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Forspoken Preview – A Look Into Athia

Forspoken Preview – Forspoken is the new title from Luminous Productions, with publisher Square Enix backing their latest endeavor. This new PS5 exclusive is another story-driven action RPG, making it a good fit for PlayStation’s lineup. The only question however, is will it stand out from the crowd?

Forspoken Preview – A Look Into Athia

The first time we all saw Forspoken, before we knew it as such, it had a shroud of mystery and intrigue, specifically in how the character moved. She seemed to be effortlessly crossing vast areas in fluid motions. It looked fun as heck, but we knew nothing about it.

Now we know a few things about it, as luck would have it. Square Enix was kind enough to allow PSU a bit of a peek at Forspoken, ahead of its recently announced May 24, 2021 launch date. To hear a little bit more about Forposken, mainly from those who had a hand in making it, and to watch some gameplay ourselves.

That’s a key point there, that this was not a hands-on preview, so I can’t really tell you anything concrete about the gameplay. I mean, it looks cool, and it looks fun, but it looked cool when we didn’t even know it was called Project Athia.

I can of course share with you my more analytical impressions, and what it seems like this game could be.

Let’s start where the game starts, with our protagonist, Frey Holland. A New Yorker, whose been given the short straw more than once in life, and that may even be putting it lightly. According to co-lead writers Allison Ryner and Todd Stashwick, when we meet Frey she could potentially be going to prison.

Now, we don’t know exactly what happened that led to her being on the run in the first place, but crossing a portal to another world is a good way to get away from it all for a while.

What is important to note though about Frey and the difficult life she’s led is the person it’s made her when we meet her. She’s tough, and her skin has thickened over the years out of necessity. Another trait that helps her in Athia when she needs it, because by the looks of things there’s going to be a lot of combat.

You’re not alone in each fight though. You’re accompanied by Cuff, a rather helpful magical bracelet. It’s Cuff’s powers that help Frey to learn how to use magic, both as a means of defending herself and parkouring around Athia all the live long day.

There’s more to Athia than just Frey and Cuff, of course. Frey’s powers are frightening to many of the people she meets, they’ll even call her “demon”. For all her demonic power though, Frey seems to be the once person incapable of being corrupted by The Break.

The plague that crossed Athia known as The Break is a corrupting force that forever changed what was at a time a peaceful place. The matriarchal leaders known as Tantas who once looked over Athia with care began ruling mercilessly, and for many everyday people things have gone to ruin.

Frey’s immunity and Cuff’s powers are what makes them the perfect specialized task force to find out what The Break really is, find a way to stop it, a discover what in god’s name happened in the first place that The Break was let loose. Frey agrees to stay in Athia and help those left, running into each powerful Tanta along the way.

The effort to help the people of Athia seems to be our main narrative force for the game, acting alongside Frey’s journey of figuring her life, and herself out.

We’ll talk a little more about the story later, but for now moving on to the gameplay I got to see. Right away it’s easy to make comparisons of Forspoken to other action, open world games. Just because you can see those similarities though, doesn’t make that a bad thing.

It’s like how you could immediately feel the similarities and inspirations of Uncharted, Dark Souls and Sekiro when playing Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. Just watching some Forspoken’s larger spectacles and combat made me reminiscent of Returnal. Then the idea of Frey risking her life for both those she meets in kindness and those who call her “demon” made me consider Aloy. Not to mention the way your weapon wheel works looking identical to how it does in Horizon.

I’m not saying this as a negative thing. It’s great to me that these comparisons are easy to see, because they do instill a certain kind of confidence that what we get in the final product will be foundationally sound. The combat definitely looks like something I may have played before, and there’s a good kind of comfort in that.

That’s not to say nothing about Forspoken’s combat looked unique. It’s an action packed game for sure, where you’ll have a good variety of ways to approach each fight.

Your spells and magic make up your arsenal rather than any physical weapon. These are upgraded through earning and spending Mana, and let you choose if you want to become a destructive offensive force, or retain your level of impact without getting into the middle of things through more tactical means of destruction.

Either playstyle or mix or the two are completely viable, and what’s more is your clothes can be swapped for specific stat boosts. Different cloaks and necklaces have their own pros and cons, allowing you to perfectly craft a loadout so to speak for Frey that’s tailored to you.

This is all still general open-world RPG fare, but the key to Forspoken’s gameplay is the movement. How Frey navigates Athia through her magic parkour and utilizes it in combat almost looks more important than the rest of your loadout.

How this all works together though, we’ll have to wait and see for ourselves.

That’s also obviously the case with the game’s story, but there’s more to be concerned about in that regard.

While the gameplay vs. narrative debate is one that will perpetually continue, bad open-world games have proven definitively for me that sometimes narrative is more important. Open-world fatigue catches up to you a lot faster when you’d just as well eat cardboard than pay attention to the plot between all the fun fights.

That’s not to say the plot already looks bad, just to say that while many aspects of Forspoken look solid, it’s narrative is the only puzzle piece we can’t know about until it’s here, and potentially $70 in the hole.

I hope my skepticism turns out to be unfounded, but I’ve been burned too many times by poor narrative pacing and bland plotlines to be optimistic. Even knowing that Allison Ryner and Todd Stashwick penned the narrative, after Gary Witta and Amy Henning created the foundation for the world and story of Forspoken.

Earlier I said that Forspoken fits rather well into the fold of PlayStation console exclusives, which it does. A single player focused third person action adventure story game is how you’d describe at the very least 80% of PlayStation exclusive titles.

That’s exactly what I think my problem is. I know I said seeing similarities and comparisons can be good, because I believe there is a comfort to that as a player. That’s much more applicable however to gameplay, rather than narrative.

Right now, Forspoken looks like your run-of-the mill open-world action game. The story could entirely turn that notion on its head, but we can’t yet know that.

I don’t mean to sound unenthusiastic about the game – I’m very interested to play it. But like many players, years of disappointment has led to untethered caution in open-world titles. I really hope I’m wrong.

Forspoken will be available on May 24, 2022. Thank you again to Square Enix for inviting us to this preview.