Forspoken speaks to me for a lot of reasons. First and foremost, it’s a brand-new AAA IP in a landscape where only the brave dare tread new ground. It’s also something different, sporting bold gameplay ideas and a genuinely interesting lead character. And to top it all off it’s coming from Luminous Productions, a team made up primarily of ex-Final Fantasy XV talent and using the same in-house engine as that game. It’s a cocktail of ideas that are exciting and risky in equal measure, so I was keen to finally get my hands around the game in a recent preview session.
I’m fairly intrigued by Forspoken’s setting, which seems to be taking the familiar ‘isekai’ formula of transporting an everyday person from their life in the modern world to an unfamiliar fantasy world and putting a unique spin on it. Rather than put too much emphasis on the world of Athia, Forspoken seems to focus the attention as much on Frey’s personal growth and struggles as a modern-day woman as it does her efforts to understand and become the saviour of this strange world.
But narrative is now what we’re talking about just yet. Right upfront, before I’d so much as picked up the controller, it was stressed to me that the roughly hour-long demo I was about to play wasn’t strictly representative of what players will experience in the full game. Rather, this was a self-contained experience set in an area that players will see for themselves in roughly the sixth or seventh chapter of Forspoken. The idea here is that by stripping away any (potentially spoiler-y) story stuff and curating the experience they’d be able to give me a no-frills, all-action look at two of this title’s core gameplay pillars; intense spell-based combat and magical parkour traversal. And boy did I get a taste of both.
I’m going to say this early and with emphasis – Forspoken feels incredible in the hand. From the moment I picked up the controller and walked through the more basic tutorial prompts, it became obvious that the team at Luminous have spent a ton of time and energy on making sure controlling Frey feels just right. At the center of Frey’s movement is the game’s ‘magical parkour’, which gives players the ability to quickly and fluidly traverse the world using her magic to sprint across the ground, maneuver around obstacles, leap heights and gracefully descend all with little more than a button hold. It makes getting around an absolute pleasure, and looks to be upgradeable to allow further exploration of out-of-reach areas, but it’s also an important contextual element to the rest of the gameplay experience in Forspoken.
The first time I found a treasure chest tucked away in a part of the world, I was already happily barreling through with my magic-powered sprint and tried my best to do a last minute turn-and-stop. I overshot though and, out of instinct, pressed the interact button as I passed the chest. To my surprise and delight, rather than pull Frey out of the moment, the game made it work by having her do an impressively acrobatic cartwheel kick to open the chest. I was told a similar thing happens when running at a door rather than simply walking up to it – parkour is such an important element in Forspoken that the people at Luminous have gone the extra mile to make sure you never have to slow down. It’s brilliant.
The same goes for the game’s combat, and Frey’s ability to cast a ridiculous 100 different spells. My preview session kitted me out with just a portion of them, but even just the ones I had on hand were a ton of fun to experiment with. I had two sets of spells in my arsenal, one themed to Frey and one to Tanta Sila (I couldn’t confirm if new spell sets might be acquired by ‘beating’ the game’s villains, the Tantas, but it seems likely) and each had a different feel to it. Frey’s came off as a little more considered, with lots of ranged attack spells and defensive abilities that had an earthy theme like Plants vs Zombies-esque flower turrets, while Sila’s were fiery and close-quarters with a lot of sword and spear-shaped attacks.
Forspoken’s combat, much like everything else in the game, is fluid, punchy and stunning to behold. The left and right triggers are Frey’s defensive and offensive spells, respectively, with offensive spells typically offering rapid or charged fire while the defensive ones usually work on some degree of cooldown. There’s also a third option, powerful special spells called down by pressing both triggers when they’re ready to activate. Using the bumpers you’re able to pick your spells on the fly with radial menus (which slows the action down slightly for you) or quickly switch sets, and there are even some spells that cause your set to switch automatically which helps to set up some fun follow-up attack strings.
Everyone’s experience should be quite different based on the style of magic they gravitate towards. I quickly became partial to Tanta Sila’s suite, especially a Bombardier attack that let me kick an enemy into the group and have them explode, or another that summoned floating, fiery swords that would start auto-attacking my enemies whenever I began charging up an offensive move. Figuring out how things go together and when best to use them is a riot, doubly so once you put them into practice and start laying the magical smackdown on your foes.
It’s all far more fluid and user-friendly than I’m probably making it sound, and really is one of those things you need to get your hands on to really understand. The only slight criticism I could level at it during my time was that the auto-targeting for close-range attacks could sometimes be a bit funky, but there’s plenty of time for stuff like that to be ironed out. The bottom line is, Luminous are really demonstrating their action RPG chops with this game. There’s nothing like it that I’ve played and from the moment I’d completed the demo, after taking down a special “Altered” mid-boss version of one of the region’s crocodile enemies, I wanted to jump right back in.
There are a lot of things I still don’t know too much about with Forspoken thanks to the curated nature of this particular demo. I don’t know if the rate at which I was acquiring new gear and mana to unlock new spells was truly representative, but it definitely seemed like there was a decent rate of reward for everything I sought out or did during my time. Frey’s equipment comes in the form of new cloaks, necklaces and nail coatings and there looks to be quite a deep system for crafting and customising your gear to really suit your particular playstyle and the spells you prefer. Spells increase in strength the more you use them, as well, though again I didn’t get much of a chance to explore that aspect of the game.
It all looks and sounds great, too. The Luminous Engine is an interesting beast, being an in-house engine that has very clearly been geared towards the things that the studio enjoys putting in their games, like vast and lush landscapes and wondrous magical spells made up of seriously impressive particle and lighting effects. My demo was locked into the “Performance” visual mode which has a dynamic, roughly 2K resolution and a 60fps target but options will also be available for a 4K30 mode as well as a ray-traced option that supposedly sits around 3K at 30fps.
I can already see the banter between the hip (ugh did I just say hip?) and modern Frey and her well-spoken magical Cuff rubbing people the wrong way, but it comes off far less cringey than I was expecting based on past trailers and actually reminded me a lot of the interactions between Kainé and Grimoire Weiss in NieR Replicant. Still, without much other story content to go on a lot remains to be seen in this area.
Overall, what was ostensibly a proof-of-concept demonstration designed to get me excited about the things that Forspoken is doing in the combat and traversal areas has done exactly that. At this stage, even if the narrative falls completely flat and the open world proves itself to be little more than set dressing, the exhilarating movement and spell weaving that the game is offering should be more than enough to make it worth anyone’s time. I’ve been cautiously optimistic about the game up to this point, but most of that caution has now subsided. Forspoken is sure to be a treat when it arrives early next year.