Forspoken Is That Frustrating Piece of Entertainment That Gets Good “Eventually”
We all have that favorite show or game that doesn't get good until later, but Forspoken shows that "good eventually" is sometimes not enough.
Much has been said about Forspoken‘s divisive dialog. I focused on that dialog in my preview of the game, and we later discussed what the debate over that dialog reveals about the pop culture landscape.
In all of those discussions, though, I’ve never really talked about whether the full version of Forspoken is…you know…good. Well, after finally finding the time to finish the game’s campaign, I can tell you that Forspoken is one of the clearest and most frustrating examples of a piece of entertainment that gets good eventually.
For those who don’t know, Forspoken is a new RPG from publisher Square Enix that is out now for PS5 and PC. It tells the story of a young woman named Frey Holland who is transported to the magical land of Athia. Tasked with helping the people of that world while she finds a way home, Frey must rely on a series of impressive magical abilities (which include elaborate parkour-like movement mechanics) to defeat a series of mythical enemies.
It’s not a groundbreaking premise by any means, but the potential is clearly there. Unfortunately, much of that potential is squandered out of the gate.
So many of Forspoken‘s problems are front-loaded, including those aforementioned dialog and writing issues. That’s not to say that those who were turned off by the early examples game’s writing style simply didn’t play the game long enough, but rather that some of the worst examples of that style are found near the beginning of the game. You’ve probably already seen some of them being shared across pretty much every form of social media.
Forspoken‘s gameplay is actually the bigger offender during those first few hours, though. In theory, a free-running ARPG that sees you bounce between open-world environments as you fire magic missiles at mythical beasts sounds pretty good. In practice, Forspoken‘s erratic camera angles, clumsy controls, and slow upgrade system undermine a lot of that potential. You spend too much of the early parts game trying to circle around enemies and fire off relatively weak (and often awkward) forms of supposedly powerful magic that really just chip away at hovering health bars. That sensation of immediate and wonderful power that Frey is always talking about is only properly conveyed through painfully brief moments of early gameplay.
Mind you, Forspoken isn’t a very long game. Those just trying to beat the main campaign will probably be able to do so in about 15-20 hours. So when I tell you that Forspoken gets good “eventually,” I mean that it starts to pick up at around the 7-to-8-hour mark (depending on your playstyle). At that point in the game, though, things really do start to get interesting.
A little over halfway through your Forspoken adventure, the game starts to inch closer to becoming that title some hoped it would be. The story grows to tell that tale of a fascinating fantasy world filled with culture and history. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself more engaged with the side characters and their role in that world than with Frey herself (though she really does come into her own during the later parts of the adventure).
More importantly, Forspoken‘s gameplay gradually becomes pretty compelling. While Forspoken‘s wonky camera and sometimes stiff controls are issues that never really go away, you do start to become more comfortable with them one way or the other after you spend enough time with them. While that’s not necessarily a testament to the game’s brilliance, familiarity isn’t Forspoken‘s only attribute.
Once you unlock different kinds of increasingly elaborate spells and additional movement mechanics, you’ll start to appreciate the many ways you can approach combat scenarios and how good executing those strategies makes you feel. Forspoken is never able to reach Dark Souls/Elden Ring levels in that respect, but that comparison isn’t unwarranted. The game certainly strives to make complex combat mechanics feel like second nature, and it does achieve a form of that fabled gameplay flow at some point.
We just keep coming back to that “at some point” point, though. While it’s not unusual for any piece of entertainment to gain momentum as it goes along or improve over time, Forspoken is that piece of entertainment that takes a hard left turn into something much better at a point when many people may have rightfully given up on it. It’s something you actually see a lot of on TV with acclaimed shows like Parks and Recreation, Six Feet Under, and Star Trek: The Next Generation that don’t really hit their stride until a little later in their runs. Of course, that trope is always a little more frustrating in “slow” games like The Witcher 2, Kingdom Hearts 2, or The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. After all, you can’t skip episodes or just read summaries for those games. You’ve got to invest hours of engagement into them before they reveal their potential.
It’s always hard to know what to make of those works that exist at the philosophical intersection of “First impressions are most important” and “The only thing they remember is the finish.” In most cases, their legacy is defined by the yield of their return on time investment. As silly as it is to ask someone to invest hours in a piece of entertainment you know they’re probably not going to enjoy, we can all probably name examples of that thing we’ve recommended that defies that conventional piece of logic. “Trust me,” you’ll say. “You just need to stick with it.”
In the end, I think that’s what the answers to the questions about how “good” Forspoken actually is have to come down to. For me, Forspoken‘s pay-off is the chance to see and experience aspects of its considerable potential. There’s a good game at the heart of Forspoken, and it’s a shame that some of the future conversations about this game may not include that side of it simply because too few people stuck around to see it. At the same time, Forspoken‘s pay-off isn’t so brilliant that it erases the struggles of what game before. Instead, the game just becomes a much better version of itself.
Yet, I can’t help but think of a show like Seinfeld that started off kind of rough (to say the least) and went on to become a phenomenon. Granted, that’s a pretty extreme example of the concept, but the point is that there are times when a little bit of commitment to the potential of a thing can go a long way. My hope is that Forspoken‘s better, later moments will be enough to convince someone to build upon the potential of those concepts (if not continue the franchise itself). Realistically, though, I fear that nobody has time for that.