Although the Forspoken Demo was released as a way of marketing the upcoming game by Luminous Productions and Square Enix, it has really only proven that it is still in need of quite a bit of work if it expects to succeed when it releases in January. Its world is great to look at, but it lacks life and energy as it is filled with plenty of negative space and seems to rely on a fairly basic color scheme. This makes any form of exploration a bit dull at times. Although parkour and combat can be fun, the controls are clunky and stiff, making the gameplay feel very sluggish compared to what many have anticipated. The voice acting and sound design are passable, but the dialogue can be cringy at times. Overall, Forspoken‘s foundation seems to be solid, but I’m very concerned about what was built on it.
Forspoken is one of my most anticipated games of 2023, and now that the demo has been released and I’ve had a decent amount of time to play and digest it, here’s what I think.
Forspoken puts players in the shoes of Frey Holland, an ordinary young woman who must harness her magical abilities to survive in a fantastical and dangerous land called Athia. Frey takes center stage in Forspoken, exploring an unknown world and facing treacherous trials to unravel the mystery behind Athia in her search for a way home. Frey must use her newfound magical abilities to traverse sprawling landscapes and battle monstrous creatures, all in her quest to help the locals fight the Tantas, spellcasters who have been corrupted by a deadly blight known as the Break.
Although game demos are normally released as a way of marketing a game to garner attention and support for it, I’m worried the release of Forspoken‘s demo has accomplished the opposite. Although I’m writing to tell you what I think and not what everyone else thinks, I will tell you this: this demo has massively polarized players. Some players found the demo fantastic, and others, the exact opposite. While that may sound like bad news, when a demo divides the gaming community to this extent, it does leave room for the final product to succeed. So, my fingers are crossed.
For starters, Forspoken is great to look at. The environment, the infrastructure, and even the spell effects are very pleasing to the eye. The world is even more fun to explore than it is to look at. Plenty of points of interest populate the area without it feeling too overwhelming (looking at you, Ubisoft). Exploring a point of interest can benefit the player in the form of stat increases, gear, new spells, lore, and even cosmetics.
Although there seems to be plenty to do in the world of Athia, it all still feels pretty…empty. The world is full of more than enough negative space, which is basically space that has nothing worthy of note in it. Even with all the enemies running around and more than enough opportunities to experience some glorious combat, I still feel alone. Not even Cuff, Frey’s magical bracelet and guide (basically Iron Man’s Jarvis), feels like enough of a companion to alleviate that lonely feeling. It’s a shame because although Square Enix is only publishing this game, they are known for their world-building and storytelling.
Getting around in the game can feel a little frustrating at times. The ability to parkour up walls and over obstacles is fun, but I often felt like Frey just wanted to do her own thing. I even tried to run through an open door in a wall at one point and Frey decided she’d rather climb the wall instead. Sadly, if the general movement in a game is wonky, the domino effect is that the combat suffers because of it.
Speaking of combat, I don’t know if I ever really got used to it. Enemies often blend in with the grass and surroundings, so much so that I’m not sure I’d even be able to find them if not for the crosshairs that appear on them when they get close enough. Although I was given a plethora of spells to choose from, both for support and damage, there rarely seemed to be a reason to use more than just a few of them. Based on my experience in the demo, most button-mashers will be able to finish the game with little to no issues.
I found myself fighting the camera throughout each fight, as it would either be too close to Frey or it would simply not respond to my inputs. Each movement seemed to have a delayed response, so it constantly felt like I was just sort of dragging along a camera that wanted to be everywhere but where I wanted it.
Forspoken‘s sound design is decent, albeit a little muddy at times. The spell sounds were powerful and the music was captivating, but then there were moments I couldn’t even understand what Cuff was saying because his voice was apparently EQ’d to sound like a Discord buddy chatting with you on his $20 headset. The score is highly reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s Spider-Man with a little hint of John Williams’ Star Wars at times. So, in other words, the music is great. That being said, I did eventually get fatigued by the continuous loop of the open-world theme.
The voice acting in the game has its moments, especially from the voice of Frey, Ella Balinska, but the dialogue can be so cringy at times that no amount of brilliant acting can save it. The regular F-bombs dropped by Frey often seem so forced it’s as if the developers were trying so hard to make their main protagonist cool that she just winds up coming across as an insecure playground bully with a big mouth.
All the negatives aside, the area where the game will undoubtedly shine is in its gear and cosmetics. The amount of detail put into each cloak, necklace, and…I can’t believe I’m saying this…nail polish is fantastic. Gear junkies like myself will have a great time collecting every piece that we can find and showing it off to the enemies we face in combat. Each piece of gear provides various boosts to stats like health, defense, stamina, and healing, so players will want to get their hands on the best gear available to maximize Frey’s effectiveness in combat.
Even with all of the issues with its demo, Forspoken still shows promise. The foundation is there, and the bones are good, but it needs some polish if it hopes to succeed among the many other highly anticipated games to be released in 2023. The game is not proving to be terrible by any means, but its core gameplay mechanics like combat and exploration need some love. I can’t say I’m confident it will be the game we want it to be, but I’m not hopeless either. Stay tuned for my review of the final game once it releases in January.
Forspoken releases on January 24, 2023 for PS5 and PC.