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Preview: Forspoken’s Combat Shines Bright Against Middling Dialogue

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Forspoken

Forspoken is an entirely new IP developed by Square Enix through the Luminous Engine, with a wide breadth of creators working on this title. With writers such as Amy Hennig and Gary Whitta penning the script, and composer Bear McCreary creating the score, it seems like an interesting mix of Japanese and Western developers coming together. However, Forspoken shines in some areas more than others, and this divide becomes apparent immediately.

I experienced the early hours of the game, during which Frey is still acclimating to the fantastical world of Athia. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the game immediately let me explore the first area — which is a verdant forest set with interesting looking fanged beasts — and test out spells without railroading me into the next story segment. This gave me enough time to mess around with the “Purple” magic Frey starts off with, which is composed of earth focused spells. I could sling small rocks at high speeds with one of my abilities, or instead charge up an attack to create a massive explosion of jutting rock to hit multiple enemies at a time. Additionally, with each type of magic Frey has access to two types of spell paths. For example, my ability to hurl rocks at my foes was complemented by another attack that I unlocked, which caused a massive vine to whip around Frey and restore health. Switching between spells on the fly felt great, but grew stale after the first few hours. This is because obtaining new abilities felt fairly slow, as you’d need to acquire “magic” from either defeating enemies or finding geysers of blue energy to add to your cumulative magic count.

Forspoken

However, combat became more exciting as I stepped away from the first segment of the game and into an earlier demo with more than just Frey’s starting magic at hand. I was able to use “Red” magic, which granted me fire imbued melee attacks and other flashier skills that were more within my wheelhouse. I could summon a ring of fire to trap my enemies, increase my own attack while pummeling away at monsters with my fiery fists, or even slash through them with swords conjured up from flame. Switching between both “Red” and “Purple” magic felt rewarding and made combat a lot more enjoyable. Which gives me a lot of hope for what Forspoken will potentially have during its later hours of the game, when more spells become available. I imagine that juggling the various types of magic and switching between them will allow for players to create some really interesting combos or find a playstyle suited for them.

That said, combat was probably one of the few things I enjoyed about Forspoken. The “magical” parkour was decent, but when encountering certain cliffaces or rocks in the environment, Frey would sometimes fumble and fall. Stamina was hardly an issue as it regenerates fairly fast, which keeps the tempo of leaping, bounding, and running through Athia at an all-time high. Sprinting through lush fields of grass and climbing over the ruins of cities left to decay was exhilarating. Despite how fast you rush through the world, it still manages to feel lived in. There are always plenty of creatures scattered throughout, even if most enemies just felt like damage sponges. The corrupted human enemies didn’t posing much of a threat and were something I just sort of avoided when I could, because fighting them involved slinging spells and not doing much else.

Forspoken

Boss fights, however, tended to vary. I had the opportunity to experience a few. Some were story-mandatory experiences, and others I encountered in dungeons scattered throughout Athia. My first major boss was a massive dragon, whose heart I had to target with spells to deal damage. This is where Forspoken teaches you the basics of dodging and using your parkour to deal extra damage after a successful series of dodges. This kept energy during boss fights high, as I was encouraged to dodge and attack in quick succession, while also managing my stamina to make sure I could come out of these encounters unscathed. Bosses I encountered in the dungeons were a bit easier and more straightforward. One of them had me navigating over several different rocks to reach it. When the parkour didn’t work as intended, I’d drop into the water and wait for my stamina to regenerate before scrambling out and back into the fray.

The narrative on the other hand, while interesting in its tease of Frey’s connection to Athia, was marred by its dialogue and the need for Frey to speak at any and every time. Even when I wasn’t talking to other NPCs, Frey and the vambrace she calls “Cuff” were either chatting away or bickering with each other. It does give some in-universe explanation as to why a protagonist would constantly be talking to themselves, and the narrative is self-aware of this since it literally has several story characters ask Frey why she’s talking to herself, but it’s that kind of self-awareness that feels less tongue-in-cheek and as more of annoyance. Frey and Cuff also go between ribbing each other with light teasing to sometimes straight out being aggressive towards one another.

This also doesn’t account for other dialogue that I can only really describe as being emblematic of modern AAA releases. Characters mimick Frey’s different dialect (because everyone in Athia speaks “old English,” and are often puzzled by what Frey says be it slang, a reference to pop culture, or even swearing weirdly enough) in what I assume was supposed to be funny, but ultimately fell flat and left me rolling my eyes in some instances. Frey herself isn’t a particularly charismatic lead. She’s often uncouth in a way that feels mean, though she sometimes lets her guard down to become the reluctant hero Athia deserves. That said, it feels like Forspoken can’t juggle what it wants to be tonally, and may potentially suffer from it further in the game.

Forspoken offers an interesting combat system, with a fairly decent method of traversal, and a vast open world that feels alive due to how populous enemies are. However, its narrative leaves me feeling unconvinced that Forspoken will leave a lasting impression on players, outside of general annoyances as the writing. It’s such a strange amalgamation of a game, and it feels like Square Enix’s attempt to create what Sony has with its more profitable Western IPs like Horizon Zero Dawn. Time will only tell if Forspoken will reach the same level of success, or if it will go the way of Marvel’s Avengers.

Forspoken will come out on January 24, 2023 for the PS5 and Windows PC. A demo is immediately available for PlayStation 5.

Kazuma Hashimoto
Translator and streamer, Kazuma spends his time playing a variety of games ranging from farming simulators to classic CRPGs. In his spare time he speedruns games from the Resident Evil series, and raids in Final Fantasy XIV. He also works in PR for UberStrategist.