Forspoken is a broad, highly anticipated action-adventure game that’s all about fast, fleeting parkour and magical battle. But in some ways, it feels more like a shooter. And not necessarily a good one, either.
This Square Enix game kicks things off in New York City where we’re introduced to Frey, a young woman who was discovered as a child abandoned in the Holland tunnel. So, she became Frey Holland.
From there she bounced from one bout of youthful trouble to the next, until we meet her in the present—in yet another conflict with the law. She escapes that long arm, but Frey’s then almost immediately grabbed by a gang of thugs who demand their own pound of flesh from her.
Just as you think this is going to be a game about a penniless, homeless girl fighting for her life, Frey discovers a magical bracelet that sends her into a strange medieval-like fantasy land called Athia.
The tightly clinging bracelet, nicknamed Cuff, also talks and gives her magical powers. It seems she needs them—and this troubled land seems to need her, as well. Athia is plagued by a “corruption” that’s poisoning everything, turning people into zombies and slowly tearing the world to pieces. And somehow, Frey is immune to it.
It then becomes Frey’s quest to discover the source of the corruption; battle dragons, monsters and the nearly insane beings behind it all; and somehow become the hero she so desperately does not want to be. Along the way Frey continues to gain superhuman running and combat abilities. And eventually she discovers the twisted secret of who she really is and why she’s been drawn to this place.
On paper that sounds like an interesting open-world game story. In practice, not so much.
For one thing, Frey is one of the most off-putting and grating protagonists you’ll ever meet, only redeemed initially because she loves her cat. The story later suggests there’s a reason for it all, but the obnoxious Frey is a “street smart,” people-repellant loner who’s overly vulgar and combative.
The rest of the dialogue (and there’s a whole lot of it) is kinda mundane at best. The intended “jokes” fall flat. And the story often feels ridiculously predictable.
Game mechanics are good in some ways and irritating in others. As Frey gains the ability to sprint, long-jump and parkour scramble through the world at large, the play is exhilarating. Each movement upgrade is solid and fun. There’s also an interesting skill sets upgrade system in the mix. Gamers explore compelling places and find interesting rewards.
However, the battles are often as irritating as Frey is. The magic attacks boil down to a lot of third-person shooter trigger-pulling. And they’re difficult to enjoy because of the game’s clunky camera controls and convoluted magic ability shift.
On the plus side, there are some well-designed and impressive graphics to enjoy. (Though, truthfully, the visuals aren’t consistently great.) And then there’s that leaping parkour travel.
On the story front, some interesting twists take place late in the game. And some loving, self-sacrificial choices are made. Ultimately, the game is about stepping up to use what you have to help and protect those who can’t help themselves.
Oh, that language! F-words, s-words and other crudities are spewed seemingly constantly. And that’s the biggest M-rated element in the game.
And then, of course, you deal with magical blasts; fiery spears; entangling vines; huge, pointed ice attacks: raging beasts; characters bashed about; solid objects smashing into foes; and cries of pain. The battled beasties are often huge and nightmarish. But the actual impact visuals are blasts of color and a shaking camera and nothing apparently bloody.
Frey is called a demon by some. And we do come upon something akin to demonic evil later in the game. (But it’s more in the realm of magical fantasy evil than anything biblical.) Characters are deceptive and manipulating.
This is an action-adventure game with a lot of promise. But it fritters it all away with poorly executed game mechanics, weak scripting and enough fire-hosed foulness to give you a migraine.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.