REVIEW – Forspoken, the new open-world action RPG from Luminous Productions, offers players a magical adventure filled with spellcasting and monster-slaying, but also leaves room for improvement in terms of storytelling and character development.
As the first open-world game of 2023, Forspoken faces an uphill battle as a new and unknown title. The game’s development faced multiple delays and received a significant amount of negative feedback following its demo release, painting a worrying picture for the action RPG from Luminous Productions. In our review, we thoroughly evaluated the game and unfortunately found that much of its potential went unrealized. Despite these shortcomings, Forspoken excels in two key areas that can make it a fun and engaging fantasy experience. Our team at theGeek, ventured into the magical world of Athia using our PS5 console, and received a boxed version of the game from Konzolkirály to conduct our review.
A fantasy adventure marred by stereotypes and poor storytelling
The story of Forspoken is a mixed bag. From the onset, it is clear that the narrative is plagued with stereotypes, inconsistencies, and poor pacing. The game follows Alfre “Frey” Holland, a young black woman from New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen, who makes a living through theft. As she attempts to leave the city with her cat Homer, things take a turn for the worse, leading her to discover a talking bracelet that transports her to the fantasy world of Athia. Here, she must use her newly acquired magical powers to confront a mysterious catastrophe and the monsters that have been plaguing the last remaining inhabitants for years.
The portrayal of Frey as a poor and misunderstood black outsider, as well as the representation of the gang she has problems with, rely heavily on stereotypes. This lack of originality is disappointing and takes away from the game’s potential. In addition, the game fails to fully explore the story moments in Athia, such as Frey’s initial imprisonment as a threat due to her magic, which is not explained or justified.
While the lore behind Forspoken is intriguing, with a unique calendar system, the world and its culture fall short in their presentation. Much of the background information is hidden behind collectible archive entries rather than being integrated into exciting quests and dialogues. Furthermore, the game does not explore the role of women in this society in a meaningful way, resorting to clichéd elements such as nail polish that enhances Frey’s abilities. The story also suffers from predictability and a lack of depth, leaving much to be desired.
A boring female protagonist
Forspoken’s protagonist, Frey, also falls short as a believable and relatable hero. Her motivations and relationships, particularly with her sidekick Reif and the street girl Olevia, are poorly established and artificial. Frey is eager to return to New York despite the dangers and problems awaiting her, but on the other hand, she is fiercely committed to helping others without the player having a chance to build a genuine connection with her. Even after discovering the talking circlet and gaining magical powers, Frey’s character development is inconsistent and she struggles to question her own actions and emotions.
The dynamic between Frey and Reif is also lacking, with little development of a bond between the two characters. This contrasts with Frey’s interactions with Auden, an important quest-giver, but this is an exception. The characters in general are dull, and it is difficult to grow fond of them, which diminishes the player’s motivation to continue playing. The voice acting is well done, but the attempts at humor fall flat and come across as forced. The idioms and expressions used by Frey, misunderstood by the inhabitants of Athia, adds a layer of absurdity rather than humor to the game.
A Lackluster Open World Experience
The world of Athia in Forspoken may offer a visually diverse array of biomes, but it ultimately fails to engage the player. Despite the game’s explanation for the emptiness of the world, it feels barren and uninviting. The repetitive and formulaic tasks offered in the game, such as climbing bell towers, clearing out hordes of enemies in villages and ruins, and looting resources and treasure chests, are reminiscent of the mundane busywork found in Ubisoft open-world games.
The map symbols and checklist feature for tasks, along with the information on rewards, remove any sense of discovery or excitement. The use of Reif’s radar ability also eliminates any need to explore as it highlights resources, treasure chests, and enemies. This makes looting and side activities feel unimportant as assets are recycled. The “labyrinths,” which are presented as branching and puzzling dungeons, are instead linear and uninspired, with slight variations in color and monsters. Even the bosses lack creativity and originality.
Overall, Forspoken fails to deliver a compelling open-world experience. The lack of attention to detail and a lack of incentive to explore is made worse by the game’s focus on brisk parkour.
