Forspoken gameplay feels like a dazzling leap forward for Square Enix

Gameplay could save all of Athia!

Forspoken has garnered a lot of attention lately, although not always for the right reasons. The game’s latest dialogue-filled trailer instantly became a meme within minutes of hitting the internet, and it’s also taken heat for the way developers approached creating a black female protagonist. One thing we haven’t known a lot about, however, is how the magic-forward gameplay works and feels in Forspoken. After going hands-on with the game for over an hour at a recent press event, any worries I had about the combat and gameplay have evaporated — even if I still have concerns about the overall tone and story direction.

The demo I had access to was completely gameplay-focused, featuring nothing in the way of story outside of some random conversation between Frey and her magical sentient bracelet she calls Cuff. I was let loose into an early region in the game, and while there was a short list of objectives, I was free to explore and discover what all those icons on the world map lead to.

One of Forspoken’s core ideas is something called “Magical Parkour,” which is heavily used in both traversal and combat. By holding down circle (on PS5) Frey will use magic to dash at high speeds, bounding over obstacles and up cliffs in the blink of an eye. During combat, parkour can be used much like Noctis’ warp evade in Final Fantasy XV, letting you dodge attacks at the last moment or zoom up to an enemy for a kind of dash attack. These traversal options are then accentuated by the game’s core magic system, which lets Frey swap between dozens of spells on the fly.

Forspoken’s magic parkour is essential for traversal, but using it during combat can also alter how attacks and spells play out. Square Enix

I had access to two different sets of spells: a melee-based fire set, and a more ranged earth-based set. Each set has three primary attack spells and a selection of eight secondary spells that have varying effects. Interestingly, there’s no MP system in Forspoken, as all of the secondary spells are simply on cooldown timers.

Forspoken’s combat is frantic and fast-paced as you link together spells in any number of ways to create multiple strategies. You need to swap between sets as the situation demands, as certain enemies have particular elemental weaknesses. Before long, I started discovering interesting ways of combining my spell options: One spell created a ring of fire that increased my damage, and then I let loose a bunch of fiery spirits on my enemies within the ring.

Meanwhile, with my earth spells, I’d place a flower turret that fires at enemies automatically, grapple a group with vines, and then rush in for a powerful AoE swing with a massive vine. As you fight and use attacks, you also charge up an ultimate sort of move that unleashes a massive attack. (We might as well call it a Limit Break, right?)

Forspoken’s developers tell Inverse that a major focus was creating a diverse system of magic that let all sorts of players experience robust playstyles that emphasized whatever they wanted.

“Any player will probably play the game very differently from the next player,” Creative Producer Raio Mitsuno tells Inverse. “There are over 100 spells that players can use in any way they want very, especially during combat.” Co-director Takefumi Terada expands on this by adding, “As you play through the game, the 5-hour mark, 10-hour mark, 30 hours, 40 hours — we've made sure that the different types of magic will become available to players as you're progressing. It’s something we’d like everyone to look forward to.”

You’ll need to swap between spell sets to deal with the different elemental weaknesses enemies have.Square Enix

As you’ve likely seen in Forspoken’s trailers, the animations and spell effects are stunning enough to make even the most mundane combat encounters feel like a spectacle.

There were multiple times my screen filled with eruptions of lava and fire that roasted my enemies alive. Forspoken makes it delightfully easy to switch between spells and weave everything together. Pressing R1 and L1 brings up a selection wheel for your current set, slowing down time in the process. If you press L1+R1 together, you can switch between spells sets, or use the D-pad to instantly swap to the next one. It’s a fast and responsive system that encourages experimentation.

While you do have godly powers, enemies aren’t exactly pushovers, and combat encounters generally put you up against a variety of ranged and melee enemies. Near the end of my demo, I fought two “mutated” creatures that served as a challenging boss encounter. These battles put a big emphasis on dodging and navigating the environment.

While combat was the main focus of my demo, I did at least get a brief sense of how the open world will function. As is typical of the genre, your world map is dotted with little icons and things to do. During my exploration, I stumbled upon multiple treasure chests with new equipment and collected mana points that are used to upgrade Frey’s spells and unlock new ones. There are also crafting materials scattered around the world that can be gathered to make new equipment like cloaks.

Forspoken’s spells can all be combined in virtually any order, bringing a lot of variety to combat.Square Enix

Points of interest are scattered around the map and let you undertake various activities, although it’s hard to say just how diverse these activities will be with only the small snippet of gameplay I had. Photography points task Frey with snapping a picture of beautiful scenery to show someone back in town, and a combat challenge I found had me defending NPCs from waves of enemies.

Navigating through Forspoken’s sprawling open world simply feels good; For the most part, it’s a blast to zip around with magic parkour. There’s a distinct verticality to the environment, with abilities that let you grapple up cliffs and bound over gaps. Much like Marvel’s Spider-Man, Forspoken seems like a game where the traversal mechanics alone can be a lot of fun.

“Early on in development, we had decided that magic parkour was going to be kind of a pillar in the enjoyment of this game,” says Terada. “We thought about how players can most enjoy the open world and magically-enhanced parkour, and built the open world around that.”

I still have plenty of questions about the scope, tone, and characterization in the narrative, but at least on a gameplay front, it seems like Forspoken could be one of Square Enix’s most inventive games yet. Traversal and combat come together in a way that almost feels like Horizon Zero Dawn meets Final Fantasy XV.

I’m curious to see how the spell system progresses and evolves over time. I just hope the cool gameplay mechanics are used to rescue a world worth saving.

Forspoken will be released on PS5 and PC on January 24, 2023.

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