Reviews

Huawei P50 Pro review: 5 topnotch cameras, 5 drawbacks

Using a Huawei smartphone in 2022 doesn’t seem bad at all

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Huawei was already at the peak of their popularity — not until the US vs China feud happened. Three years later, the Chinese tech giant hasn’t given up on the global smartphone market race.

The Huawei P50 and P50 Pro were teased last June 2021 and got announced in China a month after. After six more months, they finally made their latest flagship available to the rest of the worldSingapore and the Philippines included.

I’m keen on using their newest P-series smartphone as the last Huawei phone I tried was the Mate 30 Pro from 2019. But does this phone deserve the credit for being called a “legend reborn”? Did it actually get better over those years of despair and doubts? Read my honest thoughts below.

In a nutshell

This in-depth review is divided in four (4) parts. You can skip ahead and scroll down depending on what you’re curious about:

  1. Topnotch cameras
  2. More great stuff
  3. The drawbacks
  4. Is the Huawei P50 Pro your GadgetMatch?

For the spec-obsessed, here’s a rundown of the P50 Pro’s internals between the Chinese and Global version:

P50 Pro (China) P50 Pro (Global)
Display 6.6” 120Hz OLED 6.6” 120Hz OLED
Processor Kirin 9000 5G
5nm chipset
Snapdragon 888 4G
5nm chipset
Memory 8/12GB 8GB
Storage 128/256/512GB 256GB
Battery 4360mAh
66W Wired SuperCharge
50W Wireless SuperCharge
4360mAh
66W Wired SuperCharge
50W Wireless SuperCharge
Operating System HarmonyOS 2.0 EMUI 12 (Android 11)
Colors Black, Gold, White, Pink, Blue Golden Black, Cocoa Gold

Topnotch cameras

I’d like to talk about its cameras first since its the main highlight of this flagship.

For conscious mobile photographers, the Huawei P50 Pro consists of five cameras: four at the back and one in front.

  • 50MP f/1.8 wide (PDAF, Laser AF, OIS)
  • 13MP f/2.2 ultra-wide
  • 64MP f/3.5 periscope telephoto (PDAF + OIS)
    • 3.5x optical zoom
    • 100x digital zoom
  • 40MP f/1.6 B&W sensor
  • 13MP f/2.4 front camera

If you look closely, you’ll find the lens and its sensors all along that monstrous dual-circle camera layout. Fortunately, the LEICA partnership is still here.

Consistency is key

Auto: Ultra-wide | Wide | 3.5x zoom

Unlike flagship smartphones I’ve reviewed in the past, the cameras of the Huawei P50 Pro are pretty consistent across the board.

Auto: Ultra-wide | Wide | 3.5x zoom

Whether you use ultra-wide, wide, or the periscope telephoto lens during day time, it will provide you great results with little to no adjustments in color and contrast.

Auto: Ultra-wide | Wide

In the example above, both the ultra-wide and wide lenses performed like it came from a single sensor with the right amount of highlights and shadows. Even the AWB (Auto White Balance) looked similar. Other phone brands aren’t consistent with how they process their images despite having great camera sensors and chipsets.

Night mode: Ultra-wide | Wide | 3.5x zoom

Surprisingly, all lenses performed coherently even at night. The vast camera array of the P50 Pro proved to be topnotch with that consistent look.

Night mode: Wide | 3.5x zoom

And yes, that bokeh effect works on closer subjects (like that cute stray cat) even when it’s already past golden hour.

Night mode: Ultra-wide | Wide

There are times where zooming out gets a better overall shot. Shooting the greenery through ultra-wide night mode actually helped in emphasizing the scenery better than what the main lens produced.

Auto: Wide | 3.5x zoom

Sometimes, you don’t even need to shoot with night mode on to get desirable results. For instance, this indoor shot was taken just via Auto Mode. Both the wide and telephoto shots still looked good and consistent.

The main star of the show

Using the main (wide) angle lens should be enough for most occasions. Whether it’s for food, places, or portraits, the P50 Pro delivers well.

Even when they’re not taken using Portrait mode, the amount of subject-object segmentation is clear especially with that creamylicious bokeh at the back.

For an even wider view

I prefer using the ultra-wide lens mostly in perspective and landmark (pun intended) shots.

