As you may have already read, we were not sent early review code for Forspoken. This means that we won't have a full review for you to read in time for the game's launch on the 24th January. However, having spent most of the day with the PS5 action RPG, we wanted to write up some first impressions, which will hopefully help inform you on the imminent release.
The headline says it all, really. We're about six hours in, and Forspoken has been an odd experience. It's too early to say whether it's good or bad or somewhere in between, but we've at least caught glimpses of the title's potential in these early moments.
Things start off shaky, though. The opening 45 minutes or so see main character Frey coming to terms with her increasingly dire situation here in the real world. New York City has chewed her up and it's about to spit her out, as the jobless 20-year-old faces extensive jail time for a third-strike crime. She's given one last chance by a surprisingly benevolent judge, and then she's attacked by gang members on her way home. Then the building she's squatting in burns down, along with all of the money she's been saving. It's going great.
This introductory sequence is plodding, but we did find ourselves sympathising with Frey. We've all been at the end of our tether at one point or another, and she's at rock bottom. Fortunately for Frey (and for us), she stumbles across a magical cuff — it's just sitting on a desk in an abandoned house — that transports her to another world. Finally, we're into the actual game.
All of that meme-worthy dialogue that you've seen doing the rounds online happens within the next half an hour, as Frey tries to wrap her head around events. She converses with her magical cuff — now seemingly stuck to her right forearm — and the banter is questionable at best. The writing isn't quite as egregious in-game because there's at least some kind of context to it, but it still feels like it's trying far too hard to be cool, for lack of a better word. The dialogue desperately wants to sound natural, but no one outside of an especially obnoxious teen drama would ever talk like this.
Forspoken's grounded opening is asking you to take Frey's plight seriously, but then an hour later, she's fighting a dragon while screaming "F*ck, f*ck, f*ck! F*cking f*ck!", and it's just a bit jarring. Maybe that's the point, though. In a way, the game does a good job of throwing you into something completely different and alien, and perhaps that wouldn't be possible without the initial dreariness.
As you might imagine, it's not long until you're being bombarded with combat tutorials. Frey is capable of slinging elemental spells from a distance, and the first foes that you face will try to close that distance. It's immediately clear that Forspoken is basically a third-person shooter with very pretty particle effects, and popping off attacks does feel quite fun.
We've killed plenty of enemies since, and again, we can see the potential. Frey's arsenal starts out fairly limited, but a quick dive into the skill tree shows how things could evolve. Combat is clearly going to be a core part of the adventure, so we're hoping that it'll eventually branch beyond sitting at a safe distance and slapping baddies with magically-charged bits of rock. The recent demo would suggest that this is indeed the case, but it does feel like we'll need a steady influx of new skills and abilities to stay fully engaged.
Our only immediate issue with the combat is the lack of impact. Outside of the damage numbers that pop up whenever your spells hit home, there's not a lot of visual feedback. The foes we've fought so far just kind of charge about, barely reacting to the blows until their health bars are empty — although we're well aware that we're still working with the most basic of attacks.
The controls might need a bit of tweaking as well. Forspoken has an inherent floatiness to it, which can be difficult to get used to. It's not like the game is unresponsive, but some of Frey's animations, and that way that she interacts with the environment when moving at speed, can make the action feel a touch unwieldy.
Indeed, traversal plays a huge role in what is a huge open world, but we've already found ourselves getting caught on jagged parts of terrain, which can really damage the intended fluidity of Frey's movements. What's more, the camera has a frustrating habit of getting snagged on scenery when exploring enclosed environments, like ruined buildings. This might not be a big deal given that the vast expanses of the open world are where you'll no doubt be spending most of your time, but it almost reminds us of something like Sonic Frontiers, where any desire for delicate control goes out of the window when your character has a tendency to move so quickly.
Moving on, we have no choice but to bring up the visuals, which, to be frank, have been the biggest disappointment so far. If you cast your mind back to when Forspoken was first announced (as Project Athia), the feeling at the time was that it would end up being a PS5 showpiece. Here we are over two years later, and the finished product looks nowhere near as impressive. The world's lighting is shockingly flat, the colours look mismatched in places, and the environmental detail is seriously lacking.
Outside of the aforementioned particle effects, it's honestly a rough release to look at. Obviously projects get scaled back and altered during the development cycle, but Forspoken wouldn't look at all out of place on PS4.
And unfortunately, this line of criticism extends to the game's technical performance. Its dedicated performance mode targets 60 frames-per-second, but it feels like it's dropping a small amount of frames all the time, and what we assume is a dynamic resolution seems to noticeably dip whenever things get hectic. It's not a complete trainwreck, but it's far from selling the PS5's power.
Forspoken has flaws, that's for damn sure, but we have been enjoying bouts of exploration and combat. We can't say much on the story yet, and the writing will really have to step up its game if it wants us to take it seriously, but there's...something here that works. Whether that'll be enough to sway us over the rest of Frey's journey, it's hard to say, but we should have a full review for you to read in the near future.
How are you feeling about Forspoken? Are you tempted to take a look for yourself, or are you holding back for now? Give us some magic in the comments section below.