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Forspoken Review: A Flashy Exercise In Mediocrity

Image featuring Frey Holland in Forspoken

Credit: Square Enix

This Forspoken review contains minor spoilers.

As the first AAA release of 2023, Forspoken had an open goal. It promised a gorgeous and deep RPG set apart by fast and fluid traversal mechanics. Had it delivered on these promises and given players an engaging story to boot, the game that started life as “Project Athia” would’ve been an easy hit in an otherwise dreary month. Instead, Forspoken misses on every front.

The crux of the issue is that Forspoken is painfully generic. December’s demo made that clear even in its short run-time. Of course, there was always a chance that the expanded setting, story, and mechanics of the full game would shift that perception. Instead, it cements it.

Frustratingly, there are glimmers of a good game in Forspoken. But everything – from the generic and uninteresting story to the style-over-substance parkour – is underdeveloped. It feels like a game built on easy mode from an existing fantasy RPG template.

Thankfully, almost everything in Forspoken is serviceable. During my almost fifteen hours with the game on PS5, it worked as the developers intended. There were no major bugs or performance issues to speak of.

Nonetheless, it is painfully mediocre. I never felt a pull to play it. And in an age where media is constantly competing for our attention, why should anyone waste their time on a game that isn’t particularly fun or interesting to play?

Forspoken Review: Story

Forspoken‘s story is a fish-out-of-water tale about New York orphan Frey Holland, who is unexpectedly transported to the magical fantasy world of Athia after finding an enchanted bracelet. Once there, she becomes embroiled in a war between the realm’s population and its malevolent rulers – the Tantas.

Frey Holland holds Cuff in Forspoken review
Credit: Square Enix

Athia has also been corrupted by the Break, a miasma that corrupts everything it touches. It has turned much of the world’s people and creatures into monsters.

From the get go, Forspoken is unoriginal. Whether it’s muggle-raised Harry Potter being whisked off to Hogwarts or Bilbo Baggins being coerced into an unexpected journey, this fantasy misfit’s story has been told in a thousand different ways before. And Forspoken‘s version is far from the most remarkable.


Frey is an unlikeable wise-cracking protagonist with an obnoxious attitude, a penchant for swearing, and an unfunny cadence. Voice actor and mo-cap model Ella Balinska no doubt tried her best with what she was given. But the writing is, frankly, awful.

Frey is joined by sidekick Cuff – a talking bracelet – who intends to educate and guide Frey on her journey through Athia. Instead, the two mostly bicker when not remarking about their unfamiliarity with each other’s worlds. This was clearly intended as Marvel-esque friendly banter but it’s cringe-inducing.

Still image of Frey Holland in Forspoken
Credit: Square Enix

Despite Cuff’s best efforts, Frey is only concerned with going home and shows disdain at having to undertake most of the game’s main missions. Ironically, this is how I felt for most of my play-through. And if the protagonist doesn’t want to save the world, why should I?

Throughout Frey’s journey she meets a number of supporting characters. There’s the too-nice Auden Keen, her father Robian, cannon-fodder Olivia, and the Tantas themselves. All of them are disappointingly embryonic in their development and serve only to fill typical roles in Frey’s predictable adventure.

Speaking of predictable, there’s a late game twist that I guessed the second I learned that Frey was an orphan. Rather than surprising, the revelation proves the pervasive unoriginality of Forspoken‘s tedious narrative.

Forspoken Review: Setting

Athia itself is a huge place. Too big, in fact. For a game that is a mere fifteen hours long, there is simply no need to have a map of this scale. In my entire play-though, I ventured through less than half of it.

While it could be said that the main story fails to show you everything Athia has to offer, the reality is that it doesn’t actually have much to offer at all.

Frey Holland stood outside in Athia in Forspoken
Credit: Square Enix

The continent is split into four realms: Praenost, Avoalet, Visoria, and Junoon. Variation between the realms is minimal outside of a different colour filter.

Whichever realm you’re in, the majority of the map is made up of huge expanses of open space with some rudimentary points of interest. There are fields, mountain ranges, bridges, a few castles, and some uninspiring villages. But there’s nothing that stops you in your tracks and illicits a sense of awe.

Outside of that, there are other landmarks like monuments, labyrinths, and founts to discover that reward you with skill boosts, new spells, and unique items. However, you don’t need anything other than what can be acquired through the main story missions. This makes them all fundamentally pointless and not worth seeking out.

Forspoken‘s hub is the large city of Cipal. A huge chunk of the game is spent wandering its streets. But it feels more like a Potemkin imitation than a medieval metropolis. This isn’t helped by the game’s lacklustre graphics which make most structures look like they were built using cardboard and feature painted facades.

