.
Overall, Forspoken is a game that oscillates wildly between forgettably middling and “oh my god, I just did something that felt really cool.” Its narrative is uninspiring, its world is full of things to do but very few of them are totally engaging, and its structure practically begs you to ignore those side activities for as long as you can. But man, that parkour and combat give it some juice. At the very least, it’ll be a great free PlayStation+ game in a year or so.
Forspoken glides its way onto PS5 and PC on Jan. 24.