New York, New York! It’s a hell of a town! That’s what Frank Sinatra tells me anyway, though I’ve only been a couple times in passing. I’m told the pizza is pretty good, but it’s never going to dislodge Chicago-style deep dish from my heart – and neither will my cardiologist. Still, New York’s iconic status always makes a great setting for games, and that’s the case in Square Enix’s action-RPG Forspoken…for about twenty minutes. Enjoy it while it lasts, New Yorkers!
Big Apple resident, orphan and thief Frey Holland (voiced by Ella Balinska) isn’t in the best state. She’s in trouble with the law yet again because she just can’t stop stealing stuff, she lives in a barely-standing abandoned apartment and the only creature on her side most of the time is her cat. After getting in trouble with the mob one last time and finds her way of escaping the city cut off, Frey’s left with nowhere to turn. That means we need a deus ex machina: an encounter with a magical relic results in our reluctant heroine being isekai’d right out of New York and right into another world entirely.
With only her magical talking bracelet, eventually dubbed Cuff (voiced by Jonathan Cake), to keep her company, Frey’s going to have to wander the lands of Athia engaging in random good deeds while she seeks a way home. One relevant note before we start talking about gameplay is literally the talking: Frey and Cuff drop Joss Whedon-esque banter constantly, so that might be a consideration when it comes to whether or not you pick this one up.
High on Life recently showed us that when people are incredibly chatty about something a game not being funny, it probably actually is and you should pick it up while preparing for some chuckles. That said, Forspoken made even my notoriously-resilient stomach quake a little from time to time.
Gameplay-wise, Forspoken’s closest relatives might be something like Crackdown or inFamous. At its heart, this feels like a Marvel game that never got licensed. Fray can hop around the battlefield, dodging attacks in impressive style, before flinging back some bombastic nastiness of her own. Several different types of magic are available, with new options unlocking as you proceed through the game, and each type boils down to a wide variety of attack options. The many dynamic choices available are what define Forspoken’s combat.
Fray’s default Earth magic, for instance, offers exploding grenade-style rocks, a rapid-fire scatter shot and a stone shield that can be projected outwards, while the later Fire magic arms Frey with a flame sword with which to hack away at her enemies. Beyond that, each magic type has Support spell options that can offer a little assistance in combat, like Earth’s ability to root foes to the ground for easy pounding. Combine all this with the aforementioned dodging and you’ve got battle with a real sense of style that comes together pretty well.
As for what you’ll do with it, well, if you’ve played an open-world game in the post-Breath of the Wild era, you’ve got a pretty good idea. Wander around a big open world, scouring for points of interest, complete them for power-ups and collectibles, repeat until you’re satisfied enough to complete the next main mission and follow this cycle repeatedly until the game’s over. You’ll collect new gear – cloaks, necklaces and magical nail art designs – to boost your stats, skill points to learn new magic, absolute piles of lore and so on.
Honestly, I love this sort of design, as I feel like it encourages a solid grasp of fundamental gameplay elements rather than relying on gimmicky level design or one-off puzzles. On the other hand, there’s definitely a contingent out there who very vocally aren’t into games like Forspoken, and they can consider themselves warned this isn’t going to change their minds at all. It’s also worth noting that Forspoken has a certain degree of joy-in-movement built into the game thanks to Frey’s magical parkour abilities, so the fact that even traversing the environment is fun is a credit to the experience here, but that’s still not going to be enough for anyone wishing their worlds were a little less open.
Speaking of things that ought to be a little less huge and imposing, Forspoken’s system requirements on PC are definitely could have used some optimization. On my 3080TI and associated 12900KF, Forspoken ran pretty well, but definitely not as well as those specs might suggest. Particularly at maximum settings, the game struggled to the point where I’m a little floored it hasn’t been patched yet. 4K might as well be out of the question if you appreciate a smooth experience.
Perhaps the console experience is better, but I’ve heard reports that it suffers from Callisto Protocol Syndrome where you basically can’t play with the “quality” preset – and, while we’re on the topic, I’ll point out that I’m increasingly souring on the idea of graphical presets in console games. Sorry devs, making sure a game both runs well and looks great is your job; maybe skip the second liquid lunch instead of outsourcing the work to poor lil’ players like me who didn’t do anything wrong.
Forspoken is a generally fine take on the inFamous concept of visually-impressive superhero combat set in an open world that doesn’t take many new strides for its genre. The fundamentals are present and they feel great. Combat is snappy and effective, there’s enough enemy variety to merit mixing up your tactics and, most importantly, you’ll find yourself looking for fights just to enjoy fighting. That’s enough to offer a recommendation with plenty of asterisks and caveats.