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Forspoken has great combat but nothing to back it up

Forspoken's world and narrative can't keep up with the great combat at its core

What I find most impressive about Forspoken is that I can come away from a session playing it and immediately forget everything that happened.

This is because the world and everything in it is nothing we haven’t seen hundreds of times. Be it in video games, movies, or fantasy novels – everything Forspoken does has been done better countless times before, all delivered with brash, annoying, Joss Whedon-style dialogue that’s as subtle as a soldier in a high-vis jacket.

The game opens with Frey in New York being tried for grand larceny, which isn’t the best way to introduce your PoC protagonist. Luckily, she gets off scot-free, and they even let her keep the money she stole… and then she’s chased down by some gangsters. I’m sure you can see the issues here.

Forspoken the city of Athia

This is plenty to show how Frey is desperate to get out of her life and become someone new, but apparently, the writers disagreed. When you walk into Frey’s apartment, you’ll see a copy of Alice in Wonderland, and then she’ll spend the next five minutes talking to her cat about how much she wants to start fresh. This is emblematic of every narrative scene in the game. The game is dumb, but it thinks you are dumb.

Within the first 30 seconds of any scene, you’ll have all of the information you need, but then the characters will keep talking for another minute. If this was deepening the world or expanding the characters, I wouldn’t mind, but it’s not – it’s just lifeless chatter. They should have just called it Spoken.

Even during gameplay, Frey inanely chatters with her magical sentient vambrace over every little thing. People complain about solo protagonists like Aloy and Geralt chattering away to themselves, but it turns out constant back-and-forth banter is much more annoying – especially when it’s so poorly written.

Forspoken Tanta Sila

Still, eventually, the story takes a back seat and lets you explore the world, but there isn’t much worth shouting about here either. Staying inside the city walls will see you wander around a town where everything is made of grey and brown stone with ugly textures, lacking any creative spark. When you leave those walls you’ll find that the outside world isn’t much different.

There are no memorable locations, no jaw-dropping vistas, just wide open plains of…stuff. Brown grass, grey cliffs, brown rocks, hollowed-out ruins – it’s like a Best Buy Nier Automata. It makes some sense narratively, as this world is supposed to be dying and torn apart, but that’s no excuse for it looking so dull. Games like Elden Ring or Death Stranding feature downbeat, dying worlds too, but they’re still full of memorable locations and visually striking designs.

If you like big open worlds that amount to nothing more than a checklist of pointless busywork, then this is the game for you. While there are lots of different types of map markers, you’ll find they all amount to one of three tasks. You either have to kill a group of monsters, kill one big monster, or simply watch a cutscene play.

Forspoken Frey facing a strange monster

Thankfully, killing monsters is quite fun with the variety of tools at your disposal. There are several different types of magic that you’ll unlock as you progress, and each type has several attack spells and support spells. The attack spells are fairly generic but fun to play around with, Frey’s burst spell is great for sending a big group of monsters flying, but the support spells are where the real fun lies.

These spells can do just about anything. One spawns a turret, another lays an explosive trap, you can bind enemies, boost your defense, or grab loot on the battlefield. Switching between them is easy, and the cooldown timers encourage you to use every spell at your disposal in every combat encounter. What’s more is that using a variety of attack and support spells will charge up your surge magic, which is your powerful finishing move. It’s a cleverly crafted system that pushes you into the most enjoyable playstyle.

Each type of magic plays differently too. Using the first two you get as an example, Frey’s purple magic keeps you at range, while Tanta Sila’s red magic forces you to get up close for powerful attacks that leave you vulnerable. It’s not the most complex distinction ever, but with support spells that force you into that style, you’ll notice a great difference.

The problem is that the poor design of every other aspect of the game ends up exposing the flaws of this system too. While there are technically many different enemy types, they all look similar and do similar things, so learning to deal with each one isn’t much of a challenge. It won’t take you long to find a way to deal with them, which means you sink into predictable patterns.

Forspoken the three Tantas

While the boss fights are where the combat system shines the most, eventually even those become fairly dull as you cycle through your support spells like clockwork, watching the enemy’s health slowly tick down. Enemies do resist certain elements, but the debuffs aren’t strong enough to justify dramatically changing your playstyle, especially if you’ve got the hang of dodging everything.

If the enemy design required you to create unique combos to deal with incoming attacks or switch magic types on the fly due to immunities, then it would easily sustain the game’s long runtime and these flaws wouldn’t be exposed. Unfortunately, I was left with a combat system that I really like but slowly got tired of because nothing challenged me.

That’s Forspoken’s biggest problem – everything I like about it gets dragged down by the unrelenting dullness of everything else. The story is boring, the characters are boring, the enemies are boring, and the world is boring.

We won’t be talking about Forspoken for very long, though. With the stacked lineup of releases scheduled for February and into spring, this game will be almost immediately forgotten by history and probably forgotten by you too, whether you played it or not.

Score: 4/10

Version tested: PS5