Forspoken Review – Stylish Action and Movement Don’t Entirely Salvage This Game’s Potential – Wccftech

Following the release of Final Fantasy XV, Luminous Productions eventually became its own entity within Square Enix in 2018, two years before Forspoken (then known as Project Athia) got revealed at E3 2020 as their next game.
At last, over two and a half years later, Luminous Productions is releasing Forspoken, one of the first current-generation exclusive games (it’s only available on PlayStation 5 and PC). Based on the newest iteration of the Luminous Engine already seen in Final Fantasy XV, Forspoken was meant to be a visual showcase for the new possibilities enabled by the new hardware. Square Enix’s official blurb says:
Designed for PlayStation 5, Forspoken will harness the full power of the console and demonstrate Luminous Productions’ philosophy to provide a gaming experience like never before, fusing the latest technology with creativity.
On PC, it’s set to be the first game to support Microsoft’s DirectStorage API, and its system requirements suggest that massive computing power will be required to run it smoothly.
While I cannot speak for the PC version (Square Enix wouldn’t provide a pre-release code for this platform), I can safely say that Forspoken is far from one of the most technically impressive PlayStation 5 games, as hinted by a comparison of the original reveal trailer with recent gameplay.
That’s not to say the game looks bad. It simply does not rise to the top of the crop, with the possible exception of some environmental vistas (though mostly due to art than engine prowess) and, of course, the spell effects themselves. Even facial animations are underwhelming up close, especially compared to the studio’s previous game.
Just like most PS5 games nowadays, Forspoken allows users to pick between three different presets: Quality, focused on delivering the sharpest presentation; Ray Tracing, which supports hybrid ray traced shadows (barely noticeable); and Performance, which drops down the rendering resolution to 1080p to boost frame rate. Switching between them is instantaneous and can be done even during cutscenes, which I did to improve the presentation quality in those instances. When you’re out in the open world fighting enemies, though, there is only one real preset you’ll want to use: Performance, preferably coupled with the 120Hz option if your display supports it.
That’s because the best part of Forspoken is the fluid, stylish magic parkour available during exploration and combat, and you cannot possibly get that feeling if your frame rate is low. With Performance and 120Hz enabled, the game runs smoothly in all but the busiest instances, letting the user appreciate Frey’s magic dance through Athia to its fullest.
The developers were right to boast about their freeform movement system, which can be safely considered to be up there among the best available in action games. Granted, it’s not too complex to pull off, but that’s likely by design. Luminous wanted players to feel like powerful magic users and succeeded flawlessly in this area. Once you’ve gained a few upgrades, you’ll rush through the fields at Flash-like speed, zip up to mountains thanks to predefined anchor points, and much more. The Shimmy ability lets Frey bounce forward with a well-timed jump just before landing, while the Rush ability gives her a speed boost when running if activated at the right time. There’s more: you eventually get to skate on water (which was very handy in one of the many optional boss fights) and slow your fall from any height thanks to an air bubble. Once you get the hang of the parkour system, it can feel exhilarating, and it is married to a great degree of verticality in the world’s design.
Forspoken’s parkour isn’t limited to exploration, either. It comes very handy in combat, where you can also perform cool last-second air dodges, among other moves. Combat feels great once you’ve mastered the flow, the secret to which may well be enabling the auto-switching of Support spells, as those who’ve thoroughly explored the demo have long since discovered. A substantial portion of the satisfaction provided by the parkour and combat systems is owed to the excellent implementation of the DualSense controller’s features, chiefly the haptic feedback, which goes a long way in delivering those sensations to the players.
Fights can also deliver a fantastic visual spectacle thanks to the gorgeous spell effects, among which the Ultimate abilities stand out with their impressive display of power.
While Frey begins with only Purple (Earth) magic at her disposal, she eventually gets Red (Fire), Blue (Water), and Green (Air/Lightning) as well, though the latter is honestly unlocked too late in the main story than we would have liked. Most enemies have resistances or vulnerabilities to specific magic types. Still, Forspoken doesn’t fall into the trap of making it impossible for you to kill a fire elemental with fire, as in the color-coded combat systems of other titles. It’s harder, possibly by a lot, but doable.
Ahead of the release, the developers claimed Forspoken features over a hundred spells. That much is true, though some are redundant and could have been cut without too many regrets. The magic schools are divided into two main types, Support and Attack, the former bound to L1/L2 and the latter to R1/R2. By pressing L1 or R1, you’ll select the Support or Attack spell of your choice, which is then unleashed with the triggers. You can also hold down the right trigger to charge Attack spells up to the third rank, which provides a more devastating effect, but you also have to beware of any enemies interrupting you.
If that happens, your combat score will go down. Pulling off a good combat score increases the XP and drop rate of your fight, though it is mostly a boon for your ego. Combat score notwithstanding, on Hard difficulty, I didn’t have too much trouble going through Forspoken. It’s certainly not even remotely comparable, not just to the Souls games but to something like God of War Ragnarok, where you’re constantly hammered on the same difficulty level.
Again, though, I didn’t begrudge the game for being on the lower portion of the video game challenge spectrum. The real issue is far more insidious: most boss fights were too mechanically simple, which didn’t allow the combat to flourish to its full potential.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Forspoken’s content is highly disappointing, starting with dungeons, the staple of any action RPG. Known as the ultimate challenge by genre fans, dungeons are often twisting, memorable adventures into the dark depths where evil lies.
