Also on: PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Luminous Productions
I managed to go into Forspoken without hearing/reading/seeing much of the discourse surrounding the game. All I knew, in fact, was what I saw in the PS5 demo a few weeks ago, and I found that to be fairly positive. While I was vaguely aware people disliked the demo, I didn?t know why, and I was interested ? excited, even ? in seeing what the full game had to offer.
Not too much, it turns out.
To be clear, it?s not the worst game I?ve ever played. For all its flaws ? and believe me, it has plenty of those, which I?ll get to in a moment ? it does have one clear positive: parkouring around the world can be pretty fun. Whether you?re jumping across rocks or bouncing off enemies in combat, movement can be incredibly smooth.
It?s not that smooth all the time, though ? which is as good a place as any to get into why Forspoken isn?t a very good game. For starters, your character, Frey, doesn?t always glide around the world. When you?re inside the city, she suddenly becomes a lot less fluid in her movements: it feels like she either takes little baby steps, or she runs in a weird, jerky manner. Even when you?re outside city walls and you?re able to parkour around, it feels completely random as to what constitutes an obstacle: Fray can scale her way up cliffs effortlessly, but she?ll be completely confounded by a single step or a small object in her path.
Of course, her movement is always graceful compared to everyone else in the game. It feels like all of the other characters around you can only walk in straight lines, so when you?re following someone, you?ll watch as they beeline towards one point, then stop, pause, make a 90 degree turn, and go off on another straight line. Even when they run, they do the same thing.
And none of this is even getting into how stupid everyone looks ? Frey included ? when they?re doing anything else. Showing characters speaking, for example, is a huge challenge for the game. Everyone has bizarrely shaped faces, with lifeless eyes, and mouths and cheeks that bulge out. When people talk, everything moves, but not in a way that comes close to looking like they?re saying the words that are coming out. Add in limbs that do the same movements over and over, and you?re left feeling like you?re watching someone make a flashy tech demo where all the bugs haven?t yet been ironed out.
On a related note, one of my minor peeves about Forspoken is how it shows people eating and drinking. Early on in the game, there?s a scene where Frey is handed an apple ? an absurdly large purple circle, for the record ? and it looks like she presses it to her face. There?s some chewing in the voiceover, but on screen she?s just holding this circle to her face, and it looks silly. The same goes for when Frey takes a drink: it visibly looks like two objects mashing together, rather than like someone drinking from a cup. I know this is a minor issue, but the game?s lack of attention to small details really encapsulates why none of the bigger things land, either.
What?s especially frustrating about it is that every so often, you can see glimpses of a game that looks really nice. There are moments where the game lingers on Frey for a second, and it looks insanely lifelike. Mind you, the moment she moves even an inch ? and I?m talking something as basic as opening her mouth ? the illusion is spoiled, but for a brief instant, you can see why people were so excited about the game.
Forspoken?s biggest issues, though, are all related to dialogue. And you want to know the crazy part? That encompasses so many different areas of failure.
For one thing, there?s just so much of it. Forspoken?s writers very clearly reject the concept of ?Show, don?t tell?, because this game features so much exposition. It?s not enough that the game starts off by telling you Frey is sad because she?s a street kid with no parents, they have her and other characters spell it out (which means, of course, more of the creepy movements that approximate dialogue). Every time anything new happens, it comes in the form of a long dialogue sequence, followed by a new entry in the game?s very lengthy journal. The writers put a lot of thought into every little aspect of the game, which is good, but then had no ideas on how to put it all into the game without constantly slowing things down to tell you about it.
What makes this especially bad is that Forspoken has a built-in way to make sure the dialogue never ends: Frey has a magical talking bracelet named Cuff…and it?s every bit as stupid as it sounds. It means the game can give you a constant travelogue about everything you?re seeing, interspersed with annoying comments and one-liners from Frey and Cuff. You can turn it off if you want, but just the fact that Forspoken?s developers thought players would want a magical talking bracelet as a constant companion in an M-rated game is simply mind-blowing.
Speaking of that M-rating, you can?t help but feel like the M-rating comes down entirely to the language. Yes, there?s regular combat against magical creatures, but it?s not exactly violent. Everything moves too quickly for it to be bloody, for one thing, and for another, when enemies die, they dissolve in a flash of gold. The dialogue, by contrast, features an insane amount of swearing. To be clear, there?s nothing inherently bad about that ? I know some people who probably couldn?t make it through a sentence without dropping a few f-bombs. But in Forspoken it comes off as if the game was written by a petulant teenager who just discovered swear words exist.
Of course, there?s also the problem that it looks to bizarrely incongruous dialogues where Frey will sound like she?s stepped straight out of the present-day (which, obviously, she has), and she?s speaking to someone from this alternate universe medieval setting, and they?ll mostly have no problem understanding each other. Every so often the game will remember that Frey and the villagers come from completely different backgrounds, and they?ll have a moment where she explains something to them ? like, for example, a scene where she explains a cell phone to little kids ? but then they?ll have her use modern slang and no one bats an eye.
The lousy dialogue probably isn?t helped by the fact that the voice acting is incredibly bad. Frey is fine, but everyone else here falls into two camps: either they go all-in on Ye Olde English Fantasy and sound like they?re auditioning for a role in a Shakespearean drama, or they sound like amateurs who?ve been dragged in off the street and told to make up an accent on the spot. I mean, kudos to the game for recognizing that a fantasy setting means they don?t need to be bound by historical authenticity when it comes to skin colour and language, but when you have characters who sound like they?re being voiced by someone who has a vague idea of how a Southern European might sound, it ruins whatever illusion you?re going for.
And, while I?m complaining about Forspoken?s dialogue, I?ll also add this: there?s a weird thing in the game where every time a dialogue sequence ends, Frey stands there for a few seconds as you wait for everything to start up again. It probably wouldn?t be so notable if it weren?t for the fact it happens so often, but since, as we?ve established, this is a very talk-heavy game, you get plenty of moments where you?re standing there, waiting to be able to move.
Mind you, given how dull Forspoken?s combat is, I?m not sure I?d have preferred a game that was all-action, no-talk, either. While the parkouring helps ? remember way up there, where I said it?s easily the best part of the game? ? it doesn?t get around the fact you?re just rapid-firing spells at enemies until they die. This gets both tiresome and tiring during regular encounters with enemies who just take a few hits to vanish; during boss fights or encounters with large groups of enemies, it turns into lots and lots and lots of rapidly pressing the shoulder buttons. It’s a little better when you unlock non-ranged combat several hours into the game, but that still means you’re slogging through hours and hours of lousy ranged combat, which doesn’t seem worth it. Overall, whatever benefits there are to the parkour elements being incorporated into battle are negated by the fact that combat is so incredibly boring.
But that?s Forspoken in a nutshell: it?s boring. Despite the sheer amount of words that have been written about the game ? including by me, I?ll acknowledge as I pass the 1,500 word mark on this review ? the reality is that it?s just a forgettable, mediocre game. It does plenty of things very poorly, but it also does one or two things well enough that you can?t say it?s completely and irredeemably awful. There?s no real reason to seek the game out, and there?s no reason (apart, maybe, from that stupid talking bracelet) to avoid it at all costs: Forspoken is just kind of there.
Square Enix provided us with a Forspoken PS5 code for review purposes.