Forspoken review Cipal

Unlike Assassin’s Creed, which pioneered parkour-based exploration, Forspoken doesn’t allow you to freely explore its main city. Magical parkour is disabled within Cipal’s gates, so you’re left wandering the soulless streets with nothing interesting to see or do.

Forspoken Review: Gameplay


Forspoken‘s main selling point is its magic parkour system that allows Frey to traverse Athia in a fast and flashy fashion.

Thankfully, the parkour is one of the better elements of the game. It looks impressive, is integrated nicely into combat, and makes journeying across the uninspired Athian landscape surprisingly enjoyable.

This latter point is a double-edged sword, though. The parkour is so fun by comparison to the rest of the game that it encourages you to beeline to your objective. Why stop to patiently and meticulously explore when you can flip and fly your way to where you need to be?

Forspoken review parkour
Magic feet.

Mercifully, the parkour stamina meter is generous and movement speed is fast. Without these, getting across Athia would be a total slog that would turn anyone off almost immediately.

While it is one of Forspoken‘s better features, the parkour is simplistic. It requires no real skill or engagement from the player. Simply hold Circle and push forward and you’re away. It’s a prime example of style over substance.


Similarly, the combat looks good but is tedious in practise.

As you progress and unlock more spells, the game’s lavish particle effects come into their own. But enemy encounters never progress past them sponging your attacks as you mash R2 and effortlessly dodge their offence. In most cases, it’s easy yet irritatingly time-consuming.

For instance, in one of the game’s letter stages, Frey is trapped inside an illusionary world with invisible barriers blocking her path. To get through the barriers, she must defeat a set number of enemies and destroy large lanterns. It goes on endlessly and feels like an incredibly cheap way of dragging out the game. Honestly, it was one of the most boring hours of my gaming life.

Frey Holland with the spell wheel open

Nevertheless, unlocking more spells helps to keep the combat fresh especially when melee options become available after defeating the first (but late) boss.

However, Frey only gets access to her full-range of abilities at the end of the game’s story. And with nothing interesting to see or do elsewhere in Athia, that means most players won’t get a chance to use them. Consequently, many, like me, will probably rely on the same three or four spells throughout their play-through.

Detours (Forspoken‘s side-quests) are nothing more than a distraction which fail to provide any kind of satisfying post-game content. For the most part they are uninteresting fetch quests that should be kept to a minimum in video games in 2023.

Forspoken Review: Graphics, Performance & Sound

Early trailers touted Forspoken‘s highly impressive visuals. In reality, they are far below what I would expect from a current-gen title that is exclusive to PC and PS5.

Even with ray-tracing turned on, Athia feels flat due to the lack of detail and drab lighting effects.

It’s clear the developers had issues with optimisation – just look at the astronomically high system requirements on PC. But there’s no excuse for a new release to look worse than some previous generation titles.

Athia isn’t the only thing suffering from the game’s lacklustre graphics. Character models look mostly unimpressive with some laughable facial animations thrown in for good measure.

An NPC in Cipal
Me too, random NPC.

Don’t get me wrong, Frey looks great in pre-rendered cutscenes. And the Tanta’s are Forspoken‘s most visually exciting characters. But overall, the graphical package falls down due to a general lack of care for detail.

On PS5, the game performs well. It offers three graphics modes: Performance-focussed, Quality-focussed, and Ray Tracing. Honestly, there’s not much difference between them. So, I opted for the Performance mode thanks to its higher frame rate.

Forspoken‘s musical score is one of its highlights. And although it is persistently played too loudly over the entire game, it stood out as one of its more professional elements. With that being said, it comes from God of War and The Rings of Power composer Bear McCreary – so I’d expect nothing less.

Forspoken Review: Verdict

Forspoken‘s combat and parkour might look flashy on the surface but both systems lack substance. Similarly, Athia is an open-world with little to offer than its unnecessarily inflated size.

Luminous Productions has succeeded in creating a game that just about ticks every box on the modern RPG checklist. Everything is functional and there’s some fun to be had. But nothing stands out. And there’s nothing pulling you back for more.

I really wanted to like Forspoken. However, its obnoxious protagonist, generic story, visually unappealing and uninteresting world, and shallow gameplay make it nothing more than an average experience that I’m in no rush to revisit.

Overall Rating: 5/10

Version played: PS5

Do you agree with our Forspoken review? Let us know in the comment section below and don’t forget to check out our other gaming articles…


Sam Harby

About Author

Sam is one of the editors and founders of Downtime Bros and an accredited critic. As a lifelong fan of video games, his favourites are Metal Gear Solid and The Last of Us. With years of knowledge and critical analysis under his belt, he has written hundreds of articles - including news, guides, and reviews - covering video games, movies, TV, and pop culture. Follow him on Twitter and check out his reviews on OpenCritic.

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