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Forspoken Preview: Cautiously Optimistic

Square Enix is no stranger to creating amazing games, and its highly-anticipated upcoming release, "Forspoken," aims to be no exception. We spent some time playing the "Forspoken" demo and came away feeling pretty impressed, albeit cautiously so. There is a lot to take in, but given the game's launch date of January 24, 2023, there is still plenty of time to get a taste of what's to come.

The game is set in a world of dark fantasy, with a unique blend of action, crafting, and progression. "Forspoken" follows the journey of protagonist Frey, who was transported from her home in New York to the sprawling (and dangerous) land of Athia. As she searches for a way home, Frey learns to wield the magical powers of her sentient cuff bracelet — whose name is actually Cuff — and save the mysterious world (and herself) from the monsters and other corrupted creatures that inhabit it.

"Forspoken" features an immersive open world filled with stunning visuals that bring the world of Athia to life. As mentioned, there's A LOT to take in, and — beyond the excessively simplified (and optional) opening tutorial — the demo doesn't hold your hand in the slightest. There are objectives to be met and enemies to tackle, but players are free to explore and progress through the wide open world at their own pace, which seems to be how the final game will be meant to be played. 

A world to be explored

Athia features vibrant landscapes filled with towering mountains, deep valleys, and lush forests that are just begging to be explored. The game has a fast-travel system to get around quickly, but for the sake of the demo, it's well worth checking out on foot thanks to "Forspoken's" Magic Parkour system.

Frey's magical powers give her the ability to travel across Athia with breathtaking agility and skill. She can traverse deep chasms, soar through dangerous skies, and fall to the ground with ease. There's a simplicity in its design that feels like a tremendous leap forward for this sort of game, and, frankly, it's just a lot of fun. Scaling canyon walls may not be the most efficient way to get to where you're going — whether it be a main objective, a dungeon, or a side quest — but it's definitely the most satisfying.

Frey's abilities extend beyond just traversal, though, and play a huge part in combat. When faced with enemies, she can build up her magical powers to cast both offensive and defensive spells or use her powers to evade oncoming attacks. Frey's bag of tricks is packed full of useful strategies — such as area of effect spells, defensive shields, and crowd control tactics — making combat a thrilling and varied experience. If ranged attacks aren't your thing (or aren't a suitable strategy in a given situation), then Frey can change her stance and use her arcana in a more melee type of fashion.

Expansive skill tree and progression system

Like its combat system, the crafting and progression systems in "Forspoken" run deep. While exploring, players can find materials and ingredients to craft valuable items that can be used in battle. As you progress through the story, Frey will gain access to more powerful abilities and new pieces of gear that allow her to tackle tougher opponents. Cuff even helps lend a hand every so often while in battle, taking out enemies on behalf of Frey.

The demo glosses over the fact that Cuff and Frey can communicate with each other. The dynamic between the two feels a bit forced, with Cuff having a cynical or sarcastic response to nearly every one of Frey's remarks (which also feel drenched in "typical New Yorker" tropes). It's fair to give their banter a bit of grace in the demo, though, as it's pretty clear that their relationship is probably going to be a major driver of the game's story.

Is Square Enix setting the bar for 2023?

There's a certain familiarity in "Forspoken" that feels like other open-world titles. Elements of "Immortals Fenyx Rising" and even "Elden Ring" were both somewhat felt in the demo. Granted, it's way too early to compare the "Forspoken" demo to 2022's Game of the Year, or even mention it within the same breath. At the same time, there's an aspect of the demo that feels strangely fresh and exciting. The Magic Parkour system is a delight to use and the combat feels incredibly satisfying with an expansive skill tree and progression system to back it up.

"Forspoken" also feels like a game that anyone will be able to play — whether you're putting just enough time into progressing Frey's abilities to take on the next boss and move the story along, or you're knee-deep in the game's crafting system and navigating the skill tree with the utmost precision. The feeling of choice and agency is there, and Square Enix has done a great job at presenting that aspect in the demo.

Square Enix is undoubtedly looking to set the bar for 2023 with "Forspoken." It will be on plenty of players' must-play lists, but will it be able to deliver on such an ambitious goal? We'll have to wait and see. For now, "Forspoken" is — at the very least — shaping up to be an exciting title to kick off the year that blends action, exploration, and progression into a cohesive package.