Forspoken delivers on its magic but doesn't quite hold up elsewhere
We've seen and spent a day playing Luminous Productions' debut outing, and have plenty of thoughts on it.
We've been following and covering Luminous Productions' debut outing, Forspoken quite extensively. Over the year, following its first delay and then its second, we've produced a couple of previews and have had chances to speak with the development team to learn more about this anticipated project. Now that we find ourselves around a month before the game officially arrives on PC and PlayStation 5, I've had a chance to check out the game one final time, as part of a rather extensive preview event where I've been given the chance to play four of the game's opening five chapters.
With this quite revealing look in mind, I've been able to get a pretty good gist of how the story is unravelled and offered, and also been able to truly put the combat and movement through the ringer, largely while exploring a bunch of Athia and completing side quests (which are regarded as Detours).
Starting with the narrative and storyline, this has been a little bit hit and miss to me. On one hand, the sprawling fantasy tale is packed with enough twists and interesting developments that it can be engaging, but on the other hand, it tells its story in a rather dejecting way, with tons of cutscenes and unskippable moments that neither hold much gravitas or do much to draw in the player. The really strange part is that this isn't always typical dialogue sequences between protagonist Frey and the various NPCs she meets, a lot of the time these moments are just transitions to set up the next part of gameplay, for example having to wait for an enemy to move during incredibly dull and flat stealth sequences, instead of being given the option to approach the moment in your own way. Thankfully, stealth doesn't seem to be a massive part of the gameplay, at least from what I played.
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While the narrative is a key part, it's clear that the real draw of Forspoken is the magical gameplay: the spellcasting combat and the fluid parkour. And, while it can be a little bit janky, this is generally a lot of fun, and handled in such a way that gives the player a lot of options, all while feeling incredibly cool at the same time. Between leaping and flinging Frey around the open world of Athia, bounding up cliff faces and catapulting off ledges, all to using a combination of the 100 spell types against the broad list of hostile enemy types, with the two combining to make you feel like an athletic Doctor Strange. It's a very unique and interesting premise. This is all assuming you play on the 60fps Performance Mode (on PS5) however, as when favouring resolution and graphics with the two other modes, the gameplay starts to feel very sluggish and loses a lot of its brilliance.
The spellcasting is also handled in such a way where you can easily switch between a broad array of spells whenever you so choose, by using two unique quick select wheels, with one tied to the more supportive style of magic and the other for the offensive spells. You can go from casting rapid fire, generally weaker shots, to heavier slower spells with Frey's right hand, all while switching between a binding charm, a leeching spell, a knockback move, and more with Frey's left hand. It's a very intuitive system, with this being a similar case with the progression elements.
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It's clear that Luminous Productions has put a lot of effort into streamlining the upgrading and crafting suite, both when looking at enhancing spells and Frey's gear. You can use points for magical upgrades earned by defeating enemies around Athia and by walking over glowing pools of mana around the world, which can be used to unlock new spells and improve existing ones, all while accepting short challenges to further enhance spells - for example, using the Flow parkour to evade attacks in combat to make it less straining on stamina. As for crafting and improving Frey's gear, it's as simple as picking up resources dropped from enemies or found around Athia, and then taking them to crafting benches to simply acquire better items. It's very straightforward and easy to get to grips with.
The combat is also made better by the broad list of foes that Frey encounters throughout the story. There are twisted versions of wildlife, be it bears or large badger-like foes, all to zombified humans, and even magical creatures that you would think were pulled right out of a fantasy novel. Add to these countless bosses that are either baked into the narrative or met out and about around Athia, all of which bring unique mechanics and attacks to overcome and tackle, and you get a game where there really are a lot of options to flaunt your skills and to challenge yourself.
I've brought up Athia a lot already, and while you've no doubt been piecing together the world with the titbits I've already spoken about, let me add that this seems to be a very, very big open world. As Frey is the main way to traverse it (bar fast travelling to certain locations you've already visited), it will seemingly take quite a bit of time to get from one side of the world to the other. I didn't get the opportunity to actually test and time this, but going from the capital city to a stronghold held by Tanta Silas (one of the first major bosses) will take a good 15 minutes if you travel as the crow flies and ignore Detours and collectibles and the like. Bigger isn't always better however, and a lot of Athia does seem to be empty space, which is designed with striking geographical formations in an attempt to keep it interesting, with a smaller portion actually being assigned to locations and points of interest, where you can find strongholds to clear, timed challenges, deserted villages and towns, towers where you can scout the local area, labyrinthian side levels usually housing quite a demanding opponent, and more. It's not exactly the most engaging of open worlds, but the Flow parkour traversal techniques and the combat situations that you can come across, do keep things interesting, at least they did for the five hours of gameplay that I got to experience.
While it was a pre-release build that I got to test, with the close and imminent launch in mind, I feel it is also worth adding that Forspoken doesn't often come across as a particularly visually striking game. Sure, when out in the open Athia, the world has a lot to offer and admire, but when you find yourself in the capital city (which feels really light on people) and find yourself in conversations with Frey's allies and other NPCs, the graphics do leave a little to be desired. It's definitely not the game's strongest point.
But generally speaking, Forspoken does seem to have enough unique and interesting features going for it that it should be able to entertain. The combat and parkour suite is so much fun and has enough depth to make up for the areas where Forspoken lacks, and with that being the case there's definitely a few reasons to keep anticipating Luminous Production's first project. But will Forspoken blow you away? Will it set a new bar for what an action game can be? From what I've seen, I wouldn't say so.