There is no shortage of massive AAA open-world games today that offers photo-realistic visuals and hundreds of hours of content. However, there are very few that are actually really fun to play. Forspoken, the next game from the developers of Final Fantasy 15, lies in this category, at least from the impression I gathered after playing the hour-long free demo on PS5.
Forspoken, formerly known as Project Athia, was initially revealed as something "designed for PlayStation 5," no doubt a catchphrase to showcase the capabilities of Sony's latest hardware.
Now, two years later, on the brink of its release, Forspoken isn't promising to be the most groundbreaking visual and narrative open-ended experience like Horizon Forbidden West or God of War Ragnarok, but one that's absolutely a joy to play through and through. If that's the kind of open-world game you like, Forspoken might be your jam.
Not so fantastical Athia
Forspoken puts you into the shoes of Frey Holland, a young and frolic New Yorker who is mysteriously transported to the fantastical and faraway land of Athia. One thing leads to another, and Frey finds herself in possession of a talking Cuff, a plethora of cool magical abilities, and sleek parkour skills that would put even David Belle to shame.
It's soon evident that Athia is under the tyranny of Tantas, a bunch of old witchy ladies that don't approve of Frey's carefree attitude. Now it's up to Frey, effortlessly portrayed by Ella Balinska (Charlie's Angels, Resident Evil), to free Athia from the Tantas' rule.
It's all Alice in Wonderland or Chronicles of Narnia, pick your poison, but unlike those places and stories, Athia doesn't seem as visually or narratively enthralling, at least in the early hours.
Forspoken features a playground of an open world that's lush and full of towering architecture. It's all pretty lifeless, however. The opening area features endless greens with sprinkles of grey in between; very generic for a next-gen AAA open-world game.
However, this doesn't mean these locations aren't pretty to look at, but they lack a sense of identity, which you may already know if you watched any of the recent trailers. What breathes life into this otherwise mundane open world of Athia is the game's combat and traversal.
Before we talk combat, I would like to add that I'm not expecting Forspoken to tell a deeply engaging story though I will give it the benefit of the doubt because there are some big names involved, such as the Uncharted Creator Amy Henning.
Run, shoot, slice, repeat
Forspoken has one of the most unique and satisfying combat systems in any open-world game. Period. Once you gain access to some of the early Parkour abilities, traversing Athia becomes a cathartic experience.
A lot of modern open-world games (even heavy hitters like Red Dead Redemption 2) don't know how to make traveling between point A to point B fun. Death Stranding broke free of that mold and made the moment-to-moment progress fun by engaging players in actions that elevated the traversal. Similarly, Forspoken does this by giving a wide array of Parkour abilities to toy around with as you traverse its gorgeous but mostly empty open world.
Backing up Frey's parkour skills is a massive arsenal of spells and abilities that makes Forspoken a blast (if not a little overwhelming) to play. At any given time, Frey has three abilities that she can use in combat. First is her primary attack, which could be anything from a pile of explosive rocks (ranged) or a flurry of fiery magical sword attacks (melee). Add to that a support skill that does AOE damage and a devastating ultimate ability.
There are two types of magic types in Forspoken - Frey's magic and Sila's magic. Frey's magic abilities are more grounded and include throwing a lump of explosive rocks (as mentioned above) or summoning a bunch of barbed branches from the ground. Sila's magic consists of elemental abilities like Fire, Water, and more. Enemies are either vulnerable to Frey's magic or Sila's magic.
Both magic types offer a web of skill trees with unique and powerful abilities that you can unlock. It's also essential to acknowledge that these are intricate skill trees with meaningful offerings, unlike a lot of other AAA open-world games that offer bare-bone pseudo skill lines for namesake (*coughs* Horizon Forbidden West).
While there were only a few abilities available in the demo, I enjoyed using every single one of them in the game's many open-world encounters.
Forspoken's rich combat gives incentives to explore every nook and cranny of its open world, or at least that's what I felt like after playing the demo. Like most open-world games, Forspoken follows the 15 seconds rule, and you will often come across new POIs, enemy encampments, wild animals, a chest sitting in the middle of nowhere, or sometimes all of them together.
The game also utilizes the DualSense controller's features. I could feel every sprinting step of Frey on the left and right sides of the controller, thanks to an incredible implementation of the Rumble effects. Moreover, both melee and ranged attacks felt more effective, courtesy of the appropriately implemented Haptic feedback. Perhaps this is what Square Enix meant when it said the game was "designed for PlayStation 5"?
The Forspoken demo was devoid of any NPC interactions in the wild, so I can't yet comment on how side quests and other activities will play out.
If the trailers are any indication, expect a lot of random errands and fetch quests (think Final Fantasy 15) that reward you with new weapons or cosmetics items. In this case, I don't mind busywork if they provide tools to make combat and traversal even better.
Fish-Eye UI is a no go
What I don't like about Forspoken is the cumbersome UI. The menu has this weird fish-eye effect that makes it incredibly hard to read anything. Not to mention the small text size and plenty of other quality-of-life issues. Thankfully, Square Enix is aware of the criticisms directed in the demo and is planning to fix some of these issues, including improved text sizes, better button mapping, and more.
Forspoken launches on 24th January 2023 for PS5 and PC. The small taste of its fluid and the responsive combat system has me intrigued for the full experience. The recent trailers suggested that Forspoken features over 100 spells and abilities for Frey to use.
If the game can continuously provide new ways to keep combat and traversal fresh and engaging for 30-40 hours, Forspoken could be one of the most fun-to-play open-world games of the year.