Much has been spoken about Forspoken’s potential performance issues, what with its massive file size and the fact that, on PC, it demands more RAM than a Dodge. But the result of all that computational horsepower is this: Square Enix’s action-RPG is among a small class of PlayStation 5 games that truly feel like PlayStation 5 games.
Out Tuesday on PS5 and Windows PC, Forspoken casts you as Frey Holland, a young New Yorker whisked off to a high fantasy world by a talking golden bracelet. (You’re, uh, better off not asking.) Forspoken is a technically demanding game: Particle effects clutter the screen at all times and its open-world map is so vast you can’t view the whole thing at once, even if you zoom all the way out.
As Grayson Morley noted in his review for Polygon, yes, Forspoken has some performance issues. Like many modern games, Forspoken allows you to choose between two visual modes: quality (which caps the frame rate at 30 frames per second to provide sharper graphics) or performance (which allows for higher frame rates at the expense of visual fidelity). I’ve been playing on PS5 and have mostly stuck with the performance-focused setting, since Forspoken’s combat and movement all but require a stable 60 fps to understand what’s happening on screen. Still, I’ve seen some minor blemishes — blurry hair, clipped objects, and other hiccups that don’t impact gameplay but are nonetheless unmissable.
But better fidelity isn’t the improvement promised by this console generation. In March 2020, PS5 lead system architect Mark Cerny claimed the then-forthcoming console could essentially eliminate loading times. Forspoken is one of the few games I’ve played that makes good on those remarks.
In Forspoken, on PS5 at least, you can cold boot — the time it takes to go from starting up a game to getting full control of your character — in less than 12 seconds. You can fast travel to any unlocked location in the game’s world in, I kid you not, 1.68 seconds. (Both of those times were calculated based on an average of five separate loading tests.) Marvel’s Spider-Man: Miles Morales is the only game I can think of that hits the same benchmarks.
For the past few years, we’ve been in an era of diminishing returns in terms of visual fidelity. Once you’ve achieved the goal of photorealism, as so many big-budget games have these days, you can’t really get more photorealistic. I’m less impressed by incremental improvements in graphics than I am by advancements in other areas — stuff like blisteringly fast loading speeds or unique controller features.
To date, few big-budget games have fully taken advantage of the PS5’s DualSense gamepad and its impressive haptic capabilities. Forspoken sure does.
When Frey wields her fire sword, you can feel the right trigger tense as she winds up a swing, then loosen when she releases it, then tense again when the weapon connects with an enemy. During Forspoken’s many parkour sequences, the controller vibrates with varying intensity at every step, almost like you can feel Frey’s footsteps emanate through the controller’s powder-snow-colored plastic. Worst of all, the cuff — whose painful, groan-worthy dialogue has been skewered across the internet — can speak through the controller’s speaker, which is technically a feature, if an unwanted one. (Thankfully, you can deactivate this in the game’s settings.)
Not since the 2021 PS5 roguelike Returnal — which impressively deployed the DualSense’s rumble to replicate the gentle pitter-patter of rainfall — have I felt a game implement the controller’s potential in such inventive ways. Here’s hoping more developers implement this tech. When developers make use of it effectively, the DualSense’s haptic triggers really are unlike any other hardware in gaming.
We’re still in the transitory period between gaming console generations, a gray zone that has lasted for more than two years at this point — and has had an undeniable effect on the release cadence of new video games. Some games, like Marvel’s Midnight Suns, launched for PS5 and Xbox Series X but won’t see PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions until unspecified dates in the future. Others, like Gotham Knights and Metal: Hellsinger, ultimately ditched planned PS4 and Xbox One releases entirely. You could make the case that God of War Ragnarök should’ve done the same.
There’s a lot to discuss about Forspoken’s merits as a game, which you can read more about here. But if nothing else, its PS5 bona fides are one small sign that video games are ready to leave last gen behind.