Forspoken Review: Aggressively Average

Forspoken is a game that frequently presents its potential to the player in a way that is immediately attractive, but it fails to execute on its most important fundamentals. Is it a bad game? Not really. Is it a good game? Definitely not. It's somewhere in the space between, a critical purgatory that can only be described as incredibly average, much to the disappointment of PS5 owners looking for something new to help cure the January/February blues. That's not to say it doesn't have its good qualities, but that may actually hurt it more as a result.

Forspoken places players in the shoes of a troubled, smart-mouthed young girl named Alfre 'Frey' Holland. She's an orphan who has struggled to survive in New York City, repeatedly getting caught up in legal trouble and making enemies with gangs around the city. All she has is a pretty bummy apartment and a cat that she can claim as her own real companion. At her lowest point, she stumbles upon a fancy bracelet which ends up sucking her through a portal to another world a la the explicitly referenced Alice in Wonderland. This magical land, known as Athia, is strange, dangerous, and somewhere she doesn't strive to live in for very long, but for whatever reason, she is drawn here and on her quest to get home, she will get some answers to what this place is.

When Frey arrives in Athia with her companion, a talking bracelet named Cuff, she's immediately granted access to magical abilities, and it's actually done in a way I have never really seen magic handled before, for the most part. When you think of magic in a game, you may think of something like Skyrim where you shoot fire out of your hand. While you'll still see some typical spells like binding an enemy to the ground, Forspoken's idea of magic is different and fairly compelling on paper. However, that's the problem with Forspoken: everything sounds great in concept, but it's executed in a way that is either boring or outright bad. 

A lot of the magical abilities feel more like how you'd fire a gun. Some feel more pistol-like and allow for rapid semi-auto bursts, some have more of a spread like a shotgun, and so on. It makes casting magic feel more engaging and part of that feeling can be attributed to the haptic feedback of the DualSense. It rumbles in your hands in a way that makes it feel a bit like gunplay, creating a pretty exciting energy to firing rocks at foes. However, it is horribly let down by incredibly boring, predictable, and often mindless AI. There was a boss fight with a giant creature somewhat early on in the game where all I had to do was just walk backwards and rapidly fire magic at it. It never hit me once, and I was able to just spam my attacks until it died. It didn't last long, it wasn't engaging, and it was ultimately really disappointing as a result of that. It didn't feel like I was even encouraged to switch up my powers to try and create some variety or strategy in the battle.


Frey is also gifted with some magical parkour skills and superhuman agility. In the real world, she is skilled at parkour and navigating obstacles because she's so frequently running from trouble. In Athia, all of that is greatly enhanced to allow her to move like The Flash or some other speedster. While this is great for traversing the world, you'll also use it in combat to avoid attacks and maneuver around enemies. The animations themselves are really fluid and make it look satisfying, but it can also get pretty clunky. Frey gets caught on geometry in the environment pretty easily, sometimes turning what would otherwise be a smooth and impressive flip into an awkward and buggy moment where she's basically flipping herself against a wall.

Still, a lot of this makes for moving around the very vapid open world quite exciting. On top of running and jumping really fast, she's able to glide across water in a pretty majestic way, swing from some surfaces in a Spider-Man-esque way, and so on. It's slick, it's speedy, and it is the highlight of the game. However, because everything else falls short, it makes it feel like it should be utilized in a different, better game. It would be like if Titanfall's wall-running and parkour was in a really mediocre shooter that was only fun to run around in, but not actually fight people.

As for the story itself, it's fairly intriguing despite the fact that it's aping a classic fairy tale. It's easy to empathize with Frey as a down-on-her-luck hero. There's a pretty sad shot toward the very beginning of the game where she lays down with her cat in her dingy apartment and you immediately feel for her. Despite all the trouble she causes, she's someone who is hurting and probably just needs a helping hand.

However, when Frey actually opens her mouth, she quickly becomes insufferable. Not only is the writing pretty corny and outdated, it feels like a parody of something from the early 2000s with meta humor that is meant to point out how absurd the whole situation is. On its own, that's not the worst thing in the world. It can be done right. Spider-Man is a character that is intended to be pretty annoying and overly-quippy, but the direction and performances that bring that character to life make it charming to the audience. It knows its own tone and it can walk that tightrope fairly well.


Forspoken has a very tyrannical world where this kind of tone doesn't always gel well with Frey's behavior, though. Maybe there's some intent behind that since this world feels somewhat ancient and she's a modern young adult from New York City, but it never quite lands. This seems to be more of a performance or direction issue because Cuff feels less like a nuisance and has a stronger sense of comedic timing. Ultimately, it's hard to root for someone who is annoying the hell out of you on a consistent basis.

Forspoken is a game that clearly has cool ideas. It just can't manage to reach the level it aspires to operate at, which is really disappointing. An annoying main character that bogs down a somewhat compelling story, frenetic combat, but weak AI to fight against, and a satisfying traversal system in a dull open world make it clear that every interesting thing comes with a caveat. All of that makes it all the more painful, because you can see the heights this game could reach if it wasn't constantly getting in its own way.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Forspoken is out now on PS5 and PC. A PS5 review code was provided by the publisher.