No such thing exists in Forspoken. The so-called Locked Labyrinths are extremely basic in their design: entrance, big empty corridor, hall full of enemies, another big empty corridor, another hall of enemies, and then the boss fight. Sure, sometimes there will be an extra room where you can find a chest or some mana orbs, but that’s the extent of it. Once you’ve seen a couple of them, you might as well have seen them all. Furthermore, the bosses you encounter in Forspoken’s dungeons are not even unique. You’ll often find the same boss you fought in another dungeon or in an open world area.
I began addressing dungeons as they are the defining activity of any action RPG, but the rest of the open world content certainly doesn’t fare any better. Final Fantasy XV was never known for having great side content, but we hoped Luminous would improve in this critical area in their new game.
Sadly, repetitiveness sets in at record speed, as there is essentially no variation on the theme of slaying waves of enemies or one big enemy (the mutants scattered through the map) with no narrative payoff except for maybe a vague archive entry. Granted, the lore has a built-in excuse for that because everyone and everything outside the city of Cipal has been turned into a mindless killing machine by the Break. That doesn’t make it feel any better while playing, though.
Besides that, you’ll just be collecting mana orbs scattered through Athia, taking photos at designated spots like in Final Fantasy XV, walking up to monuments to get a free stat bonus, and chasing cats. That’s right; one of the ‘side activities’ involves an extremely simple mini-game where the Tantas’ familiars will sit on a platform while you approach crouched to be able to pet the cats without startling them. All that is required to succeed is stopping for a couple of seconds when an exclamation mark appears beside the familiar. After petting them, the familiars will appear at the refuges scattered throughout Athia, Forspoken’s versions of safe houses where Frey can rest and craft.
When I unlocked the first Tanta familiar, an accompanying archive entry revealed that the familiars are highly intelligent magic creatures who once worked alongside their masters for the good of the respective realms before the Tantas went mad. That gave me hope an interaction with the familiar back at the refuge would be able to provide insight into how to defeat Tanta Sila (the first of the Tantas you’ll go after in the game), perhaps a clue or two into her weaknesses, and maybe a side quest would be involved. It turned out to be a vain hope, though. All the Tanta familiars do at the refuge is look cute; they don’t even provide any bonuses to Frey. Games have long since started tightly weaving side content into the main content under a cohesive whole, but Luminous doesn’t seem to have received that memo. It’s yet another sign of Forspoken’s unrealized potential.
Speaking of bonuses, sleeping at a refuge or camp (you can make one in the open world as long as you’ve got wood) or rolling a die at one of the Partha spots provides a random bonus, like increased defense or Attack. Even this feels like a step back from Final Fantasy XV, however, since that game allowed players to get the desired bonus by crafting the appropriate food while camping.
The RPG elements of the character progression system are also fairly weak. The only gear you’ll be able to wear are cloaks, necklaces, and nail designs, which are only dropped at designated spots around Athia. All you’ll get for defeating enemies elsewhere are rather unexciting crafting resources that are used to make health potions or to boost the stats of cloaks and necklaces. These are the two key gear items featured in Forspoken; at first, it may seem like they come with unique properties, but that’s not really the case. Every cloak and necklace can get the same perks once unlocked. The only difference is how high you can push up stats like health, defense, and magic. You cannot dismantle cloaks or necklaces you don’t need for materials, by the way, which means you often complete an activity like a Locked Labyrinth with no meaningful reward.
It’s a good thing at least that new spells are unlocked by spending mana since that is mainly collected by zipping across Athia, easily the best part of Forspoken.
As you’ll have noticed by now, I saved the most controversial talking point for last. Ahead of the game’s release, plenty of fans criticized the dialogue bits seen in the trailers as cringe-inducing. Having now played throughout the entirety of Forspoken (which doesn’t last very long for an action RPG, by the way, I finished it in 30 hours with plenty of dilly-dallying across the open world), I don’t believe this a real issue with the narrative.
Frey is a 21-year-old orphan who had a tough time in the foster system. At the beginning of the game, she’s trying to get out of New York City, but to do so, she has to deal with all sorts of scumbags and lowlifes first. Understandably, she would have a lot of teenage fury and angst, which is expressed in the dialogue. Even the perpetually annoyed and grating Cuff has a reason to be that way, though I definitely recommend toning down the Cuff Chat Frequency setting to low, as hearing the same quips between the two gets old rather quickly.
The biggest issue with the plot is that some threads are rushed, which is surprising given the talented writing team behind the game (Amy Hennig, Gary Whitta, Allison Rymer, and Todd Stashwick). While a few characters are interesting, they’re never explored quite to the extent that they would deserve, failing to instill the same level of camaraderie Final Fantasy XV’s Noctis had with his party. Forspoken does feature a juicy and unexpected twist at the very end, though it is weirdly undermined in the ending. Well, technically, there are two endings to Forspoken, although the other can hardly be described as such.

Finally, a note for the audio: it’s among Forspoken’s strong points. The music is remarkable, even if that’s hardly surprising since it was composed by Bear McCreary (God of War and a ton of great films and TV series) and Garry Schyman (BioShock, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor, Guild Wars 2, Dota 2). The sound effects are also fantastic. If you have a surround system, you’ll hear the spells literally whizzing past you as you perform one of Frey’s last-second dodges.
Forspoken is a fun action game that shines best when you're taking advantage of the great magic parkour to soar through the fantasy world of Athia and blast enemies with overwhelmingly cool spells. However, its content is underwhelming, its RPG systems are weak, and its visuals are less advanced than advertised. As such, Forspoken's potential is largely unrealized in its current state. It's still a decent romp for genre fans to go through, though waiting until it gets a discount or is added to one of the many subscription services is recommended.
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