Hardly worth a detour
The side quests in Forspoken fail to leave a lasting impression and lack motivation. While there are a few exceptions, such as a quest that provides a deeper understanding of a supporting character’s personality, the majority of them feel insignificant. The task of chasing after cats and collecting dolls for vendors, for example, is uninspired. The photo-taking quest for children also feels out of place in the fantasy world.
Additionally, some side quests are only accessible at specific points in the story, which can lead to missing them if the player is not paying attention to the map or if the game doesn’t communicate them clearly. A more straightforward system would have been appreciated.
On a positive note, the combat and parkour system, which forms the core of Forspoken, is enjoyable. It feels responsive, powerful, and dynamic.
In parkour, stamina is an important factor to consider, but it can be developed over time. The character’s move set expands as the story progresses, with new abilities such as a grappling hook and the ability to surf on water. While the parkour in the game is not as precise as that of a Spider-Man game, the fast travel points in the game allow players to take a break and move quickly through the world without needing to rely on the parkour.
Combat Mechanics in Forspoken
In Forspoken, players control protagonist Frey, who must use a combination of parkour and magic to defeat enemies in the game’s open-world environment. Parkour plays a significant role in combat, allowing players to dodge and attack enemies from the air. In addition to endurance, players must also keep an eye on Frey’s hit points, as her protection will eventually wear out, leaving her vulnerable. Healing potions can be used to restore hit points and can be crafted or taken automatically.
Frey can use four different attack types and support magic, which can be unlocked and upgraded over time. The attack spells, activated using the right triggers, fire small stones at enemies like a machine gun. Players can also charge up the spells for more damage. Support spells, activated using the left triggers, can be used to inflict effects such as shackles or poison on enemies. Over time, a boost magic will also charge up, which is even more powerful.
Players can also level up their spells via skill trees, an upgrade their cloaks, necklaces, and spells to become stronger. They can also paint their fingernails for passive abilities. The game’s difficulty is balanced so that players can easily progress through the story. However, there are some issues with the game’s combat system, such as the clichéd use of nail polish, necklaces, and capes to make Frey stronger.
Blurry graphics, weak ray tracing and several other problems
Forspoken experiences technical difficulties with its blur and underperforms in terms of ray tracing. Though no crashes or bugs were encountered, the game is hindered by invisible walls, Frey’s limited movement during conversations and poor blurring in cutscenes.
In terms of graphics, Forspoken has some impressive features such as plastic textures, fluid animations, and detailed enemy models, but it is let down by a low render resolution in all three graphics modes (performance, quality, and ray tracing). The resolution in Forspoken is regulated dynamically based on the computational effort, resulting in an average output of 900p in performance mode, 1080p in ray tracing mode, and slightly over 1200p in quality mode. The use of AMD’s Fidelity FX Super Resolution 2.0 can improve the image quality but it does not completely solve the problem of blur. The game performs best in quality mode, but it also suffers from stuttering. In addition to the blur, other issues such as image artifacts, flickering of hair and vegetation are also present.
Forspoken also utilizes the advanced technology of calculating light rays to create realistic shadows on solid objects, however, the implementation falls short. Many of the shadow gradients fail to achieve a realistic appearance. The distance between the illuminated object, the light source, and the surrounding environment is only accurately depicted in a few instances, resulting in ray-traced shadows that do not stand out significantly compared to traditional shadows. Furthermore, the lighting conditions in Forspoken are static, which limits the appearance of dynamic shadows, a key feature of ray tracing. The implementation is lacking and results in a reduction of the refresh rate to 30 fps on 60 Hz televisions or 40 fps on 120 Hz displays.
It’s more fun, when it’s over
Strangely enough, Forspoken actually becomes more fun after you’ve finished it. Then all of Athia will be at your feet and there will be no overarching story to stop you. Since you have also unlocked all magical powers and track skills, you can experiment to your heart’s content with what else there is to experience. As befits an open world, there are still some rare spells to discover, optional battles to settle and more background information to dive into. There’s something magical about Forspoken. With a little imagination – and perhaps some updates – Athia is a lovely place to spend a few hours.”
+ Impressive magic system
+ Satisfying (albeit somewhat repetitive) combat
+ Detailed open world
– Weak story, protagonist and characters
– Clichéd and poorly paced storytelling
– Severe graphic problems
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Luminous Productions
Style: Action RPG
Release: January 24, 2023.