Forspoken (2023) Game Review – A bland copy-paste open-world plagued by horrific writing

A bland copy-paste open-world plagued by horrific writing

Forspoken is a mess. In fact, it’s very nearly dreadful. Between its bland, copy-paste open-world formula to writing that swings on a pendulum between bad, awful and surprisingly good (for a couple of scenes at least), Forspoken is a frustrating game to play at the best of times. That frustration comes from the fact this is a bad game but it didn’t need to be. There’s definitely the foundations of a good open world title here, complete with witty writing for a charismatic protagonist that exploits and takes jabs at all the tropes of this genre.

Instead, what we get is poor Marvel-esque humour, contrived and illogical scenarios that are undermined by the gameplay (more on that shortly) and a couple of good hours of content overshadowed by a slog of repetitive missions, insulting time-wasting sections and a terribly written protagonist with an awful moral compass.

Much has been said about Forspoken ever since the early previews came out and a taster of said humour came to light. That was then followed by a poorly received demo (although to be fair we thought it was okay and had potential). With a delayed embargo ahead of release and only a handful of publications receiving advanced copies, the warning signs were already there for Luminous Productions’  latest RPG.

It’s hard to know where to start with Forspoken but its opening two chapters are particularly rough around the edges and actually include some of the game’s worst content. For a title that desperately needed to hit it out the block immediately to make a good impression, this open-world RPG plays like an early PS2 game.

While that sounds hyperbolic, it really needs to be played to be believed. Invisible walls forcing you into one tiny section of a large open area, an on-rails secretion that requires simple button presses and the usual litany of frustrating text-boxes that freeze the screen and inform you that you need to press X to jump and hold the left analog stick to run.

The narrative itself through all of this is… passable at best. You play as the Alfie “Frey” Holland, a young orphan who finds herself on the wrong side of the law. She’s had a pretty torrid time in New York, managing to just about escape from time behind bars. She’s forced to work for a horrible gang and she’s been eking out a living, saving up her money to move out the city with her cat Homer.

When said gang burn down her apartment and Frey is left with nothing but her cat (despite walking OVER her bag of life savings that you can interact with just prior to this), Frey finds herself whisked away to a strange fantasy world called Athia. There, she’s joined by “Cuff”, a strange magic artifact that attaches to Frey’s arm and attempts (miserably) to channel that Giles/Buffy relationship we saw play out in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Athia is currently being controlled by the Tantas, a tyrannical group of women whom Frey finds herself entangled with in her journey to get back to New York for… reasons? You see, Frey doesn’t really have anything to go back for. The situation with the gangs is never brought up again after Chapter 1, while Homer has a new home. Frey has absolutely no reason to go back so her motivations are flawed from the onset. But alas, she’s thrown into the middle of this conflict in Athia to try and save the world.

Of course Frey is the “chosen one” but the manner in which her character is written leaves a lot to be desired. I’ve already mentioned the unclear motivations behind her actions but to make matters worse, almost every sentence includes profanity.

The first 3 chapters the writers attempt to try and channel that Marvel humour we’ve seen so often but it oftentimes undermines the dramatic tension in most of the scenes when Frey just chucks out another joke.

It’s frustrating too because around Chapter 5 and 6, the idea of death and taking one’s life is explored in some of the game’s best moments. There’s a scene by a campfire outside that’s beautifully written and hats off to whoever added that bit of dialogue in because it’s the best part of Frey’s journey in the entire game.

This is also followed up by some genuine laugh out loud comedy as Frey quips about an enemy that talks in riddles during one of the game’s big boss fights. These moments really help to show the potential this has.

Unfortunately, it’s business as usual after that, as the game nose-dives horrifically toward the end in chapters 9 and 10. And if that wasn’t enough, the final chapter of the game regurgitates the exact same setting as the first chapter, complete with prompts showing that you need to press X to jump. Thanks game, I kinda got the gist of that during the opening hour!

This poor writing unfortunately infects every facet of the gameplay too. I mentioned earlier about the bag in your apartment but there’s another incident that’s just as egregious 20 minutes later. During a prison break, guards are frantically trying to find you. You manage to escape to the lower part of a city… but once you take control of Frey again, you can actually run back the way you came and stand right in front of said guards and no one will bat an eyelid. These sort of game-breaking additions may seem minute but they add up to create a fractured and broken world experience.

The open world format has been done to death in recent years and while Forspoken’s traversal system is good, it also feels like a watered down version of what we’ve seen in games like Infamous. Essentially you can parkour your way across the map, holding down the O button to zip across the landscape. As you unlock new skills, this can be enhanced further through “shimmys”, speed boosts and even floating in midair for several seconds.

