Forspoken Review: Eye-catching combat can’t save disappointing RPG

Forspoken PS5 reviewLuminous Productions

Forspoken’s eye-catching action-based combat will no doubt draw in a lot of players, but it’s quickly overshadowed by unbearable dialogue, an outdated open world, and a mediocre main story.

When Forspoken was first revealed back in 2021 with an announcement trailer showcasing the game’s fluid parkour, eye-catching combat, and terrifying monsters — it was clear that there was a huge amount of excitement for Luminous Productions’ open-world RPG.

Since then, after presenting more gameplay and even providing a substantial demo for players to test out the combat, it seems as if the hype around the game has fallen to an all-time low. Unfortunately, this steady decline has culminated in the release of a title that’s disappointingly mediocre and doesn’t feel like it belongs on next-gen hardware.

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While Forspoken’s expansive action-based combat is certainly its biggest strength, it doesn’t make up for the unbelievably poor dialogue, blurry visuals, and boring open-world design.

Forspoken: Key details

  • Price: £64.99/$69.99
  • Developer: Luminous Productions
  • Release Date: January 24, 2023
  • Platforms: PlayStation 5 / PC

Forspoken Trailer

A lifeless open world with a long checklist of activities

After roaming the streets of New York and being plunged into the mysterious land of Athia, it’s hard to ignore the choppy and blurry visuals that appear a world away from next-gen standards. Although Forspoken comes with Quality Focused, Ray Tracing, and Performance Focused modes, the fast-paced action combat feels at its best with a higher FPS, so you almost feel forced to opt for performance. Unfortunately, this gameplay smoothness comes at a huge graphical cost, with the visuals in this mode being extremely poor, especially when it comes to terrain and Frey’s features.

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This disappointing delivery is only mirrored in the game’s open-world design which feels outdated and lazy. Rather than encouraging you to explore the game on your own, Forspoken presents you with a map strewn with repetitive combat challenges and activities that even tell you the type of reward you’re going to receive before you get there. Excluding Labyrinths and mutant bosses, the majority of these feel like filler activities that give players an excuse to use their abilities and kill time.

Forspoken PS5Luminous Productions
Forspoken is set in the mysterious world of Athia.

An example of this are the Forts and Settlements that Frey can purge of enemies to receive a reward. After completing a few, you soon realize that nothing diversifies one from another, and often, these locations are just copy pasted around a biome and feel exactly the same. This can also be seen in the Refuges, which are buildings Frey can use to regenerate her health and craft supplies. Despite including background lore, every Refuge looks exactly the same no matter the region which adds to the whole world feeling unnatural and artificial.

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Sidequests or Detours as they’re known in Forspoken also fall short, often involving you completing a simple task that is neither fun nor engaging. While following a cat around the bland main city of Cipal was fun the first time I did it, after the sixth encounter with the cute animals, it had lost its novelty.

One positive note is the parkour mechanic, which allows Frey to traverse the landscape of Athia with ease. Whether you’re gliding over obstacles, dodging enemy attacks, or using the satisfying grappling mechanic to scale a large cliff face, it’s always fun to use and upgrade through the various skill trees.

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A mediocre narrative ruined by unbearable dialogue

Without a doubt, Forspoken’s biggest crime is the game’s cringe-inducing dialogue that’s so poor, it’s enough to completely pull you out of the main story. While Frey Holland isn’t an unlikeable character, our relationship with her and Cuff remains surface-level for the entire game. Any attempts to make you sympathize with Frey’s tragic backstory ultimately fall short, as the writers have failed to create a main protagonist that feels human and real.

The most damning evidence of this is frequent swearing that serves no purpose and is forced into speech for no apparent reason. To my count, Frey used the F-word a total of 21 times throughout my playthrough, and almost every time she said it, it felt forced.

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Forspoken PS5Luminous Productions
Traversing the landscape in Forspoken is easy thanks to the game’s parkour.

Although the generic fantasy narrative does include a few twists and turns, it’s impossible to feel gripped by the story as Frey’s relationships with the people around her never feel meaningful. At points, it’s obvious the writers are trying to stir up emotion from the player, but unfortunately, the foundations haven’t been laid down to make you care, so it never has its intended effect.

This isn’t helped by the game’s overreliance on the Archive tab which can be accessed from the menus and includes a full directory of the characters, locations, and history of Athia as you make various discoveries. While there is a huge amount of information here, I never had any motivation to read it as the topics, areas, and items mentioned in the Archive are not presented in an interesting manner in the actual game.

On top of this, the way the story is told is often extremely frustrating on account of the constant fading to black that seems to occur around every corner. Whether you’re interacting with an NPC, leaving a location, or finishing a chapter, the gameplay will freeze. This will sometimes even force you to stay in a static position for up to 10 seconds, just staring at Frey, waiting for her to continue with an interaction or progress the story.

Visually impressive combat & challenging boss fights

Forspoken’s combat is by far the most impressive aspect of the title, and it’s obvious a lot of work has gone into crafting the over 100 spells you can use to take on a variety of enemies. While the game’s graphics leave a lot to be desired, the ability effects are incredibly eye-catching and always feel satisfying to use. Throughout Forspoken’s story, you’ll unlock a total of four different forms that all come with their own separate skill trees and diverse abilities that can be upgraded by spending mana. This resource can be obtained by completing main story missions, found in the open world, or checking off activities on the map.

Forspoken PS5Luminous Productions
Each of your abilities can be upgraded using mana in a variety of skill trees.

While the action-based combat is fluid and satisfying, having to pull up a giant spell wheel every time you want to change your ability can become frustrating over time, especially if you enjoy keeping your attacks varied. Despite this, there are countless challenging encounters to be found across the map in form of Mutants (World bosses) and best of all, Labyrinths. These are mini-dungeons have multiple rooms of minor enemies, then conclude in a boss fight that involves more mechanics and offers up a fair level of difficulty. Labyrinths will always reward you with a piece of gear that boosts a certain magic form or increases your power.

When it comes to main bosses, for the most part, Forspoken delivers in this category, offering up challenging foes with multiple phases. This allows you to put your parkour and combat skills to the ultimate test, pushing you to weave in attacks mid-air and shift combat styles after you’ve identified your opponent’s weaknesses. It’s worth noting the game does come with a rating system that grades every combat encounter you take on. This not only adds replayability but the better your grade, the better loot drops you’ll receive.

The Verdict – 2/5

While Forspoken delivers a solid action-based combat system and an array of challenging bosses, it fails to create an engaging narrative thanks to the surface-level characters and at times, unbearable dialogue. Not only that, the outdated open world feels like more of a checklist rather than an opportunity for exploration, leaving you yearning for landscapes from other games that are more memorable, and less lifeless.

Ultimately, Forspoken lives or dies with its combat, so if you fell in love with it in the demo, it may be worth your time. However, if you’re looking for an engaging RPG that immerses you in its world with a strong main narrative and interesting side activities, this is certainly not it.

Reviewed on PS5