Forspoken was one of the most intriguing early demos for the PlayStation 5. Based on brand new IP and developed by Luminous Productions – the Square Enix development group that produced Final Fantasy 15 – expectations were high and the first images really impressed. Now, after multiple delays and two and a half years of further development, Forspoken is finally here, or at least a demo version. Ahead of the game’s release in January 2023, Square Enix released a long PS5 playable sample, allowing players to complete a variety of content in an open-world space. We were interested to see if the demo delivered on the initial media promise and also how the six visual modes compare.
First off, I think it’s worth noting that the Forspoken demo isn’t like most other game demos. It’s a pretty substantial taste of the full game, with several hours of content spread across a huge space. Narration is kept to a minimum, but you get a good idea of how the game actually plays out – and I generally liked what I saw. Combat is fast, fluid, and reminiscent of fight sequences in pre-rendered Final Fantasy media. It’s relatively simple to control, combining basic attacks, dodging, and a mix of special abilities, but combat is fantastic on the move. It’s a bit like Final Fantasy 15 combat, but with a greater focus on real-time battle and with a lot more finishing.
The action is also the visual highlight of this demo. There are lots of great combat animations that flow together smoothly with lots of bespoke animations for common actions like dodging based on player positioning. Every move is punctuated with a burst of particles, which is satisfying, especially for screen-filling special attacks. Square Enix has made valiant attempts to emulate the stunt combat of their CG movies in other games, but this is the closest effort yet.
Exploration is just as frenetic. The player has a “magic parkour” system that allows you to run through environments at high speed by pressing the circular button. Jumping through areas is just as easy, though the animations are context sensitive and can feel a bit unpredictable. It may not be as successful as the combat, but it’s more interesting than typical open-world fare – and a fun traversal system is key to creating an entertaining open-world game. Superhero games, like InFamous, seem like a clear inspiration for some of these abilities.
I think Forspoken is a great title, judging from what we’ve seen so far – but there are some definite issues too, including issues I really didn’t expect to see in an exclusive game of the current generation. This is an early teaser but I found the lighting to be a mixed bag – beautiful at times, but with some issues with inconsistent lighting and light leaks into the interiors.
Distant shots on the open world also look a little flat, due to the lack of shadows in the distance (something the ray-traced shadows option doesn’t address), while reflections from the Screen space and the accompanying fallback for cubemaps can be unconvincing. For a cross-gen game, these issues wouldn’t stand out too much, but Forspoken is a current-gen only title, with releases announced for PS5 and PC only. Beyond the assets, which appear to be a cut above a typical last-gen open world title, it’s hard to imagine Forspoken in the same league as some of the other big current-gen-only releases, or among the most accomplished cross-gens. rate.
It is of course important to provide the caveat that we are seeing a small early slice of a presumably much larger game, and the final game may improve considerably from this projection. Also, Forspoken is still a beautiful title, especially in the heat of the moment when particles are flying around – but so far I think the jury is out on how effective the whole thing is.
Still, the Forspoken demo is remarkably comprehensive – and that extends to the graphics options, where six different presentation modes are offered, three each for 60Hz and 120Hz display. Looking first at the 60Hz modes, all three are similar. Between performance and quality modes, the only significant difference seems to be an improvement in environmental density at distance – levels of detail for distant geometry are better, although only really noticeable in head-to-head comparisons. Ray tracing mode generally matches performance mode in terms of visual tweaks, so the distant geometry is slightly pared down. Beyond that, it’s surprisingly difficult to spot evidence of ray tracing during typical gameplay. Shot after shot looks virtually identical to performance mode – and as the video reveals, the effectiveness of RT shadows is questionable.
Beyond these differences, the only visual differentiator between the modes is image quality. In stills, the RT and quality modes look very similar, with a fairly 4K-like presentation. Performance mode is smoother and noticeably less detailed in comparison, although that’s not a huge difference. AMD’s FSR2 is primarily used to reconstruct a lower resolution image into a higher resolution image, and the amount of upscaling varies by mode. Performance mode is usually around 900p internally, RT mode is usually around 1000p, and Quality mode is around 1296p in most shots I’ve tested. The pixel count seemed to vary frame by frame, so dynamic resolution also seems to be active.
If I had to take a guess here before the full release, I’d say RT and quality modes rebuild to 4K and performance mode rebuilds to a lower target resolution. The image is uniformly blurrier in performance mode and some 2D elements also appear noticeably less sharp, indicating a lower HUD resolution which likely corresponds to a lower resolution reconstruction target for 3D content. Overall image quality is quite good overall, and many reconstruction issues are masked by motion blur, which was disabled in early Forspoken projections, but is present by default here. Some alpha effects are noticeably low resolution, but overall the game presents a crisp image, although we’ll have to wait for the final code before drawing any real conclusion.
This demo’s frame rates are choppy, though that’s not unexpected for an early sample likely based on old code. In performance mode, Forspoken frequently drops frames during traversal and very often drops below 60fps during battles, with playbacks around 40fps at worst. Quality mode and ray tracing mode are more consistent, although they target 30 frames per second. Traversal is a solid 30fps in these modes, and battles are mostly 30fps, although they do drop significantly at times, with both modes hitting similar framerates in intense moments.
The modes available in 120Hz output are a little more interesting. Performance mode is fairly modest – the frame rate target is still 60fps, with drops of around 40fps at worst during battles. However, the quality and ray tracing modes now target 40 frames per second. They drop in combat, but not as hard as 60Hz, hitting around 30fps at worst. Traversal appears to be a locked 40fps, so in general the level of performance is significantly higher than the 60Hz alternative. All of these modes appear to use similar visual settings to their 60Hz counterparts. Internal resolution may be reduced somewhat to achieve higher performance goals, although the actual final image through the 60Hz mode varies and 120Hz sounds very similar.
Square-Enix deserves praise for the Forspoken demo. This is a big playable chunk of an upcoming big budget release, available for free with no strings attached. Once you master the combat, I think it’s one of the most exciting action-RPG combat systems out there, at least as far as visual splendor goes. I’m also very impressed with the load times which are essentially imperceptible at 1.3 seconds whether you’re joining the game from the main menu or using fast travel. We’ve seen games load quickly on current-gen consoles, but this feels lightning fast, matching or exceeding the speed of the fastest-loading titles.
But setting aside the instant pyrotechnics and no-hold loading, Forspoken doesn’t seem to run on current-gen consoles as well as many other recent games. There are a handful of key areas for improvement that I hope to see progress in once we get our hands on the final code. Performance is also shaky in this build, though it’s hard to judge at this early stage. To Square Enix’s credit, after spending about eight hours on this demo, I can’t wait to see how the final game turns out. But I also hope that the finished code will build on this example to create a visually more mature experience.