The magic system fares a little better, and the longer you play, the more robust it becomes. In fact, toward the end during the game’s final few chapters, it really opens up and adds extra layers of strategy to the fold.

In total, you have four different magic systems at play here, which can be accessed through holding L1 and R1 and choosing a different skill-set. From here, your attacks are split into “support” and “attack”. Holding R1 allows you to change your main weapon while holding L1 allows you to choose a variety of different attacks to help you out, including shield protection, leeching HP from enemies or even causing a shockwave bomb to be planted on the ground.

Each of the four different systems work quite well together and the longer you play, the more skills and magic you unlock. These can be enhanced further with buffs by completing specific tasks (ie. defeating 10 enemies with said skill) while the magic can be mixed and matched across the duration of combat. Given the story is almost over by the time you get full-range of all your attacks, you’ll probably find yourself spamming the same moves constantly.

Equipment can be obtained throughout your adventure to beef up your power levels by completing different areas on the mini-map, which mostly include destroying a number of enemies guarding fortresses or completing labyrinths, which usually have a little mini-boss at the end. It’s all pretty standard stuff and all the usual open-world tropes rear their head here.

Expect photo spots (50 in total), strong bosses to fend off called abominations, fast travel houses, “points of interest” and monuments, with the latter unlocking additional skill buffs.

That aforementioned gear you can unlock through your adventure can be enhanced through using different materials spread across the map, boosting your magic, defence or HP respectively. In fact, if you’re smart you can beef your character pretty quickly in your adventure and steamroll through most threats without ever switching to a different magic set.

The world isn’t particularly interesting to explore and after the main adventure has finished, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much else to do other than ticking off the checkbox of “open world busywork” to try and get all the achievements.

The world is empty and outside Cipal there are no big settlements full of people. There’s the odd tower here and there that has echoes of a life once lived but in terms of geography, this is a barren wasteland of misery. While games like Fallout make exploring these abandoned areas interesting, that’s clearly too much work for Forspoken.

With only a handful of side quests (called Detours here) inside the main city of Cipal, and more than half involving chasing cats, there’s really not that much incentive to go wandering off. It also shows a startling lack of imagination here.

It’s a such a shame too because there are glimmers of a better game in Forspoken. The world itself is quite interesting when you read through the archives, albeit frustrating to unlock as its drip-fed over numerous triangle prompts at key areas of the game.

If there’s one area where Forspoken excels though it comes from its accessibility options. There’s a myriad of different choices in here, ranging from picking up collectibles automatically, bypassing lock-picking minigames and even auto-evading moves. It’s a nice system and combined with the robust difficult, make this a title that anyone can play. Although whether you actually will or not is another matter.

The few glimmers of brilliance in Forspoken are overshadowed by an abundance of problems that are hard to overlook. A horribly written story is accentuated by a morally disengaged protagonist; an empty open-world with the usual checkbox of meaningless busywork gives no incentive to explore; while the magic system sports lots of control and options but very little reason to deviate from spamming the same moves.

This is a game in desperate need of another year in development rather than the bland-fest we’re served up. Forspoken? More like For-shame.

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  • Verdict - 4/10

2 thoughts on “Forspoken (2023) Game Review – A bland copy-paste open-world plagued by horrific writing”

  1. The game was incorrectly marketed as an open-world RPG when it is actually just an action RPG-lite with some parkour/platforming and a lot of big maps. Ignoring the terrible PC port and mediocre writing, the game has fundamental flaws in its unfinished design.

    The actual RPG elements in this game are watered down into oblivion with a paltry variety of loot, bizarrely limited gear customisation and a handful of sidequests that are literally just following NPCs around or fetch quests. How is any of that a “next gen” RPG experience?

    I could forgive all this if the rest of the game was lovingly crafted and full of wonder. It isn’t. You have huge maps that one reviewer aptly described as looking like a minecraft modding server. In terms of overall design the maps are just a mess, even if parts of them look pretty in a single frame photo. It cannot be that the only way a AAA title can create parkour content is to place random and uninteresting cliffs and ledges everywhere ad nauseam.

    The devs chose to leave 95% of the world unpopulated but gave nothing interesting for us to explore and discover. The most exciting thing you will ever find out in the world exploring off the main quest is a journal entry to drip-feed players a tiny bit of lore. Everything feels half-done. Even the combat – which is fun – feels underutilised with animal mobs being used far too much. Expect this AAA title to throw reskin after reskin of mobs at you, all while giving you colour palette swapped gear despite only having 3 gear slots to begin with.

    I could go on but I realise I am putting more effort into complaining about Forspoken’s disappointing design than the devs ever actually put into making it.

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