Forspoken Looks Generic (And That’s Fine)
Contributed by DJMMT
Forspoken is an upcoming action RPG from Luminous Productions being published by Square Enix. It’s scheduled to release in January 2023. For some background on the developer, their only previous work is that they were an auxiliary part of the Final Fantasy XV development team. Meaning Forspoken will be their first game developed fully in-house.
There are many things that can be said and discussed about Forspoken based on what we’ve seen so far. There have of course been countless comments across the internet about the game being “woke” because it has a Black female protagonist. But let’s ignore that for this discussion. The two major discussions/criticisms I’ve seen lodged against this game over and over again have been about the cringy dialog and how generic and empty the game’s world looks. I don’t want to discuss the dialog. I want to talk about the seemingly generic open-world action RPG experience.
Let me start by saying that I didn’t like Final Fantasy XV. One of my major complaints was that the world was too big while the means of traveling around it was either too slow or too costly. I also felt that the pacing was abhorrently slow and disorganized. Generally speaking, I didn’t have an issue with the combat mechanics, save for that they got a little repetitive, as most open worlds do. The first thing that should be said about Forspoken is that it’s being made by the people who made FFXV and that you should expect it to feel very similar to FFXV. So if you liked FFXV, then stop complaining about things in Forspoken that are true of FFXV. But let’s actually have a more nuanced discussion about Forspoken specifically and the criticism of how generic it looks.
If we’re being ultra-specific, the major criticism I’ve seen is that Forspoken looks like a generic action RPG with smooth, flashy gameplay and a dead, empty world. In other words, it looks like every open world action RPG for the past several years. The gameplay keeps getting smoother and prettier, the maps keep getting bigger, and the amount of space between things to do keeps getting wider. Personally, I’m over open world games. I just finished One Piece: World Seeker, which doesn’t even have that big of a map and I basically fast travelled my way through the entire game. Because I’m not there to explore random groups of trees or grassy plains. I’m there to see/control Luffy, and other characters in the DLC, fight pirates and marines. That’s why I’m there. I’m playing the game to follow the story of how Luffy and the Straw Hat crew save this island from a host of familiar faces from the show. The game did what I wanted. I’ve watched 830 episodes of One Piece. The game literally covered references that required me to have watched at least up to the arc I have in order to understand all the references from the show. One of the post-game characters literally appeared for me in the show a day after I had already met him in the game. The entire reason for playing the game is to control Luffy’s badass gum gum moves and fight cameo appearances from the anime. While the game certainly had its flaws, they accomplished the goal of the game. And they easily could have accomplished that without an open world design.
Open world games aren’t that great now because they’re overused. It’s not that some open worlds are just way better than others. It’s that the entire model has been beaten to death. Exploring and getting lost in an epic world is nice. But doing it over and over again gets old. It’s a time-consuming experience that rarely adds to the actual gameplay experience in a meaningful way. There are definitely some games that I believe would have been worse without an open world. Like Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag. My point is that open world games haven’t really gotten better much over the years. They’ve certainly gotten prettier. But the experience remains much the same. And that’s fine. If you like open world games and aren’t tired of them yet, that’s fine. But let’s not act like Forspoken looks worse than other open world games as far as design is concerned. It’s looks like your generic fantasy RPG open world map. Epic landscapes, mostly open space, and most likely way too many hidden collectibles and random fetch quests scattered throughout a mostly barren landscape. Why was this OK for I can’t even count how many previous open world games and now suddenly it’s a problem? What makes this specific game different from the likes of Destiny, Final Fantasy, Elder Scrolls, Ghost Recon, and so on?
What I really like about Forspoken is that they’ve at least addressed the sparseness of their open world in the presented narrative. We haven’t even played the game yet and they’ve already said the world of Athia is a land being ravaged by a deadly miasma that’s slowly swallowing up the entire world. That right there explains why the world looks lifeless. It’s literally the plot of the story. Very few games take the time to justify why their world is mostly empty. At least Luminous Productions took the time to write it into the game’s plot. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to respect them for being honest with you from the start.
I don’t know if Forspoken will be good. I’m not even trying to argue that it might be good. But the criticisms of the world shown so far are a combination of illogical and hypocritical. I don’t know why this game is getting flamed for that particular issue. This is going to be a generic open world game with solid, hopefully fluid, gameplay, and a map design that will be comparable to pretty much every other modern AAA open world game. It will not be any worse than the stack of other games in the genre you’ve recently played. And honestly, that’s all that should be expected. Especially from a studio making their first full game. The standard people are implying seems to be that Forspoken needs to be better than every past open world game; and that’s ridiculous. The standard is, and should be, that it only needs to be as good as open world action RPGs released in recent years. If it manages to do that, which I do believe it will, then it did its job, and should be commended for that. I’ll be happy just to see a AAA Square Enix game with a Black female protagonist that’s competently made.
People complaining that something looks generic in 2022 is ridiculous. There are at least four new soulslikes that are new IPs on the docket right now. At least three of them look amazing. None of them look particularly original. Lies of P looks especially good. Even if we ignore the fact that’s it’s being made by an indie dev responsible for a stack of games you’ve never heard and that’s openly tied to a blockchain scheme, the game looks amazing. Watch the new footage from Gamescom. If you like the soulslike genre, it will knock your socks off. But it in no way looks original or depth defying. Having only watched about 13 minutes of gameplay footage, I can already tell you what this game is. Someone played Bloodborne, The Surge, and then Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, in that order, and then smashed them all together. They took the fast-paced gameplay and plagued Victorian inspired setting of Bloodborne, the mechanical/technology focus of The Surge, and the arm accessory mechanics from Sekiro and wielded them into a Pinocchio themed mini-van. There’s literally nothing original about that game. But it looks great, will almost certainly be fun to play, and will be highly praised by the same people criticizing Forspoken for looking generic. Those same people will praise Steelrising, Wo Long: Fallen Dynasty, and Black Myth Wukong as well. As they should, if those games are good. And again, good is not defined as being original. Good is defined as being of a minimum level of quality in the gameplay, graphics, audio, and storytelling as a complete experience comparable to other contemporary games in the same genre. That’s what a good game is. A game can be good, or even great, while still being generic. It happens all the time.
While I can’t yet speak to the overall quality of Forspoken, what I do know is that nothing about the gameplay and world shown so far gives me any reason to assume the game will be bad. When defining bad as worse than the massive stack of other AAA open world games we’ve received in recent years. If you are tired of open world games, I completely agree with you. They’re over done, take too long, and almost always have a bunch of super annoying achievements that you absolutely have no interest in doing. But that’s all of them. That’s not the occasional one. That’s almost certainly going to be Forspoken as well. Not because it’s bad but because it’s following the trend. That’s open world games in general. You don’t like the cringy dialog, fine. But don’t criticize the game design for being just like every other game in the genre. That’s not right and it’s certainly not fair to be so blatantly hypocritical with the game that just happens to have a Black female protagonist.