By framing the shot first before hitting the camera shutter button, the P50 Pro will surely produce great shots that doesn’t need any adjustments prior posting on social media.

Zooming in is my very best friend

Admittedly, I’ve used the P50 Pro’s periscope telephoto lens more than the wide lens for most subjects.

In hard-to-reach areas such as buildings and structures (architecture), I prefer zooming in and see what’s the best frame before capturing one.

It’s also very useful in scenarios that require rapid movement such as flying birds, as well as trees, grasses, and flowers getting hit by the breezy wind.

Most of the food shots I took were also captured using the zoom lens more than its wider counterpart.

The more I zoom in, the more I can focus on the intricate details of the food. It’s also helpful in hiding the phone’s annoying shadow when taking a photo through the main lens.

I’m a real sucker for golden hour shots. Even with just auto mode, the P50 Pro was able to capture these scenes just like how I see them in person. Truly astonishing.

Cafés at night also looked more warm and cozy just by pinching in onto the composition and focus on the shop’s decor instead of capturing the usual full façade.

Finally, the P50 Pro truly stunned me when I was able to take a clear shot of the moon — both in 30x and 100x. Even though it was digitally zoomed and the camera preview looked messed up, its AI algorithm produced such detailed moon shots even with just using Auto mode. No need to buy a telescope just to capture the whole full moon view.

Night mode saves the day?

While we’re already on the topic of night photography, I just also want to hype up Huawei’s Night Mode feature.

That heading might sound stupid but in situations where abundant source of light is missing, the Huawei P50 Pro was still able to process and display dark shots into something beyond the naked eye.

While true-to-life shots are what we want, activating night mode especially after sunset and in pitch dark areas are recommended for better night shot output.

I actually haven’t used any tripod nor any accessory in shooting those stars. All you need is to breathe, stay calm, be firm, and let the less than a second processing of the P50 Pro do its night mode magic for you.

Et voilà! With the right amount of passion and patience, you can also take great night time photos if ever you’re planning to buy this smartphone.

Fast AF

It can either mean “auto focus” or “as f***”. Whichever came to mind, I just want to point out that its Phase-Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) system, Laser AF, and OIS work wonders!

Whenever I ride my bicycle or sit at the back of a tricycle, the P50 Pro doesn’t miss a focused frame. This also adds a motion effect while the subject in-focus is still focused.

Even your pets in motion can be captured in an instant with its quick shutter release. Mind you, it works in both wide and zoomed modes.

Too warm? Or just right?

We all have our preferences in photos. Sometimes, I just feel like the P50 Pro produces warmer shots than what I see in reality.

But sometimes, having a warmer tone in photos adds more life to them.

AI (sometimes) hate you

Night mode ON | OFF

Or maybe I was just right all along. The P50 Pro tends to produce warmer shots whenever night mode is turned on.

AI mode: ON | OFF

The same goes when AI is turned on while trying to capture food photos.

AI mode ON | OFF

Whether it’s the green salad or these ensaymada buns, the P50 Pro’s AI algorithm over-enhances photos compared to what I see in real life.

Night mode OFF | ON

Night mode also brightens up photos a bit too much. When I know it’s too much, I turn off night and AI mode completely.

When in doubt, just use Black and White

If you want to add more drama to your shots, the B/W sensor of the P50 Pro can result to well-toned monochrome shots.

Two lens modes for the price of one

Unlike the past P-series flagships, the P50 Pro only has one selfie camera placed at the center instead of the usual upper left side.

Aside from the regular angle lens, you get an even wider view at 0.5x for better groufies.

This became very helpful especially during this time where we’re all required to comply with social distancing for the safety of everyone.

Selfie: 0.5x | 1x

And even though I look empty in these selfies, it amazes me that the P50 Pro’s front camera can shoot an ultra-wide angle selfie.

More great stuff

1. Eleganza extravaganza

The Huawei P50 Pro screams elegance and sophistication. From its shiny back and metal railing, it looks and feels like any other premium flagship.

The colorway that I have is the Cocoa Gold. But when you actually see it in person, it looks more silver-y with some hints of bronze. It’s hard to explain but I feel my photos did the phone’s color some justice anyway.

