Allow me to lift the curtain for a second, friends: normally, if a publisher has confidence in a game, the PR team sends code a week or two before the game is released so that reviewers can play it properly, marinate it in the story, then write a thoughtful review. The rule of thumb: the sooner you get the game and the earlier the pre-launch review embargo, the better the company thinks it is. They are not always right, of course, and this is not a hard and fast rule. But it’s a solid guide. On a related note, the codes for Leave, a game said to last 30-40 hours, was sent to most reviewers yesterday morning, less than a day before the embargo was lifted today at 1am AEDT (an hour after the game became available on digital stores in Australia). Once you factor in how long it takes to download games on Australian internet and my annoying need for sleep (and refusal to crack to finish a mediocre game), I’ve only played about 5-6 hours Leave until now. I’ll probably update this review later in the week if I can force myself to put up with more of it (maybe something really cool happens in the late game that makes the drudgery worth it?), but here are my thoughts on what i have played so far.
In Leaveplay as Frey Holland, a young New Yorker with a backstory from one of the more mundane episodes of Law and order. She’s a young black woman whose parents abandoned her at birth, and she’s just had a run-in with the law followed by a more aggressive run-in with a violent gang. After handily handing over the care of her cat to the kind judge who released her (arguably the most unrealistic scene in a game largely set in a magical alternate universe), she is sucked through a portal to Athia. Athia is a magical land ravaged by a type of magical disease called The Break that turns flora and fauna into violent zombies or glowing purple trees/rocks.
Before being sucked through the portal, Frey tried on a bracelet she found in an abandoned building. That bracelet turns out to be Cuff, the magical equivalent of Clippy. Cuff has the soul of a judgmental, casually sexist, upper-class alternate-universe Englishman, and appears to be the source of Frey’s power. If you have recently rebooted the Charmed TV show, Cuff has the exact vibe of the obnoxious haughty Watcher pretending to be awake while talking to the three colored witches in his care. Unfortunately, Cuff is now attached to Frey and won’t shut up unless you turn his dialogue down in the settings.
Meanwhile, something is very wrong with Frey’s dialogue. I can forgive the inconsistencies in her character because people are complicated, but the dialogue is just plain lazy. A mix of Marvel’s “well, that just happened” brand of meaningless filler to emphasize an event and weave in as many casual ‘fuck’s and ‘shit’s as possible. I’m not a prude; I enjoy the occasional swear word used as punctuation if it feels natural. It can be an interesting character trait. But it doesn’t fit the game, is overused and Frey routinely uses this kind of language that she would clearly know is inappropriate. It comes across as if a group of older male writers are trying to guess what a poor young black woman from New York would sound like, and it’s just shocking. It also comes across more like filler, the dialogue equivalent of trying to play an assignment by typing your essay in 16pt font with double spaces.
The story is also told through many cutscenes. It’s almost like the game is saying, “You seem to finally get into this story and get immersed! Can I interest you in a shocking cutscene or awkward transition to remind you what you’re really doing? The game I was most reminded of was the 110 billionth endless cut scene NBA 2K16in which Spike Lee tried the NBA2K career mode into a cinematic experience, but clearly wasn’t given the time or tools necessary to make it feel natural or interactive.
This is all really disappointing as it is buried deep down Leave its a really interesting story and the potential for an excellent game. A strong editor, better writers (with a more diverse writer’s room to make all these people from different backgrounds come across more naturally), and more attention to the magic mechanics would have made for a shorter, brilliant game.
The world is huge, but a bit sparse, so it takes too long to go anywhere to do anything. The side missions have glimpses of interesting characters that aren’t going anywhere and aren’t interesting enough to intentionally try. Frey is a potentially fascinating character if she had more depth.
The fight is another missed opportunity. The spell slots, magical mechanics and really cool looking monsters mean combat could have been really exciting. Instead, it’s repetitive and boring, not taking advantage of its full potential. It smacks of developers who had exciting ideas that were stifled by management or cost cutting or something. Because there is here’s something but it just won’t come out in the first 5 hours (maybe it will get better later, I’ll find out and let you know).
Like, the dragons and wolf stuff is so cool! I’d love a game that did more with them. At one point you fight a huge, angry, glowing deer, and that was very neat. I want little figurines of all these monsters. Their character models are excellent. But I wanted the fights to end quickly because I was bored.
Just turning off my critic, this game is all right. My wife enjoys it and looks forward to playing more. She likes it because it reminds her of the games she used to play as a kid, which makes sense since it has a really old-fashioned feel to it. There’s something to be said for simple combat, and it’s certainly great that the game has a black female protagonist, as that’s not a perspective we often see in these types of games. If Leave had been released on the PS3, I would have been impressed. We only know that better is possible in 2023 and that the minimum expected for a $115 game is more than this.
If Leave was a TV show I would 100% watch it while also playing a game on my phone because it’s interesting enough that I want to know what’s happening and spend some time in the world but it’s not interesting enough for my full attention. There are too many long, meaningless pauses.
Based on the first 5-6 hours with the game, would I recommend Forspoken?
For $115 I would definitely not recommend it. The idea of having to play another 25-35 hours of this game soon makes me wonder if I should have become an accountant instead. However, I don’t think I’d mind jumping in for an hour or two a week to get through the story at a slower pace. It seems like a game that would be chill and fun to do in small bites rather than long sessions. If it inevitably goes on sale (and I don’t think you’ll have long to wait), if you like a sparse open-world game and don’t mind having a condescending magic Clippy on your wrist, it’s the worth trying . It’s not a good game by any means, but it’s not bad either. It’s aggressively fine. They are the Crocs of video games. It’s the room temperature tap water of video games. It’s the “free wired headset that comes with your new phone” of video games. It will do its job well enough, even if you know there is better. Maybe play Horizon Forbidden West again instead.