Forspoken review: "An unconvincing world with enjoyable parkour"

Forspoken review: "An unconvincing world with enjoyable parkour"
Images via Square Enix

Written by 

Harry Boulton


30th Jan 2023 17:18

Following on from Final Fantasy XV, Luminous Productions' new adventure Forspoken promises an engaging narrative and an open world for you to explore. Being one of the few next-gen exclusive titles too, Forspoken implicitly promises the type of graphical fidelity that only the newest machines can handle. Unfortunately, unlike its protagonist Frey, Forspoken really doesn't stick the landing, with a few good ideas prevailing from a myriad of problems.

Escape to New York

Forspoken Review Frey holding a paper lantern
Click to enlarge

Following the popular Isekai narrative theme, Forspoken follows orphan and pariah Frey Holland as she is mysteriously transported from her native New York to the game's strange fantasy world of Athia.

Brought with her is a mysterious vambrace erroneously named Cuff that grants Frey a plethora of magical powers. While these powers might initially appear to be a boon to her situation, it leaves her branded as a demon and a threat, so it is up to you to help Frey navigate both a new world and a challenging situation.

If you've been following the game at all you will no doubt have encountered snippets of the dialogue and the fierce discourse surrounding it. Pre-release footage saw Frey reacting to her strange situation with meta quips about how she 'kills jacked up beasts' and is seeing 'freaking dragons'.

Comedy is obviously incredibly subjective, and I'm sure there are plenty of people out there who find this style of writing enjoyable, but it is just unfortunately not to my own taste. The worst of it is very much isolated to the game's dreadful opening act where Frey is acclimatising to her new environment, but there is a common tonal disconnect that extends beyond this rocky start.

As an entirely new fantasy world, it is already going to take effort to become invested in the happenings of Athia, but Frey's general apathy towards the laws of the land and everyone in it makes this even more challenging. She never seems to take interest in any of Athia's intricacies, and thus you as the player are also robbed of that investment too.

While this does make sense in the grand scheme of things, as all Frey wants to do is return to her home, it makes caring about what is going on rather tough. It breaks the illusion of it all, mockingly asserting the ridiculousness of a world with dragons, jacked-up beasts, and a talking cuff, forgetting the fact that you're the one having to play it.

Little trouble in Big Athia

Forspoken Review: A shot of Frey from behind looking onto the landscape of Athia.
Click to enlarge

What also doesn't help when you're struggling to invest is the bland and barren open world. There is essentially nothing of value to actually see within the plains of Athia. No landmarks, no points of interest, and no visible markers of any form of history carved into the earth. Instead, all you have are the exact same copy-pasted 'interaction points' and then random enemies dropped in between.

This leaves the world feeling flat, lifeless, and empty, and that is something that also very much extends to the hub city. The capital Cipal is fairly well populated, but the NPCs feel like ghosts as they just stand there with no interaction or are strangely frozen within a single animation.

There are genuinely some impressive moments of art direction - especially surrounding the four Tantas - but Forspoken just could not escape the sentiment that there just isn't much there. Sure, the game looks great from a graphical perspective more often than not, and there is a wide array of impressive particle effects, but it is just missing the notion that there is something actually worth looking at inside.

Jumping for joy

Forspoken Review: Frey performing parkour mid-air.
Click to enlarge

The single most enjoyable aspect of Forspoken however is definitely the parkour and traversal mechanics - which ironically excel more due to the barren open world. There are eight separate parkour abilities and they all make moving around the world genuinely very fun.

It's not the most complex of systems - with most moves taking only a button press or two to pull off - but it has a great flow to it which makes you feel like you could really go on forever.

It almost makes you think that the open world was designed primarily to be used in conjunction with the parkour like a giant playground, and they felt the need to fill it in with stuff to do as a complete afterthought. Too many obstacles and landmarks would break up your rhythm when running, but ultimately what is the use of the parkour if there's nothing to run to and from?

The movement mechanics do thankfully come in handy in combat though, as parkour serves as your primary means of avoiding damage. This once again is quite enjoyable, as you have a plethora of tricks up your sleeve to dodge that incoming hit, and some enemies do demand a type of maneuvering that only parkour can achieve.

Additionally, there is an abundance of spells and magic abilities at your disposal, which can each provide a contrasting offensive approach. I did broadly stick to one attack spell throughout my playthrough due to familiarity, but support spells like flower turrets and a flame-filled ring were a joy to alternate between.

I would have loved to have been given more flexibility with the spells at my disposal though, as there are four separate categories that you cannot mix between. While this does make sense from a narrative perspective, I would have loved to have created a perfect blend of attacks from across the different groups.

I also appreciated the rather refreshing approach to aesthetic customisation. Gone are armour sets with defensive values, and in come stylish cloaks, necklaces, and even nail varnish! There was also a fair amount of crossover between the stats of each item, so it felt as if you could really just focus on what you favoured looks-wise in-game.

Despite enjoying some aspects though, Forspoken was unfortunately overall an incredibly disappointing experience. I can absolutely see it working for those who just want an open world with things to tick off, but any form of substance beyond busy work is severely lacking within the world of Athia. It was rather unsurprising to see the game label its side quests as 'detours' - momentary distractions from the driving path. But you quickly figure out once you rejoin the main road that it is, unfortunately, leading to very little.


Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by publisher.

Harry Boulton
About the author
Harry Boulton
Harry is a Guides Writer at GGRecon, having completed a Masters of Research degree in Film Studies. Previously a freelance writer for PCGamesN, The Loadout, and Red Bull Gaming, he loves playing a wide variety of games from the Souls series to JRPGs, Counter-Strike, and EA FC. When not playing or writing about games and hardware, you're likely to find him watching football or listening to Madonna and Kate Bush.
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