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Both Forspoken The game’s main character and its protagonist don’t make the best first impressions. Without spoiling, the latter spends the first several hours of the game complaining about her life’s direction, both in New York and in the fantasy world where she’s transported. While I have not yet finished the game, it hasn’t really picked up from there in the hours since, and I don’t have much hope for the ending.
Traversal and combat are both fun. It might do enough to raise the game out of the despair it has been destined to due to its open-world, colorful palette and characters. But so far it’s a mostly empty, unremarkable action-adventure game with a few decent features and pretty much nothing else to call its own.
The story follows Frey Holland, a foundling in New York City who’s living a pretty pitiful existence. A chronic screw-up, she’s trying to escape her debt to the local gangs and stumbles upon a beautiful bracelet hidden in a warehouse. It is touched and she is taken to Athia. A twisted, corrupted world where she has to find her way to New York. It speaks! She calls the bracelet “Athia” “Cuff”However, it grants her many magic powers.
Frey discovers the hard way that she’s immune to the Break, the spreading darkness that’s changing Athia for the worse. She also attracts the negative attention of the Tantas, Athia’s powerful matriarchs. Working her way out from Cipal, Athia’s lone uncorrupted city, Frey takes out the four Tantas, each in one of Athia’s four regions. She doesn’t really know why (and neither do we), except that it might be her way back to New York.
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Is it possible to smother a sentient wrist bracelet? Looking for a friend?
Forspoken has two different flavors of bad dialogue (which is kind of impressive when you think about it): Frey’s dialogue and the Athian’s dialogue. Frey’s cringey bullshit sounds like the result of a bunch of middle-aged men writing what they want. Think What a New York 20-something woman would sound like. It’s a chore to listen to, as Frey sprinkles unnecessary pop culture references and slang into her dialogue and then gets annoyed when neither Cuff nor anyone else understands her.
Other side is the population of Athia, Cipal especially. Frey can be heard in all of them. patois, nattering on about how crappy their world is and how they hope she’ll save them. It’s nothing outstanding, and the voice acting reaches the level of passable at the best of times. At the worst, it’s an intolerable waspish buzz. The only thing that makes the Athians bearable is that they’re standing next to Frey Holland, who is an entirely worse breed of irritant.
I don’t want to speak too soon, but I think Frey might represent the bar to clear for “Most Unlikeable Hero” For games in 2023. She’s snippy and nasty to just about everyone, then seems offended when most of them don’t want her around. The majority of her time is spent whining about how she wants to return to New York. She has no friends, money, or a place to call home. Despite the game’s best efforts, her motivations aren’t compelling or interesting.
Cuff isn’t much better, constantly nagging and picking at Frey during their “banter.” Frey is a constant target of his disdainful and even sometimes resentful voice. Even if there’s a moment where Frey is tolerable, Cuff is there to pick up the slack and make you cringe once again. It doesn’t help that the two have a limited number of lines, so you’ll hear the same exchanges dozens of times. It’s a real struggle putting up with them.
The bone-dry world
Athia’s map is enormous, and chockful of locations to visit. Frey may find magical hotspots that can increase her stats, or teach her a new skill. Frey could also visit enemy hives to gain valuable loot by eliminating all enemies. You can take pictures of children and follow cats, as well as do sidequests. It’s harmless, if a little bland. It does sometimes feel that there are too many collectibles — the mana pools, for example, are sprinkled everywhere like orbs in Crackdown.
The traversal mechanics are a unique good point. Forspoken. One of Frey’s new magical powers is essentially supercharged parkour, letting her fly over the countryside, up cliffsides and over obstacles without issue. It’s delightful, especially once she gets a grappling hook upgrade. Also, it’s one of the few times in the game when Frey actually seems to enjoy herself.
Frey’s combat skills are another strength. She uses hand gestures and magic to punish her enemies with a variety of magical punishments. Frey’s repertoire of abilities feel distinct and pack a (literal punch), and she acquires more over the course of the game. It’s pretty boring against standard enemies. But boss battles are where it shines.
The world of Athia’s art design is a major problem. Particularly in Cipal, the landscape is made unpleasant by the color selection. It also applies to the vast majority of open-world. Conversely, some of the game’s unique visual elements — such as Frey’s ability to boost her attack power with a cool manicure — are unnoticeable. And when it does introduce color, it’s eye-watering.
Because I haven’t finished the game yet, I’m not going to give it a score. Instead, let’s make like Frey herself and complain about some minor stuff. First, Forspoken It has an ineffective crafting and gear system that feels as if it isn’t as important as the rest. It’s never really explained how Frey knows how to upgrade her magical cloaks and necklaces — do New Yorkers have a crafting system of which I’m not aware?
Although the combat is fun, it isn’t the best enemy design. The basic baddies you’ll fight the whole game are just zombies, in case Forspoken wasn’t generic enough already. Oh, and one other thing: The game has puzzles locking up some of its loot … sliding tile puzzles. What level of Hell am I in, where I’m forced to play dozens of sliding tile puzzles over and over?
I’ll come back here and rate the game once I’ve finished the last chapter. However, I’m not convinced that it’s going to become any more magical and entertaining than it is now. It’s a shame, because the game starts from a good place: A new fantasy IP with a take-no-prisoners female protagonist. It was clear that many of those involved in the development were trying to make the game a success. However, I also know that many others were very unsuccessful.
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