Forspoken Preview: Frey stands off against a dragon.

Forspoken Preview – A Promising New IP Carried By Its Spellcasting Combat

A charismatic protagonist, addictive combat and fluid parkour make for a potential hit

Nervous. That’s how I felt ahead of my Forspoken preview. A couple of delays and an awkwardly-narrated trailer had me worried. However, having played Forspoken’s opening chapters and exploring the fantasy open world of Athia, I left wishing I could magic parkour back later for more.

I perhaps needn’t have worried. Yes, Forspoken is Luminous Production’s debut, but they have a fantastic pedigree. Much of the team worked on Final Fantasy XV. Attached are Amy Hennig and Gary Whitta, two writers I revere for their respective work on Uncharted and Rogue One.

Forspoken Preview: Tanta Sila grabs Frey around the throat.

A proudly narrative-focussed game, I was pleased to see the influence of these respected writers apparent within the first few hours of Forspoken.

It is well-trod ground: a wise-cracking, anachronistic heroine begrudgingly embarks on a quest to save a realm into which she’s inadvertently stumbled. Likewise, ‘the Break’ — a blight infecting Athia and blamed for all the destruction — is very reminiscent of other vague-but-destructive video game phenomena, ala the ‘Corruption’ Aloy combats in Horizon Zero Dawn.

The Cheapest Pre-Order: $79.99 at Amazon with free shipping

That aside, I immediately took a liking to Forspoken’s heroine, Frey. Ella Balinska’s performance won me over where the trailers had not. Be it cheeky one-liners or some of the early emotional story beats, Balinska does the heavy lifting.

Forspoken Preview: Frey looks straight at the camera.

I didn’t warm to the supporting characters quite the same as they offered up exposition and side quests. Of course, whilst Hennig and Whitta chalked up the overarching story beats, they didn’t necessarily script every line of dialogue.

I start my preview in Athia and get introduced to Cuff: a sentient bangle affixed to Frey’s wrist. Seemingly the source of much of her magical ability, Cuff is voiced by the English actor Jonathan Cake and is oddly affluent if one-dimensional in the opening chapters. He seems more Destiny’s Ghosts than Halo’s Cortana.

Venturing off into the open world, Frey discovers her newfound powers and starts to take a liking to this beautiful yet troubled world. As did I; the combat is really where Forspoken shines.

One of Forspoken's side characters looks fondly at the camera.

Starting light on spells, within the first couple of hours of Forspoken I’d acquired quite the magical arsenal. Already bouncing between different spell combos, I struggle to comprehend wielding the nearly one hundred spells in the final game.

By the time I arrived at my first boss fight, I was getting the hang of things, using the magic parkour to traverse combat arenas and dodge attacks whilst slinging spells back at the enemy. It’s fast and flashy and full of Final Fantasy flare.

Timing things right and using the environment to your advantage, the combat also revolves around switching up your attacks depending on the situation. At range, switching to a quick-fire blast dealt damage from a distance. Up close, slower, higher-damage attacks were effective. A shield you can then shoot off like a shotgun, and support spells like one that spawned a flower-like turret were ace for crowd control.

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From a sideon perspective, Forspoken's protagonist Frey uses her magic parkour to dash across a desolate landscape.

It’s addictive too. It was quite the thrill evading fireballs and getting close enough to the boss to slap them with a tendril and leech HP. Having bumped the difficulty up a little higher than recommended given my lack of levelling, it took me a few goes but I was engrossed. At the end of my session, I was eager to play more.

I was pleased to discover a substantial amount to uncover in the open world of Forspoken. Keeping the more Goldilocks-like open-world fans pleased, there seemed a fine balance of things to do without being too dense. Designed with the traversal abilities in mind, a treasure chest, challenging enemy encounters, or something meatier like the Lock Labyrinths or the Combat Challenges, are often within sight. It would appear there’s always something on the horizon inviting you to go check out.

Darting about the dangerous open world of a Break-afflicted Athia — as Frey so colloquially describes the supernatural corruption plaguing the realm — there are plenty of hints at the parkour potential. Zipping about takes a bit of getting used to, particularly in more cramped corners, but it makes for some effortless exploration. In combat, it creates incredibly graceful-looking ducking and weaving, with the Luminous Engine’s trademark VFX producing some very watchable fights.

One of Forspoken's early bosses prepares for battle.

Flicking through the different graphics settings, I settled on the performance mode on my PS5. Although I could — upon close inspection — observe the fidelity hit, it made for much more fluidity to the parkour and combat.

Where concern started to creep back in was with the breaks in the pace that would often occur in Forspoken’s opening moments. There’s a bit of a staccato nature to Forspoken at first; as you get to grips with the combat, cutscenes regularly interrupt to advance the story.

Just as it threatens to drag, not long after persisting through an awkward stealth sequence, you’re thankfully handed the reins. Setting off into the open world is where Forspoken truly hits its stride.

I didn’t experience the sort of impactful storytelling that might win awards, nor an open-world design that redefines what we know, but Forspoken has a lot to love. Seemingly, it has all the hallmarks of a JRPG blended with those of a Western open-world action-adventure game, establishing a new IP dense with lore. Whether it be the charismatic protagonist, addictive combat or fluid parkour, I think those eager to play Forspoken will find something they enjoy.

Forspoken launches on January 24th 2023 for PS5 and PC. Press Start travelled to London upon the invitation of Square Enix to attend the preview. 

Amazon currently has the game at a pre-order price of $84.99 with free shipping.