Boy, Square Enix have been killing it these last few years, haven’t they. And by “it” I mean “any desire anyone might have to play their shitty fucking games.” And by Christ have they come out swinging this year. You know how “hangry” means hungry and angry? There needs to be a word that means bored and angry. And hungry. Because that’s what Forspoken brings out in me. Hangr-ennui, perhaps. And you know, on paper the idea sounded rather appealing. Ordinary shlub from real world gets transported to pseudo-medieval fantasy land, has to take the motherfucker over. But then I realised it only sounded appealing because it’s just the plot of Army of Darkness. And Army of Darkness worked because Bruce Campbell was in it, and he elevates whatever he’s in, he’s the B-movie actor equivalent of Worcestershire sauce. In his place, Forspoken has Frey Holland, a 21-year old New Yorker who I think is supposed to come across as “sassy” but I get more of a “richly deserves a paving slab to the teeth” vibe. Her horrible quippy dialogue that’s about as funny as a quadruple amputee with itchy balls is the issue most correspondents latched onto I think but she could’ve been voiced by Brian Blessed and it wouldn’t have helped ‘cos she’s just fundamentally unlikeable.
The first we see of her she’s in court for stealing a bunch of cash. But she insists she needed it for a good cause, so I was waiting for it to turn out she was singlehandedly keeping the orphanage afloat or something, but then it turned out the good cause she was talking about was “having a big bag of money in my house.” Which she then loses for stupid reasons so she can spend the next half hour sulking around New York whining about how she wants to be somewhere else where she can be special, possibly with a craftable equipment system. I wonder if I’d feel differently about all this if I hadn’t known from the cover and various other things where it was all leading. If I was watching a Ken Loach movie about poverty in a Sheffield council estate that switched gears an hour in when someone in a hoodie and knockoff Converses gets teleported to Narnia and holds up Aslan with a switchblade. As it was, by the end of the prologue I was like “Will you stop drawing out the fucking act one Disney Princess bullshit and get on with the hanging out with fantasy lions?” I assumed when she finally got to Narnia the game would actually kick off and become interesting, because I was more naive back in those carefree days.
Narnia incursion finally happens and Frey discovers she’s special and has magic powers and has to save the dumb peasants while patronizing them all rigid because they don’t understand her sassy contemporary dialect. So the plot would feel directly ripped from a first time author’s young adult fantasy novel aimed at 14 year old girls if it weren’t for Frey saying “fuck” every other word and the lack of any vampiric sex pest love interest characters. A fairly typical triple-A gameplay model has been hacked out for this – open world map splattered with icons marking grindy combat challenges, and don’t you fret there’s collectibles and crafting, too, which is why a bewildered urban youth stumbling out into a fantasy meadow wants to immediately start pocketing random leafy plants she finds. But don’t think just because Frey’s moved on from whining about wanting to leave to whining about getting back to the place she was whining about wanting to leave means the pace is kicking up, oh no, you’re dancing to Forspoken’s tune now, motherfucker. No, after a cutscene you cannot have control back until you’ve stood there fully contemplating events for long enough for drool to start beading at the edge of Frey’s mouth.
And sometimes not even then, because sometimes the moment when we think we’ve finally escaped from the sassy cutscene dialogue and the rolling meadows of the open world splay out temptingly before us like a freshly sculpted pubic thatch is the perfect time to nail our feet to the floor for a forced dialogue tree with the overgrown smartwatch that is Frey’s primary support NPC. Apparently someone thought more worldbuilding was needed and this was the gap under the fingernail where the crowbar would fit. But word to the wise, Forsporken: before you can worldbuild, you need to have a world worth building. And Frey’s personal Narnia consists of one city and about ten square miles of wasteland. Like a piercing on a singularly unimpressive nipple. And the city’s not much to look at, either, it consists of a slum area and a rich area, both decked out in spotless grey brick that looks like the level editor’s default texture and on the whole it looks more like an overly elaborate set for Shakespeare in the Park than anywhere anyone actually sodding lives. And yet Frey’s central character arc consists of realising it’s important to protect the gawking array of copy pasted earth tone wearing finger puppets that reside here like the cardboard cutout fans at a socially distanced sporting event.
So that’s the city, and as I said, besides that it’s mostly fields and copy pasted combat. I assume so, anyway, it was all blurring together as I ignored it at full speed. At first I gave it a chance, stopping for side missions and doing enough to keep upgrading my gear and my spells, but copy pasted combat was about the only activity on offer and I didn’t get along with it. It’s mostly based on using projectile spells, but it’s hard to concentrate on aiming at the murky enemy the colour of morning vomit against the background of murky grass the colour of afternoon vomit, especially when six zombie wolves are taking it in turns to hump your leg. And if you use the lock on, your long range magic submachine gun just flat out doesn’t fucking hit if the target’s moving any faster than a heavy marijuana user in the Safeway baked goods section. And as for upgrades, I wasn’t entirely convinced that a cloak that adds .5% damage to purple magic if Frey’s at full health and not currently thinking about pies would entirely be worth the hassle. So in the end since the game very obligingly provided traversal powers too fast for anything to catch I decided to speed through the critical path ignoring every optional activity.
All the while going “Do it, game. Give me a mandatory fight that’s too hard if I’m underlevelled. I know you won’t, you fucking coward.” And it didn’t. I suppose there was something to be said for the sheer joy of bunny hopping across the world very visibly not giving a shit, but the traversal powers – or “magical parkour” as Forshitpoke insists on calling it – has its own issues. Every time you have to get over anything more complex than a field of wheat Frey seems to lose track of what order her arms and legs go in. I guess the ability to glide across the surface of water was pretty fun. I made sure to make the most of it on the game’s single solitary lake. So in summary, Forspoken? More like… For-chokes-on. What exactly it chokes on I leave as an exercise for the reader but probably safe to assume it’s something rude. I am absolutely speaking without hyperbole when I say that Fuckshitcunt represents everything that is wrong with gameplay design and story writing in high level game development today. And if you buy it then you represent everything that’s wrong with human genetics. Okay, THAT was hyperbole.