Forspoken is something of a rarity these days: an actual next-gen only title. Published by Square-Enix and developed by the company's new Luminous Productions studio, this narrative-driven action/adventure game promises to deliver cinematic thrills and cutting edge visuals, which are not possible on current-generation systems.
On its surface, Forspoken looks like any number of third-person open-world games, which have become ubiquitous in recent years. Though it bears similarities to titles such as Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Horizon Forbidden West, Forspoken sets itself apart by focusing heavily on fast and fluid environmental traversal. The game refers to this sytstem as “magic parkour.” That, along with its relatable protagonist and the story’s central theme of finding one’s place in the world, should help Forspoken’s narrative appeal to a large audience.
Based on a recent hands-off demo we saw during a digital preview event, Forspoken could be the start of an exciting new franchise.
Forspoken: Frey Holland
Forspoken stars Frey Holland, a directionless, gritty, street-smart young woman from New York City. An orphan who has bounced between different foster homes for most of her life, Frey struggles to find her place in a world that hasn’t shown her kindness. Mistrustful of others, Frey’s only friend is her cat, Homer. She wants to leave New York City, but doesn’t have the means to do so. Her wish comes true in an unexpected way when she finds herself magically transported to the land of Athia.
Frey’s identity crisis only deepens when she finds herself in the strange realm. She mysteriously gains magical powers, which set her apart from the besieged land’s citizens. Being called a “demon” compounds her feelings of isolation. But as she did on Earth, Frey does her best to survive and persevere, despite the strange circumstances.
Frey, who is motion-captured and voiced by actress Ella Balinska, uses humor as a defense mechanism. Humor also helps her defuse situations and calm herself down. We saw hints of this during the demo, and Balinska does a good job of making Frey sound like an everywoman.
Frey also has a disembodied companion named Cuff (played by Jonathan Cake), with whom she trades quips during the adventure. He is all business, while Frey tries to make light of her weird situation. It’s difficult to gauge how well the interplay between the two will work over the length of the campaign. Since Frey spends large portions of the game alone, it’s understandable that she'd need someone to speak with.
Forspoken: The world of Athia
Codirector Takefumi Terada describes Athia as a “beautiful yet cruel world.” A miasma called “The Break” has consumed the land. Living beings are either killed or irreversibly changed by this blight. Most victims turn into vicious monsters, driven by an instinctive rage. This has forced the remnants of humanity to gather in the city of Sepol.
Sepol’s high elevation has kept it safe from The Break, but the ever-expanding fog makes people feel like each day could be their last. The city was never meant to house the tens of thousands of refugees packed into its ruined streets. Frey is the only one capable of withstanding The Break’s effects. As such, she has the power to figure out where the miasma comes from, and potentially destroy it.
The demo provides small glimpses of Athia. The ever-pervasive purple mist covering the desolate desert-like environments seen in the demo gives the land a beautiful, but disturbing, quality. Ruins of a bustling world are everywhere, hinting at a once-prosperous civilization. The land evokes a sense of unease. The monstrous creatures roaming about amplify that feeling. Everything that moves in The Break is a threat.
Frey makes use of magic parkour to quickly and effortlessly traverse the hostile world of Athia. Magic parkour isn’t just about speedy forward movement, though. Frey can also move vertically or laterally at will, and zip to ledges by setting anchor points. Walls that would normally serve as barriers in most open-world games are nothing more than an extra hurdle to leap over in Forspoken. Since this was a hands-off demo, we can’t assess how good or intuitive it feels to use magic parkour. But based on what we saw, it all appeared seamless enough, and it looked cool.
All manner of nasty monsters stand in Frey’s path. She can take them on with her powerful magical abilities. During one segment, Frey went up against a group of Break zombies. A ring menu gives Frey access to a plethora of abilities. These include traps, projectiles, ranged attacks, close-quarter attacks and more.
Frey dealt with the slow-moving zombies by lobbing magical arrows at them. She can even use magic parkour in the middle of combat to close in on enemies or dodge attacks. The game encourages players to find a playstyle that suits them — whether it involves fighting with flair at close range, or being tactical and picking off foes from further away.
In a section of the world that resembled the American Southwest, Frey faced a deadlier batch of foes at the base of what appeared to be a ruined castle. Instead of engaging the monsters in combat, Frey used magic to make herself invisible and then slipped away. We’re sure you won’t be able to get away from bosses so easily, but it’s good to know you don’t always have to fight if you don’t want to.
When she's not fighting for her life, Frey can rest in hidden shelters scattered across Athia. At workbenches found within these structures, she can use collected resources to craft and upgrade gear, or simply rest to restore her health. Speaking of health, the demo showed Frey crafting a “healing draught” that she can consume during combat. Shelters offer brief moments of peace in an otherwise arduous journey.
Frey can equip different cloaks and necklaces that she finds throughout the world. These provide her with stat boosts and other perks to aid her survival. She can also strengthen her spellcasting by painting special patterns on her nails using Break shards. This level of customization will further let players build Frey to suit their specific playstyles. The different-colored cloaks also add a nice dash of color to an otherwise brown, gray world. Cloaks, necklaces and other items will no doubt also be rewards for completing the many quests the game will offer.
The demo ended with Frey caught in the middle of a Break storm. These storms call forth the deadliest creatures on Athia. A massive monster resembling a giraffe with an octopus head appeared and gave Frey a hard time. No matter how many fire javelins she hurled into its single eye, the creature never flinched. The encounter resulted in Frey’s untimely demise. Break storms will not be easy to overcome.
I like what I’ve seen of Forspoken so far. The parkour and combat look exhilarating, and I’m intrigued to learn more about Frey and the world of Athia. As a huge fan of Final Fantasy XV, I’m also excited to play another game running on the Luminous Engine. Like FFXV, Forspoken looks absolutely gorgeous, as a proper next-gen title should
Square Enix promises to divulge more information on Forspoken as we near its May 24, 2022 release date on PlayStation 5 and PC.