Forspoken’s Demo Hints at Greatness

Forspoken Drops a PS5 Demo

Just over a year ago, I attended a developer showcase that introduced the upcoming action RPG Forspoken. I loved the story hook. A troubled young woman with a questionable future finds herself in a magic-filled alternative dimension. A New Yorker in the real world, Frey is street-smart and unafraid to let the occasional f-bomb fly. In the new land, she’s a fish out of water, the oldest story hook in the world. Her goal is to return home. After saving the world. of course.

At the time, I was excited by the narrative idea but a bit less impressed by the combat and world. Granted, the hands-off demo showed a game that was still deep in development. But visually, it was pretty rough and the world and combat looked undercooked. Well, the PS5 demo just dropped into the PlayStation store and my apprehension is gone. What I’ve seen and played of Forspoken is very encouraging.

Steal from the Best

Unlike some demos that are essentially the tutorial areas, Forspoken’s demo is from several hours into the game. A short prologue catches players up to speed. Frey is transported to Athia, a land much like our own but populated by monsters and corrupted animals. The demo highlights the open-world mechanics and combat, but there is a substantial narrative driving the action. Frey’s ultimate task is defeating the powerful Tantas, priestess-like figures that rule Athia with magic.

Frey has an ally in the form of a sentient bracelet called Cuff, who helps guide her and who has magic of its own. Frey’s journey through the open world of Athia is made less lonely thanks to her and Cuff’s constant back-and-forth.

Although Cuff is a bracelet and not the dismembered head of an immortal, it functions much like Mimir in God of War. Cuff’s chatter can also be dialed back to the essentials. But then, much of Forspoken shows an appreciation for other action RPGs and hack-and-slash games. That’s a polite way of saying that Forspoken’s action and exploration mechanics are reminiscent of popular titles like Assassin’s Creed, Breath of the Wild, and Elden Ring, just to name a few. All games are built on the ideas of other games. The looming question is, does Forspoken have any ideas of its own? I actually think it does.

Could It Be Magic?

Aside from its narrative hook, Forspoken’s most likely distinguishing feature is its magic-based combat and parkour-like movement. Basically, Frey uses her right hand to cast weapon spells like bolts of magic, flaming swords, shattering boulders, or explosive shots. Her left-hand spells are more defensive. Going beyond a mundane shield, the spells can ensnare enemies in magic vines, create barriers of fire, or fling enemies away. Because the spells are on cool-downs, Frey is forced to switch between slotted spells as part of the flow of combat. This makes it difficult to simply spam one key or rely on one weapon and keeps encounters engaging. If you’ve always been a mage in RPGs, you’ll love this.

Frey can also fast dodge and sprint her way around attacks, as well as climb vertical surfaces like cliff faces with ease. There’s only fall damage, even from significant heights, when Frey’s stamina is low. In other words, her parkour techniques make exploring the open world a possibility-filled adventure.

While the demo is only an hour or so slice of gameplay, it highlights how important combat is to Forskpoken, which was a little surprising. Enemies most often come in groups and are corrupted, magic-infused versions of familiar animals, monstrous humanoids, or mages. The demo’s end boss was part alligator, part axolotl, and part Chinese dragon.

Moving Towards Release

Sometimes developers will tour their games’ character customization. Often this means cosmetics, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Since the main character is set, Forspoken focuses its customization where it counts, on armor and spells. I can’t recall a game that allows players to dial in combat mechanics or make as many small tweaks to abilities as Forspoken.

Forspoken will be released on PS5 and PC and definitely makes use of current-gen console power and the talents of GPUs. Combat is a chaotic deluge of particle and lighting effects. The open world is detailed and colorful — at least in the demo — but a little empty in the way that so many open worlds can be. Aside from Frey, just about every other living thing was an enemy. However, there were interesting side areas and zones that begged to be explored.

While some questions remain about the narrative arc and overall depth of combat, I was impressed and excited by Forspoken’s demo. The game looks much better than it did a year ago, and its world and action look to be exceptionally promising. I look forward to seeing what the full experience has to offer when Forspoken releases on January 24, 2023.

PS5 demo is available now.