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Forspoken's demo is great, even if the game itself might not be

We're not entirely sold on new fantasy-parkour RPG Forspoken, but it's hard to fault the size and breadth of the game's free demo

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Forspoken
Forspoken
Image: Square Enix

Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?


It’s not hard to work out why Square Enix released a demo of Forspoken, its upcoming PlayStation 5/Windows title, a few weeks ago: After all, it plays a hell of a lot better than it looks.

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To be honest, though, that statement involves a fair amount of damning with faint praise on both sides. Forspoken is, obviously, an amazing technical achievement, with a massive physical world suffused with impressive simulations of sunlight, and more particle effects than you can shake a melting graphics card at. (SE’s new Luminous Engine, last seen chugging along underneath Final Fantasy XV, is clearly an impressive piece of tech.) But none of that changes the fact that the world being illuminated by all this incredibly technologically sophisticated sunlight looks... Is “craptacular” the word we’re looking for here?

Forspoken - Cinematic Trailer

It’s just so drab, a generic medieval landscape strewn with enemies drawn straight out of the “take a zombie and slap some weird glowing runes on it” school of generic video game enemy design. (And also, sometimes, alligators.) For all we know, that’s just some demo zone blues, and later areas will liven things up with architectural features more exciting than “Bridge, abandoned house, rock.” But it also feels like a natural consequence of the game’s admittedly intoxicating focus on movement (more on which in a second): Any game that needs you to cover a ton of ground to give the player a decent sense of speed is going to end up paying short shrift to…well, the ground.

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That movement is the game’s big draw, though, one that becomes obvious the first time you see the words “Magic Parkour” hit the screen. Protagonist Frey can book, covering huge swathes of terrain in seconds with magic trailing off her feet, and the movement undeniably feels great. (Between the washed-out color palette, the high-speed movement, and the irritating inanimate object sidekick that endlessly natters along during Frey’s quest, it kind of feels like someone made an unholy wish to smash Sonic Frontiers and Nier together here. But I digress.)

Unfortunately, at some point you’re going to have to stop running for a minute and fight stuff, and Forspoken settles back down into sludgy mediocrity. I suspect there’s a genuinely interesting system lurking underneath some of the more arcane portions of the game’s menus—there’s a whole spellcrafting system I didn’t really engage with, and it’s hard not to be charmed with the fact that Frey equips nail art instead of more traditional accessories. But the actual business of swinging magic blades and firing magic guns was decidedly lackluster. Magic should feel, y’know, magical: Not like swapping between minor reskins of the same arsenal of swords and pistols you’ve been saddled with in god knows how many other games for decades.

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Say what you will, though: Square Enix remains one of the best demo companies around. The actual span of the Forspoken demo is huge, giving you ample time to get a sense of what the game is like, get a taste of those things it undeniably does well, and, ultimately, decide if it’s a title for you. Certainly, it sells the game better than its trailers did; before I downloaded the demo, I was certain I wasn’t going to invest in it; now, with the memory of run-skating at high-speed all over the landscape in my head, I’m at least a bit more tempted than I was to pick it up when it arrives in stores on January 24.