Review: ‘Forspoken’ is perfect for those craving an easier ‘Elden Ring’

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Toss Elden Ring, Control, and Sonic the Hedgehog into a blender (with a dash of Final Fantasy) and you get Forspoken. FromSoftware’s 2022 classic provides a vast, ruined, and atmospheric fantasy world to explore, Control contributes a combat system based on flying and gradually evolving superpowers, and Sonic? Well, there’s a lot of the blue blur’s wonky forays into 3D in the way you’ll sprint, boost, and leap through the world.

The core premise centers on an average Joe (or rather, Jane) tossed into a JRPG and trying their best to get home. You play as Frey, who is not doing so hot when we’re first introduced to her. She lives in a dilapidated Manhattan squat, is facing some legal trouble, and she’s been targeted by small-scale criminals. Her only comfort is her cat Homer and a copy of Alice in Wonderland. And, wouldn’t you know it, she’s about to go down the rabbit hole herself.

Once the prologue is out of the way, you’re tossed through a portal and end up in the fantasy world of Athia, which has definitely seen better days. A miasma known as “The Break” means its citizens cannot venture outside the capital city without turning into crystalline zombies, and the barren landscape is teeming with monsters.

Forspoken
Screenshot via Square Enix

Fortunately for Frey, she’s not only uniquely immune to the corruption, but a plummy-voiced talking bracelet called Cuff has given her superpowers. At each of the four corners of the world, there are bosses who’re responsible for the corruption. Time to get out there and bust some heads.

Forspoken quickly nails its flag to the wall as an unabashed power fantasy. You are by some distance the most badass thing in Athia — Frey is able to sprint at tremendous speeds, zip through the air, and scale walls in the blink of an eye. You also have a powerful suite of magic attacks, letting you blast enemies through the air with rocks, slice them to bits with spectral weaponry, and summon walls of vines from the soil. Even better, you can do all that while pinballing through the air.

This is both Forspoken‘s biggest flaw and greatest asset. You’re so agile and your attacks so accurate and damaging that 99 percent of enemies you meet won’t be able to lay a finger on you. Even if they do, you have a magical recharging shield that mitigates most damage, and to top it off, healing supplies are scattered almost everywhere. All this makes Forspoken one of the easiest major releases I’ve played in years: on the default difficulty, I only died once (specifically, to the final boss, since I misunderstood a new mechanic).

Forspoken
Screenshot via Square Enix

On top of that, I only dabbled in the side content and mostly focused on the main story, so presumably, spending time searching for the best equipment and buffs would only make Frey that much more invincible. There are higher and lower difficulties (the mind boggles how this game could possibly be easier) and if was playing for my own pleasure rather than to a deadline, I may have bumped it up to hard just to get some pushback from the game.

But not every game has to be Dark Souls, and though Forspoken is very easy, it’s also very fun. Simply moving through Athia is exhilarating, with the fluidity and speed of Frey’s motion feeling genuinely dreamlike. Even after the credits rolled (which took about 15 hours) this was still a blast and there’s nothing quite like standing on a cliff overlooking a vast scenic vista, bounding off into it, and gracefully flying through the landscape. The only downside is that it’s going to take me a long time to reacclimatize to any other open-world game — trudging through a field in Assassin’s Creed Valhalla suddenly feels like having your feet encased in lead.

Sadly, combat isn’t quite as nicely tuned. The first spell you get lets you telekinetically throw rocks, with upgrades allowing you to hold down the fire button to summon bigger and boomier rocks. Sending twenty or thirty low-level enemies spiraling through the air never gets old, but despite the game eventually giving you a wealth of other attack spells, the base spell will see you through practically the entire game. With action heavily geared towards offense, it’s best to be tossing out as many projectiles as you can, so expect your R2 button to get a serious workout.

Forspoken
Screenshot via Square Enix

Prior to release, Forspoken received a lot of criticism for having an African American protagonist written by white writers, with the game’s motion capture and voice-over director doing the game’s reputation no favors by describing Frey as having “a very hip-hoppy kind of walk.” Writers Allison Rymer and Todd Stashwick added more fuel to the fire by describing Frey as “very angry” and “on the verge of prison,” resulting in justified criticism that they’re playing into harmful Black stereotyping.

I wish they’d chosen their words more carefully because I thought Frey was a breath of fresh air. Ella Balinska nails it as a fish-out-of-water hero — initially baffled by the new world, but in time, growing a bulletproof sense of determination and confidence. That said, she isn’t going to please everyone, especially given that she swears like a sailor at every opportunity, tossing out as many “f**ks” as magic projectiles. Her banter with Cuff will also be divisive, so much so that there’s an option to dial back their dialogue.

The game’s overall story will also be predictable to anyone with even a tiny bit of genre savviness, though by the time I put down the controller, I found myself liking and caring about Frey. The narrative does suffer from both a late-game exposition dump that goes on far too long and some questionable post-game character decisions, but these are more flies in the ointment rather than bad ointment.

Forspoken is by no means perfect. There are a lot of rough edges, the gameplay balance is crazily off-kilter (though thankfully skewed towards the player), and combat is largely a case of zipping around frantically while hammering R2. But it’s got heart and deserves to find its audience. This one has “future cult classic” written all over it.

This review is based on the PlayStation 5 version of the game. A copy was provided by Square Enix.

Forspoken
Great

Want to explore a beautiful and desolate fantasy world without being stomped into the ground by every enemy you meet? The power fantasy of 'Forspoken' might just be the game for you.