Forspoken – Zero Punctuation – The Escapist
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Boy, Square Enix has been killing it for the past few years, hasn’t it. And by “it” I mean “any desire someone might have to play their shitty fucking games.” And by Christ they came out swinging this year. You know how “hungry” means hungry and angry? There must 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 quite appealing. Ordinary shrub from the real world is transported to pseudo-medieval fantasyland, the nut has to take over. But then I realized it only sounds 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 is Forspoken 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 paver to the teeth” vibe. Her horribly snarky dialogue that’s about as funny as a quadruple amputee with itchy balls is the issue I think most correspondents are stuck with, but she could have been voiced by Brian Blessed and it wouldn’t have helped because she is just fundamentally unacceptable.
The first we see of her, she is in court for stealing a bunch of cash. But she insists she needs it for a good cause, so I was waiting for it to turn out that she’s single-handedly running the orphanage or something, but then it turns out the good cause she was talking about is “to have a big bag of money” in my house.” Which she then loses for stupid reasons so she can spend the next half hour in New York whining about how she wants to be somewhere else where she can be special, possibly with a craftable equipment system. I wonder whether I’d feel differently about all this if I didn’t know about the cover and various other things where it was all leading to.If I watched a Ken Loach movie about poverty on a Sheffield council estate that an hour later from shifted gears when someone in a hoodie and knock-off Converses is counted to Narnia and holding Aslan with a switch. As it was, by the end of the prologue I was like, “Will you stop the fucking act of one Disney Princess -bullshit and get on with hanging out with fantasy lions?” I assumed when she really got to Narnia the game would actually kick off and get interesting because I was more naive in those carefree days.
Narnia invasion finally happens and Frey discovers she is special and has magic powers and must save the dumb peasants while they all rigidly favor them because they don’t understand her rude contemporary dialect. So the plot would feel straight out of 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-love characters. A fairly typical triple-A game model has been carved out for this – open world map splashed with icons that indicate huge combat challenges, and don’t worry there are also collectibles and crafting, so a confused urban youth living in a fantasy meadow immediately wants to start bagging random leafy plants she finds. But don’t think just because Frey has moved on from whining about wanting to leave to whining about coming back to the place she’s whining about wanting to leave means the pace is kicking up, oh no, you’re dancing to Forspoken’s tune now, fuck you . No, after a cutscene, you can’t regain control until you’ve stood there long enough and fully contemplated events that drool started beading at the edge of Frey’s mouth.
And sometimes not even then, because sometimes the moment when we think we’ve finally escaped the snarky cutscene dialogue and the rolling pastures of the open world that spread out alluringly before us like a freshly sculpted shy thatch is the perfect time nailing 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 world building was needed and it was the gap under the fingernail where the crowbar would fit. But word to the wise, Forsporken: before you can build worlds, you have 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 particularly unimpressive nipple. And the city isn’t much to look at either, consisting of a slum and an affluent area, both decked out in bland gray brick that looks like the level editor’s default texture and overall looks more like a too elaborate a set for Shakespeare in the Park than any place where anyone actually lives dull lives. And yet Frey’s central character arc consists of realizing the importance of protecting the spectacular array of copy-pasted earth tones with finger puppets that live here like the cardboard cutout fans at a socially distanced sporting event.
So that’s the city, and like I said, other than that it’s mostly fields and copy pasted battles. I suppose so, anyway, it was all a blur as I ignored it at full speed. At first I gave it a shot, 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 on with it. It’s mostly based around using projectile spells, but it’s hard to concentrate on targeting the cloudy enemy, the color of morning vomit against the background of cloudy grass the color of afternoon vomit, especially when six zombie wolves take turns attacking you bone hump . And if you use the lock on, your long-range magical submachine gun just doesn’t go flat, don’t fuck if the target is moving faster than a heavy weed user in the Safeway pastry section. And as far as upgrades go, I wasn’t entirely convinced that a cloak that adds 0.5% damage to purple magic if Frey is healthy and not currently thinking about pies would be entirely worth it. So in the end, since the game very mandatorily provided traversal powers too quickly for anything to catch, I decided to speed through the critical path and ignore every optional activity.
The whole time going “Do it, game. Give me a mandatory fight that’s too hard when I’m underleveled. 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 around the world that many visibly didn’t give a shit about, but the traverse powers – or “magical parkour” as Forshitpoke insists on calling it – has its own problems . Every time you have to come across anything more complex than a wheat field, Frey seems to lose track of what order her arms and legs go in. I think 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 lonely lake. So in summary, Forspoken? More like… For-choke-on. What exactly it chokes on I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader but it’s probably safe to assume it’s something rude. I speak absolutely without hyperbole when I say that Fuckshitcunt represents everything that is wrong with game design and story writing in high-level game development today. And if you buy it, you represent everything that is wrong with human genetics. Okay, THAT was hyperbole.