Forspoken Desperately Wants to Be Better Than the Sum of Its Parts

Forspoken should have a lot going for it. It has top-notch writers, award-winning composers and the development team behind Final Fantasy XV. The result, however, just doesn’t work as intended, resulting in a lackluster experience not worth your time. 

The game feels like a decade old — and not in a good, retro way.

Publisher Square Enix made sure to put up front and center that Forspoken was written by some big-name writers, including Amy Henning, who penned the Uncharted series, and Gary Whitta, who co-wrote Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. But the story is unappealing as it attempts to force emotional moments with hardly any buildup while also being painfully obvious on what will happen next. 

Players step into the role of Alfre “Frey” Holland, a petty criminal who grew up on the streets of New York but dreams of leaving the city for a better life. She comes across a magical bracelet, or vambrace, that transports her to another world called Athia.

What follows is your typical “fish out of water” experience. Frey is a reluctant hero who uses her experience and kind heart to save people from a mysterious corrupting force referred to as the Break. The narrative is so contrived that attempts to insert what’s supposed to be a jarring emotional event ultimately fall flat. 

Then there’s Cuff, the magical vambrace that gives powers to Frey and acts as her companion. There was a clear attempt to develop a witty back-and-forth between Frey and Cuff, but again, it’s overly telegraphed. Frey says something that she would say on Earth. Cuff is confused by the meaning. That’s the gist of the dialogue between the two. 

Forspoken’s visuals are also surprisingly unexceptional. While there are options to turn on ray tracing and higher-resolution “quality” graphic settings on the PS5, the game still looks uninspired. With the exception of Frey, all the other character models are dull and lifeless. Enemies are repetitive with hardly any remarkable detail. It all feels lacking and outdated. 

This goes doubly for the game’s open world. Forspoken has a large map to explore, but it all looks the same. There’s no vantage point where I felt compelled to just stop and take in the landscape. It’s strange to see such dated graphics for a game released in 2023.

Frey is being held up by her neck by Tanta Sila who is wearing an armored dress and metal headpiece covering her eyes

Square Enix

If there is a shining light for Forspoken, it’s its accessibility. Combat is simple. Frey has access to attack spells and support spells, mapped to each trigger, as well as a dodge button. There are options to switch spells automatically instead of waiting for cooldowns, allowing you to heal when needed and dodge at the right time. While the combat isn’t the best, I can see that Forspoken could be an engaging game for less experienced players.

Unfortunately, those players will have to contend with a painfully slow user interface. There are constant pauses where the game has to pull up the menu for all the pieces of lore picked up throughout the game. In battles, when more enemies show up, there’s a cutscene to show them approaching that kills the flow of combat, which is both frustrating and confounding considering the hardware powering the game. 

In the 10+ hours I spent playing Forspoken, I couldn’t find one aspect of the game to compel me to play further (other than writing this review.) If the combat was more serviceable or the story was compelling, then maybe I’d have a reason to stick around. But it’s not.

Forspoken launches Tuesday on PS5 and PC for $70. 

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