Games can learn a lot from Forspoken’s traversal mechanics, but you probably wouldn’t glean that from the discussion surrounding it right now.
A lot of the chatter around Forspoken has been quite negative due to its lackluster story, but there are still things that the Square Enix and Luminous Productions game does quite well. Primarily, exploring the vast and beautiful open world of Athia is quite enjoyable because of all the helpful mobility options Frey has at her disposal. As Forspoken does some critical aspects of gameplay well, it’s a shame that the conversation surrounding it primarily focuses on the shortcomings of the game’s writing.
Yes, the story pacing and writing are its weak point, but that’s also not the only thing Forspoken has to offer. Good or bad, every game brings something to the table that both developers and players can learn from. The whole industry would benefit if we were willing to engage with what works in games like Forspoken as much as we discuss what doesn’t.
What Forspoken gets right
After slogging through several hours of linear story content, Forspoken finally opens up, and players can truly get a feel for its traversal mechanics and its open world. That’s when they’ll discover the game’s real magic. Frey feels weighty like a human character would in a game like Uncharted, but can reach higher speeds by dashing around with her Flow ability.
This gives the game a great sense of momentum, as every step feels satisfying and powerful as Frey speeds up. She’ll naturally parkour over smaller objects too, so forward movement isn’t inhibited by the environment too often. This only becomes more of the case as the game continues, as players can eventually unlock magical abilities like Zip to grapple or swing upwards, Glide to surf across the water, and Float to glide and break Frey’s fall in the air.
Forspoken makes traversal more involved than just pushing forward and holding the circle button. As part of open-world exploration, players can encounter Fountains that will give them abilities like Soar, Shimmy, Rush, and Scale. These give players movement boosts like more jumps or a momentary speed boost if they time button presses correctly. While it’s only a recurring timed button press, it adds some depth to traversal that ensures that the player will pay attention to the game and everything they see in its world.
The only thing holding a player’s movement back is the stamina bar and the number of skills Frey has at her disposal. Even then, that helps pace out explorations and gives players a tangible feeling of progression as it increases throughout the game, making them feel quite strong. At its best, Forspoken is actually a lot like the imaginary AAA Avatar: The Last Airbender game that I’ve always wanted, using multiple element-based abilities to feel powerful as I traversed its large landscapes.
Couple all of that with a satisfying open-world design that ensures that you’ll always gain something useful from whatever you encounter, and Forspoken’s traversal and open-world mechanics become something that other games can learn from.
Give games a chance
Because Forspoken is frontloaded with a focus on its divisive story and dialogue, the gameplay aspects of it aren’t getting the time of day they deserve currently. And as it’s an open-world action-adventure RPG, it’s a pretty big oversight to not consider what the playable aspect of this game does quite well because of a couple of awkward banter exchanges, some of which are optional.
Forspoken should rightfully be criticized for what it does wrong; I spent quite a bit of time laying out my complaints in my review. Still, we should also take the time at what it does well. Games like Sega’s follow-up to Sonic Frontiers could benefit from learning from Forspoken’s traversal and open-world design. Even then, while I did not like Sonic Frontiers, I still gave the game an honest chance to impress me, despite what a one-star score might make you think. I also recognize the insights its shortcomings offer and see some gameplay ideas that Sega could build upon in the future, bolstered by the innovations of games like Forspoken.
Even when games are bad or disappointing, they can usually have something of value to offer. In Forspoken’s case, it’s the fantastic open world that’s being overlooked because it’s buried under lots of divisive story content. Skip all of the cutscenes or use the save file of a friend who has beaten the game if you need to because if you enjoy open-world games, you’ll find Forspoken quite fun. It doesn’t deserve to be reduced to a meme simply because of a few isolated, viral clips showcasing some cringe-inducing quips.
Forspoken is out now on PS5 and PC.