Forspoken NYCC Hands-On Preview – A Stroll Through Athia

Kai Powell

The second demo playthrough I was offered to check out during Square-Enix's offsite suite during NYCC 2022 was Forspoken, a new IP that Square-Enix will be launching early next year. Another entry in the growing roster of isekai tales that bring unlikely characters into a fantasy or otherwise unique alternative world, Forspoken shows the world through the eyes of Fre Holland, a New Yorker who is brought forth into the land of Athia. Square-Enix specially crafted the gameplay session to offer a tutorial before letting the player free roam and explore that small slice of Athian countryside to discover collectibles and various sidequests.

Frey Holland's one companion throughout the sandbox preview comes in the form of her talking magical cuff. Try as I might messing around in the settings, I couldn't get the cuff to actually start talking at me through the DualSense's controller, so I was stuck listening to Frey and the cuff share contextual banter in my ear while also getting tips from the Square-Enix representative that hung around to offer guidance. I do suspect that option will of course work in the full release, so it's more of just a minor annoyance during my hour-long preview than anything else.

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During the preview, I was dropped into a sandbox created specifically for this build, which I suspect is similar to what other journalists got to play during Tokyo Game Show not long ago. There are invisible walls gating Frey from trespassing too far out of the way, and even my meager attempts to latch onto a bird on the other side of the partition and grapple over had no success. Perhaps Square-Enix learned their lesson after players quickly discovered that Noctis could be pushed out of bounds by passing cars in early Final Fantasy XV demos.

Where I was thrown into was a brief tutorial that showcased the ins and outs of Forspoken's combat, showing off how to lock on and switch targets and a brief introduction to Frey's various attack types. While Frey can only have one support and one attack spell equipped at a given time, holding down L1/R1 brings up a radial menu to select one of three spells equipped in each slot. These attacks can be activated by just pressing the corresponding shoulder button, but Frey's attack magics can be held down for greater effect. Thankfully, there isn't any sort of MP to really contend with here, instead putting Frey's basic magics on cooldown. Each of her weapon spells had distinctive differences in their attacks, such as a basic swiping slash with her spear-like spell while charging the attack turned it into an effectively thrown javelin.

However, the magical parkour and freerunning do have a stamina system in Forspoken. It was quite easy to run out at an inopportune time, especially as Frey tries to scale a wall through aerial dashes and vertical jumps. Landing on a precipice can offer the player a chance to catch their breath and recover pips of stamina, but if there aren't adequate footholds, expect to fall down almost as far as where they once started. If the speed at which Frey recovers her magical parkour stamina isn't expeditious enough, a number of accessibility sliders offer the means to increase the recovery rate, among others. Another notable slider allows Frey to automatically collect materials as she runs past. Without it, players have to mash the triangle on each collectible to pick them from the ground (I suggested holding down the same button to gather everything nearby, so perhaps we'll see if my recommendation makes it into the full Forspoken release).

The magical parkour is certainly where Forspoken gains most of its identity, though early on, Frey's skillsets don't offer enough to take full advantage of it and turn this magical maven into the alternate-world version of Gwen Stacy. From grappling and pulling Frey towards her target to jumping and bouncing into a leaping dash, Forspoken does lay the groundwork for what could offer some speedy parkour in its later stages. Even in my brief demo, I obtained an ability to allow Frey to vault up walls by jumping upwards rather than the awkward shimmying I had done before (which quickly drained her stamina).

Early on, it appears as though the majority of customization to Frey comes by way of her magics. Two distinct skill trees allow the player to empower Frey's twin classes of magic with greater effectiveness, mostly leading to larger or statistically higher numbers in effectiveness. Most skills offered up to three ranks of upgrades and the various skills that weren't direct spell upgrades appeared to be unlocked throughout the world, such as discovering fountains scattered throughout Athia. Frey appears to only have three primary equipment slots so far in terms of cloak, necklace, and polished nails, with the first two upgradable to have passive boosts or those that trigger under specific conditions, such as nailing a perfect parry or having full health. The numerous materials that Frey collects from the wayside or in abandoned chests will lead to upgrading these equipable goods.

Forspoken did leave me a little apprehensive about how the full game will perform when Frey has access to her full roster of magical parkour abilities and traversal skills. If the stamina system can be mitigated and offer the player the capability to launch throughout the landscape without having to wait five or ten seconds to recover their stamina, perhaps Forspoken can be a much more enjoyable open-world exploration game, much in the same vein of Insomniac's recent Spider-Man titles. This won't be one I'll have to keep checking on updates for long, as Forspoken will launch on PlayStation 5 and PC (where it'll be the first DirectStorage game) on January 24th, 2023.

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