Stepping into Forspoken’s fantasy world, I had a few expectations of what protagonist Frey’s adventures would involve — magical shenanigans, monsters (maybe even a dragon), dialogue that wouldn’t be out of place in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and a sprinkling of whimsy. What I didn’t count on was that, an hour or two into the game, I’d have hundreds of undead villagers waiting to feast on my brains. But I’m glad Forspoken subjected me to that shambling horde because it’s one of the most exciting and surprising zombie encounters any game has subjected me to.
I still don’t know whether it was a scripted event or I just stumbled into the wrong area, but I was utterly unprepared for the sheer volume of zombies I suddenly found myself surrounded with. I’d like to think that, somewhere in their necrotized nutshells of a brain, they were equally surprised to find dinner parkouring right into their midst.
I’d encountered the odd zombie, or “Break Zombie” as Forspoken calls them, casualties of a slowly spreading force that corrupts nearly everything it touches. But I’d counted on them being a relative minimal presence, that I’d spend more time dealing with four-legged nightmares. Think Annihilation’s bear was terrifying? It’s got nothing on Forspoken’s belly-mouthed beasts.
So, steering clear of anything that had jaws where its torso was supposed to be, I was merrily rocketing along, clearing cliffs, and thumbing my nose at anyone who thought they could catch me. One superhero landing later, I was surrounded by the living dead.
I fired up Frey’s magical arsenal and got to kicking some zombie bottom. And I kept on kicking. But a couple of health potions later, I noticed that the dead were still coming. So I started counting, as best I could, just how many walking corpses wanted to shove Frey’s gray matter down their throats.
Pretty soon, I’d stopped counting and started guesstimating, finally giving up at a couple of hundred. I’d also attempted to beat a strategic retreat, only to find that the horde didn’t end. They didn’t have any special powers, other than being able to jump, but their sheer numbers were all they needed. Being broadsided by leaping zombies didn’t do much for my courage, either.
What’s particularly unsettling about the Break Zombies is that their very presence is an emotional gut punch. I’m a big zombie game aficionado, so much so that I’m used to regular, modern-day zombies. But these zombies’ medieval-style outfits, coupled with the manner of their demise, was enough to throw me.
These were people who, for whatever reason, couldn’t make it to the safety of Cipal, the last refuge of the living. Even now, I wonder how they met their demise. Did the Corruption sweep over them as they slept? Did they, lacking any kind of four-legged transport, frantically attempt to outrun it? Or was there someone at home they just couldn’t leave behind, so chose to perish with them, not knowing they’d rise again?
I can’t quite put my finger on why Forspoken’s zombies got to me; maybe it’s the idea of the medieval peasant, lorded over by the rich (a situation that clearly doesn’t happen today — honest). Or maybe it really is that I’ve become immune to regular, non-medieval shamblers. But even if they’d just been shuffling around, with no interest in eating my flesh, I’d have felt just as bad for them.
Did that stop me from hurling gigantic rocks at them? Not quite — I still didn’t want a row of broken teeth sinking into my scalp. But it became clear that fighting wasn’t bringing their numbers down, and with nowhere to hide, the only option was to flee. Despite their sheer number, I eventually reached the edge of the horde and sped to relative freedom.
The completionist in me is ashamed that I didn’t keep fighting till not a single shambler was left standing. But the zombie enthusiast, on the other hand, appreciates that what makes run-of-the-mill zombies such a nightmare is that there’s always more of them than you.
I can dimly remember Frey firing off the odd wisecrack, and rewatching the footage of the horde reveals they did, at least, get a few off. And I could kick myself for not just parkouring back up the hill, but initially stubbornness got the best of me. I wasn’t about to retreat — until of course I did.
Given the tone of the game’s marketing, I didn’t expect to find myself knee-deep in the dead, but the experience was fantastic and harrowing in equal measure. However, until you’ve seriously leveled up and have a few quips on standby, I wouldn’t recommend seeking out Forspoken’s flesh-eaters.
Related: All Trophies in Forspoken on Attack of the Fanboy