There’s been plenty of skepticism around Forspoken and what kind of an experience it’s looking to deliver for some time now, and the weeks and months leading up to the game’s release haven’t exactly been kind to it. Issues have been highlighted with a number of aspects of the experience- and all of that has been exacerbated even further in the immediate aftermath of the game’s release. Forspoken seems to have taken its place as the first high profile flop of 2023 – at least from a critical perspective – and critics and audiences alike have, for the most part, widely lambasted the game for a variety of issues, ranging from smaller ones that are little more than minor annoyances to much more prevalent ones that actively harm the quality of the overall experience. Here, we’re going to talk about a few such issues that drag down Forspoken in some pretty noticeable ways.
Forspoken is littered with narrative issues. On paper, its central premise is an interesting one, even if it isn’t the most original, but the game never manages to do anything with that premise that leaves any sort of an impression. The main drive of the story, as it often is in similar narrative setups, is the slow growth and integration of Frey as a character, and seeing her come to terms with her new powers and her new surrounding and going from a reluctant hero to a willing saviour- but none of that ever really comes to light in any meaningful way, resulting in a story that’s very hard to get invested in. The game keeps telling you that that’s what it’s trying to do, but it never shows you that, and crucial aspects like Frey’s growing sense of responsibility or her attachment to the people in the world of Athia are never really conveyed in any fashion that can be deemed even passingly convincing.
Forspoken having major narrative issues isn’t helped by the fact that it has a pretty underwhelming cast of characters, and Frey herself is a prime example of that. As the protagonist of the game, she obviously carries the weight of a lot of the story, but throughout the experience, she comes across as a largely unlikable character. The game never properly dives into her backstory and motivations, making for a rather shallow personality, while her interactions with the vast majority of other characters don’t exactly paint her in a very flattering light either. Her constant companion, the sentient bracelet named Cuff, isn’t much better either, and even at the best of times, he comes across as unnecessarily snarky rather than witty. Both Frey and Cuff are perfectly representative of how unlikeable and one-dimensional most characters in the game are.
As if the double whammy of a bland story and unlikable characters wasn’t enough, Forspoken is also dragged down by the significant weight of some pretty terrible writing. And it’s terrible in multiple ways. For starters, it’s extremely reliant on unnecessarily meaty exposition dumps. As we touched on earlier, this is a game that doesn’t seem to understand the “show, don’t tell” concept very well, with a significant portion of the story hinging on overexplaining things, often to the point of repeating itself with those explanations. Meanwhile, on a more moment-to-moment scale, the dialogue, as we’re sure everyone knows by this point, is another one of the game’s weaknesses. At best, it’s bland and forgettable, and at worst, it’s a combination of horribly unfunny banter and painfully awkward and stilted conversations that will make you cringe right out of your skin.
LIFELESS OPEN WORLD
Another open world game that’s ridiculously huge for no reason but doesn’t every actually justify that size or do anything interesting with that real estate- yes, sadly, Forspoken is another one of those. The world of Athia is really, really big, but it’s also quite bland and barren. Visually, there’s almost nothing that catches the eye, with the vast stretches of land having next to no visual or aesthetic identity, and nothing to separate the world’s regions from each other in any meaningful way- which is a real shame, too, because traversing the world can be quite a bit of fun, thanks to the game’s magic parkour mechanics. Meanwhile, there isn’t a great deal to love from a gameplay perspective either, thanks to Forspoken’s uninspired optional content- which brings us to our next point…
BORING OPTIONAL CONTENT
Forspoken populates its world with a handful of variety of side activities, and when you engage with these activities in the earlier hours of the game, you might actually enjoy yourself on a very basic level, if nothing else. The problem arises with the relentless repetition of these activities, which is often the case in subpar open world games, and because the game hardly ever introduces any interesting variations or twists to any of them. On a surface level, Forspoken might give you the impression that its world is brimming with map marker and side objectives and things to do, but once you’ve spent enough time in its world, it becomes abundantly clear that the vast majority of that is characterized primarily by mindless repetition.
DISAPPOINTING ENEMY VARIETY
Combat is one of Forspoken’s bright spots. Even though the magic-based system isn’t too deep and doesn’t offer much room for strategizing, it’s flashy and fun. The combat, too, is let down by some deficiencies though, and the lack of enemy variety is one of them. The game hands out an impressive variety of spells to use that offer different strengths and advantages, but you’re not often encouraged to make full use of your growing toolkit, because more often than not, simple, straightforward, and repetitive (again) strategies prove to be sufficiently effective for taking out the enemies you cross paths with.
UNINSPIRED PROGRESSION MECHANICS
For a game that bills itself as an RPG, Forspoken’s progression mechanics offer surprisingly little depth. The game lets Frey equip a handful of items at a time, and a barebones crafting system lets you upgrade those items, but the rewards tend to more rather unsatisfying more often than not. You can get some minor stat upgrades, minimal buffs, and cursory upgrades to your magical abilities, and… that’s pretty much it. There isn’t a great deal of build variety, and not much to encourage you to invest too much thought or time into Frey’s upgrades.
You’d expect a AAA open world action RPG to come with a meaty main story, but that, surprisingly, is definitely not the case in Forspoken. If you stick to its main story, you can finish the game in roughly 15 or so hours, which is surprisingly short for a game of Forspoken’s nature. Don’t get us wrong, we’d love to see games not feeling obligated to be several dozen hours long just for the sake of it, but there’s certainly not enough meat on the bones here.
VISUALLY AND TECHNICALLY INCONSISTENT
From a visual and technical standpoint, Forspoken is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s got some pretty impressive art design for the most part, and even from a purely technical perspective, there’s quite a bit to be impressed by- not least how flashy and explosive its magic looks in both combat and traversal. But there are other aspects of the visual experience here are surprisingly underwhelming. NPCs, for instance, can look laughably bad, and tend to have animations that are just as poor, if not worse. Then there’s the lighting, which falls horribly flat and looks like something straight out of a 10-year old game at the worst of times. Given how long Forspoken has been in development, and the fact that it’s a AAA game, and the fact that it’s current-gen exclusive, most people expected it to look much, much better than it does.