Please note: This preview is not based on the recently released Forspoken PS5 demo. It’s based on a much bigger build played at a recent event.
Sucker Punch Productions might not be interested in making a newinFAMOUS game any time soon, but Square Enix has you covered: its upcoming PS5 title Forspoken emulates the adventures of Cole MacGrath and Delsin Rowe with a magical twist. A long list of powers is designed to make both combat and traversal a joy, and it works — when everything runs smoothly. While Forspoken is not without its problems (at least before release), Luminous Productions has nailed that sense of wonder in a world unlike our own.
Roughly four hours spent at a recent Square Enix press event granted us access to three of the game's first five chapters, which introduce moody protagonist Frey Holland and her newly found magical abilities as well as the world of Athia. With a focus on story and cinematics, it's a game lacking the biggest of budgets Square Enix can afford with little facial animation during cutscenes and NPCs carrying a noticeable drop in visual quality compared to the main cast.
Still, it's an interesting enough plot to make us want to see more come January 2023. Frey is a clear contrast to the medieval world she's suddenly transported to, at first locked up for being an outsider — and that's not just because of her attitude. With collectibles all over the place detailing backstory and lore, Athia appears to be a location you could invest in alongside Frey's skills.
For the purposes of the demo, we were handed just one of four ability trees. It came with a handful of attacks and then a series of unlockable support spells; using them in tandem is how you subdue both humans and the vicious wildlife of Athia.
With nothing to stop you from essentially spamming abilities — movement perks are at least governed by a stamina meter — you can inundate enemies with damage. It's a neat system, which combined with slick dodges and near misses, makes Forspoken's combat mechanics incredibly pleasing to the eye. There are roughly 100 spells in the game, and we're eager to see what sort of eccentric combinations of attacks one could come up with. Just tying a foe down with tree vines and then getting some quick hits in satisfied us in the early hours.
Fights certainly seem to be the PS5 title's strong suit, but movement feels just as good when it works. Using the Flow ability, you can tidily, well, flow from one building to the next, using your powers to overcome high walls and jump across large gaps. There's a graceful nature to it, almost as if Frey has been doing it all her life instead of just mere hours.
The only problem is it feels a bit too easy to get caught on the environment, completely disrupting motion. A kick is unlocked a few hours in that gets you to the tops of houses faster, but its implementation feels a little fiddly. It seems you're just as likely to fail and land back on the floor, forcing you to start over and regain momentum once more.
Luckily, there's little in the way of buildings — besides ruins — in the open world. It follows the typical setup: with a vast land to explore, you'll find all manner of optional activities to complete, from combat challenges to little side quests and short dungeons. They're all about rewarding XP and unlocking new spells — then you'll repeat the process with tougher tasks. It's going to feel formulaic — there are also resources to gather for a crafting system — but what carries the game is its combat. With so many abilities to earn, experimentation must have been top of the docket when Luminous Productions was designing the experience.
However, one aspect the developer might want to readdress is some of its stronger enemies. They can feel incredibly spongey, with huge health bars that take an age to deplete. It's difficult to judge whether this was due to the restraints of the demo (we were jumping from save to save with spare upgrade points), but we encountered a few too many combatants that offered nothing but a ridiculously large health pool. Without any healing items left, we actually had to lower the difficulty to get past a boss fight that consisted of multiple phases and an absurdly long health bar. It became a little ridiculous after our third or so attempt.
What will split opinion, though, is Frey Holland herself. As demonstrated in past trailers, she's a woman with an attitude and is incredibly trigger-happy with swear words. The latter doesn't work for us; it's actually a little irritating. However, it's far, far too late to change the script so it's something we'll simply have to put up with in the final version. Maybe it'll work for you, but those who loathe this sort of rebellious attitude aren't going to have a good time during cutscenes.
30 frames-per-second is what the game defaults to, which probably doesn't do the combat justice despite the higher-quality cutscenes. After roughly half an hour, we switched to the 60fps mode which made fights feel a lot more fluid and engaging. With few to no noticeable frame rate dips, it feels like the correct way to play the title. There's also a ray tracing option, but we didn't flick that on during our hands on time.
There's a good bit of promise here overall, then. Forspoken demonstrates it has a solid and expansive combat system with spells ripe for customisation as well as an open world that's a joy to traverse. If Luminous Productions can smooth out some of the title's rougher edges in the time it has left, then this PS5 console exclusive could lay a pretty promising benchmark for what is shaping up to be an excellent 2023.
Forspoken releases for PS5 on 24th January 2023 as a console exclusive. Are you interested in the game? Share your thoughts on our hands on impressions in the comments below.