Frey’s reaction to being pulled into a fantasy world by a portal in New York City is probably the one most of us would have. Instead of wonder and amazement, it’s confused shouting and swearing trying to figure out how to get back home. Sure, we would all like to imagine we would take it all in stride, but such a sudden change would be disorienting. You could describe Forspoken as being disorienting as well. It is a game that on the surface looks like it will have loads to offer, but scratch the surface and there is not much underneath.
The world of Athia is vast with four different realms to explore – Praenost, Avolaet, Visoria, and Junoon. In the middle of these four realms is the city of Cipal, the last holdout for humanity as the world around them has been shattered by the Break and consumed by a Corruption which has killed people and animals or turned them into zombies and monsters. They roam the open spaces of the world setting upon anyone that wanders in, or against each other. It is a world of violence, one that Frey has the power to traverse without much difficulty.
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Having arrived in this world and ended up bound to a sentient vambrace that she derisively nicknames ‘Cuff’ and banters with throughout the game, Frey finds she has acquired magical abilities, one of the key ones being super-speed parkour to cover large distances in just a few minutes – it’s only in Cipal that she can’t zoom around, as a populated place. Frey cannot speed for unlimited amounts of time as her mana can deplete, though it comes back quickly and means that even distance points of interest don’t feel too far away. Even if they are, you’re never too far from somewhere to explore and fight, and there’s areas to return to as you unlock new abilities to unlock them.
As you venture through Athia you will face off against various enemies – some solitary beasts that can have quite a bit of power behind them, and groups of weaker enemies that attack quickly. Different enemies have different weaknesses, but Frey cannot exploit all of these from the off. As story progression is made Frey will learn new abilities that correspond to earth, fire, water, and lightning magics. Each one of these comes with its own skill tree to unlock abilities, from being able to summon fire soldiers to having using a vine whip to knock back enemies. You can then buff her character through equipping different cloaks, necklaces and nail art, and upgrading them through crafting and adding mods.
In combat it is best to keep moving. You’re ranked after each fight, scoring better for mixing in more spells, staying on the move, and dodging incoming damage. To make things interesting in the settings, you can turn on automatic support spell switching to really take advantage of the very broad array of magics at Frey’s fingertips. Combat can really vary in quality within Forspoken, though, with some enemies taking ages to take down even if you are exploiting their vulnerability making these fights a slog, while other fights are over before they have really begun. Even with the number of spells at your disposal it can get monotonous.
There’s a desire to explore everything in the open world at the start of Forspoken, but some areas are essentially off limits until you make progress in the main story. This also helps to gradually introduce you to the different activities in Athia. There are monuments to unlock to increase your base stats like defence and magic, labyrinths that hold gear within them, belfries to reveal the map, photo spots, cats to befriend, and ruins to explore. There are also challenges like keeping groups alive or taking out enemies in a certain time frame. It might sound like a lot to do, and it is as each realm has a number of these to find, but it gets repetitive very quickly. The map key sums up the feeling of there not actually being much interesting stuff to do with it reading “Village, Fortress, Etc.” and “Cave, Ruin, Etc.”
The side quests that form a major part of any open world game should be more interesting, but the Detours, as Forspoken calls them, really do feel like detours. The kind where you wish you kind of just stuck to the main tour. The Detours included following cats that each lead you to a doll called a poppet that you can trade. Every time you complete one of these cat detours to find a poppet the same description page automatically opens to tell you what a poppet is. Other detours include feeding some sheep and going out to a ruined village to find some tools where, surprise, you will have to fight waves of enemies. A few detours are left for the endgame to shed a bit more light on the world of Athia, but they boil down to fetch quests.
At least the main story will be good, right? It is passable and becomes rather predictable. Frey as a character will divide opinion. I did like her reactions to being pulled into another reality and trying to make sense of it, but silly decision making and being self-centred for the majority of the plot can make her unlikeable. Cuff, your companion and magical binding, is a bit more interesting as he can give insight into the world, but there’s often repeated dialogue between Frey and Cuff during combat. The side characters are not that interesting either, with many being quite one dimensional, and not really having any kind of growth. Bob may become a favourite though, as a tragic yet likeable person.
Before release there were reports the campaign narrative could last 30 to 40 hours. With completing some of the detours and world activities as well as completing the main campaign, the total play time was approximately 17 hours for our review. That 30 to 40 hour figure is more likely referring to completing all of the content in the world.
As a showcase for the PS5, Forspoken’s graphics can be really good in some areas. Praenost and Avolaet have some areas that look good and show how shattered the world is, while Cipal is jarring because of how clean it feels, especially the upper area. It clashes with the ruin of the world outside, but it is supposed to stand as a beacon of hope so in a way makes sense. However, it just feels out of place and like a city where nothing much happens.
While the PS5’s SSD enables the rapid movement through the world, there’s other areas that are jarring. There’s regularly cuts to black between scenes, even when in sequence, and it quickly becomes noticeable. There’s also classic video game foibles like characters handing you items while their hands are completely empty. Also, for some reason some of the children have very bad cockney accents.
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