February 7, 2023

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Forspoken’s awkward start gives way to fun, super-fast combat and traversal

Forspoken doesn’t make a good first impression. At a preview event ahead of the game’s release next month, I was able to play the upcoming action-RPG and had trepidation for the first few minutes. The dialogue was halfway too cute and the combat felt awkward. However, those early growing pains slowly eased as I continued until finally time passed without my knowledge. Despite a rocky start, Forspoken found his step and showed real potential.

Those awkward early moments were already a dominant topic of conversation after an August trailer sparked a flurry of conversation on social media about Frey’s ongoing “well, that just happened” storytelling style. This trailer is mostly from the earliest part of the game I played, Chapter 2, and yes, that element is absolutely there. If anything, there are more of them. Constantly talking to herself and her sentient bracer, nicknamed Cuff, Frey narrates her journey through events and repeatedly points out how incredible it all is. A native of New York, she often drops casual innuendo and slang from her world, only to be greeted with a confused “huh?” from those around them, forcing them to explain themselves or dismiss it with a hasty “don’t care.” There’s actually so much going on that it’s a little annoying – come on Frey, shouldn’t you have stopped using idioms a long time ago?

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Now Playing: Forspoken Demo Trailer | The game awards 2022

I was similarly put off by the very first taste of combat. Frey starts out with just a handful of magical abilities, a family of purple magic representing the element of earth. In practice, these are ranged spells with some slight variations: a standard shot that can be charged for a more powerful salvo, a weaker rapid-fire spell, and a vestigial shield that can erupt and deal damage at close range. It takes place in the third-person perspective, so these are basically magic weapons with the shoulder perspective you’d expect from a third-person shooter. The first few fights, especially before Frey started gaining her magic-enhanced movement abilities, felt like trying to dance with bricks tied to my calves.

However, as more abilities open up, it becomes clear why those first few fights didn’t feel very good. Combat is built around movement, and Frey’s ability to launch into a huge burst of speed is critical to making everything else work. Once you’ve earned your magic parkour, combat becomes a frenetic ballet as you leap across the battlefield to flank enemies, fire off a few shots, and then dash away again.

Frey is almost disorientingly fast once you acquire these skills, as the initial burst of speed when you initiate the parkour move is so quick compared to the smoother rhythm of sprinting. It took me some time to get used to this new, much more agile playstyle, but once I did, the combat settled in. For fans of Final Fantasy XV, this fight will feel very similar, albeit with a unique focus on Frey and her ability to take control of the battlefield herself.

Frey’s parkour skills also tie into traversing the vast open world and feel great. You push yourself off the ground (or even air) like a pro skater, scale walls in split seconds and then jump off a chasm. It’s exciting and kinetic, and even the most basic movement tools have plenty of room to build on top of it with more traversal skills. As with combat, it took me some time to adjust to the speed of the movement, especially when some moments required platforming finesse, but I enjoyed what I was trying to do and I look forward to having more time to practice my magical parkour skills. to perfect skills.

You can level up your magic by exploring the open world and collecting mana, and the gear relies heavily on looking good while doing it. The gear types have all the usual combat upgrades you’d expect from an action RPG, but the system seems designed to give you some visual flair. Frey can equip a variety of cloaks and necklaces that augment her abilities, and passive buffs come from nail patterns. The lore explains this as the patterns themselves being a kind of incantation, but in practice it’s just a cool way to have elaborate nails that grant passive buffs to enhance your particular playstyle.

And almost invisibly, while enjoying the combat and movement tools and moving through the story, I also began to warm to Frey as the protagonist. The further she got from New York and the more she became involved with the world of Athia and her characters, the more familiar she became. I didn’t pay much attention to the snappy, too-cool player substitute who fell into a magical land and couldn’t shut up about it. I took care of the woman who befriended a young pickpocket and protected an old man suffering from what can only be described as dementia caused by magic.

A high-fantasy world that’s responsible for part of the language divide, Athia suffers from an apparent worldwide plague that Frey calls The Break. The Break infects everything, turning animals into twisted abominations and people into zombies, but Frey is mysteriously immune. As she finds the last human town and starts having other human characters to talk to, she quickly becomes a lot more versatile and likable. Athia is under the watchful eye of four tantas – matriarch queens who were once graceful and just rulers but have been turned into tyrants. They’re also apparently immune to the Breach since they don’t live in the last human city, but they’re treated almost like demigods. When they come to visit, as was the case during my play session, that’s a cause for concern.

Tanta Sila, one of the four matriarch queens of Athia

The one who visited her was Tanta Sila, the aunt of strength, who seemed very troubled by this outsider who can also traverse the country without being spoiled. As you might expect, you end up fighting with her, which covers the majority of my time with the game. The boss fight was a real test of skill for everything I had done up until then and felt accordingly climatic. While the dialogue was inconsistent, the voice performances were not. Ella Balinska, who plays Frey, consistently delivers an excellent performance – even if she sometimes has to struggle with a few dialogue blocks. When the script calls for it, she lowers her perception into one that feels grounded and empathetic. Conversely, Janina Gavankar, who plays Tanta Sila, has made a delicious meal out of her character’s boisterous melodrama. There wasn’t a bad voice in the group, even given the aforementioned cringey lines and some repetitive battle barks.

When I finished Tanta Sila I realized how much time had passed. Hours had passed and I hadn’t even noticed, which is a testament to how much fun Forspoken can be once it picks up steam. I was given a brief chance to try out some of Sila’s magical abilities after defeating her. Theirs are melee-focused, and that takes combat to a whole new level. Being able to switch between your long-range fire and summoned melee swords on a whim while dashing across the battlefield at super speed really made the fight sing. And I got a little taste of how the traversal abilities will repeat, with a grip that puts you on crystalline waypoints. These were most commonly found on floating cliffs, giving it a 3D platformer feel.

However, there are other aspects that I didn’t see enough of during this playthrough that gave me pause. Although the demo began in Chapter 2, some of Frey’s lines of dialogue strongly suggest that she’s in trouble with the law and is no stranger to a courtroom. It remains to be seen how developer Square Enix will fully handle this storyline, which could be problematic if mishandled.

When Frey first enters the world of Athia, she is awkward, uncomfortable, and fills the silence with garrulous mockery. However, as she settles into her heroic role, she feels comfortable in her own skin. Likewise, Forspoken is a game that starts off on the wrong foot and then seems to find its rhythm. Once it gets there, it’s easy to while away the hours with tightly crafted combat, sharp traversals, and a world that I want to learn more about.

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