The most eye-catching feature for me isn’t actually the color, rather the camera cutout itself. Looking back at the Huawei P9 with its dual-camera design, Huawei made a “legend reborn” with the P50 Pro by having what they call the “Dual-Matrix” camera design.

While most of you might not be a fan of it (some of my friends even pointed out it looks like a washing machine and dryer combo), I’m a fan of its form that goes hand-in-hand with the overall ergonomics of the phone.

Holding the phone one-handed isn’t a sore at all!

Whenever I hold it, it feels surprisingly light but with the right amount of heft. Whether I use it for calls, chats, social media, shooting photos, and even playing games, the phone is comfortable to hold.

2. Astounding audiovisual experience

Probably one of the biggest features of the P50 Pro is its 6.68-inch OLED display with a punch-hole cutout. Let us remember that the Huawei nova 4 was one of the first smartphones to introduce the display tech.

If you remember the P40 Pro from 2020, it had a dual notch at the left side. Now, Huawei has also decided to move it into the center just like Xiaomi did with their recent 11T and 12 series. Its refresh rate was also bumped up from 90Hz to a 120Hz panel for a smoother and snappier UI navigation.

Napaka-ganda ni Wonyoung sa true lang

K-Pop music videos are known for their bright and color-popping visuals. Thanks to the display’s 1B colors, the P50 Pro was able to show colors that my IPS monitor cannot even produce.

It’s mandatory for K-Dramas to have rain scenes — and Kook Yeon-su isn’t exempted

I was even able to watch Netflix’s 그 해 우리는 (Our Beloved Summer) in its full glory. How? I’ll explain more later.

We don’t talk about Bruno. We talk about Isabel’s perfection

Was even able to play a 4K HDR copy of Disney’s Encanto. The moment I played it, that’s when I realized the P50 Pro has one of the most immersive and true-to-life smartphone displays out there.

That one song that makes me feel in-love even if I’m not

Its stereo speakers are also loud enough with a decent amount of bass and treble. TMI but it’s the perfect device companion whenever I take a shower so I can sing while the music is playing. And if you’re worried about accidental splashes and submersion, it has IP68 water and dust rating too.

3. Once an Android, still an Android

While the new HarmonyOS 2.0 is making waves in China, Huawei still decided to ship the global version with EMUI 12 based on Android 11. If you’ve grown into Huawei’s custom Android skin, this wouldn’t be a problem. I even enjoyed navigating through the phone’s UI even if I’m accustomed to Apple’s iOS.

With the presence of the Huawei AppGallery, I was able to download most apps I use in my other phones: Telegram, Viu, 9, Lazada, Shopee, GCash, and other local banking apps.

If you’re still worried about other apps that are not found in the AppGallery, there’s also APKPure integration. That’s what I used to download APK versions popular streaming apps such as Netflix, Disney+, Apple Music, Spotify, and more.

Shenter Xiaoting will always have a place in my heart 🥺

If you’re worried about missing your social media apps, don’t worry as you can also install Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Slack, Discord, among others.

I was even able to download Genshin Impact and Call of Duty: Mobile with ease. If you’re worried about updates, installing the APKPure app will notify you just like Google’s Play Store.

4. Speedy performance

After installing those graphics-intensive games, I immediately tested how the P50 Pro performs. As we all expect, Snapdragon 888 performed great. There’s even a dedicated Game Booster tab whenever you open a game so you can turn off unwanted notifications and take screenshots or screen recordings at ease.

Asphalt 9 is always the best racing game to test out in any smartphone — though it’s a different case if you own Forza Horizon 5 and are subscribed to Xbox Game Pass Ultimate.

Although Genshin Impact was stuck with medium settings, playing it still felt smoother and more responsive. And if you wish to bump up the graphics quality, you’ll just end up overclocking the smartphone — which you don’t want to do since this is a device with a chipset that isn’t user-replaceable (unlike PC rigs that can be replaced when the overclocked chipset breaks).

For people who continuously whine about Snapdragon 888’s overheating issues, sorry to break it to you but I didn’t experience any significant heating or lagging issues when I played these games.

5. Small yet long-lasting battery

With just a 4360mAh battery, most of you wouldn’t expect a full-day of battery life with moderate usage but my experience begs to differ.

One of Kim Doki’s best acts in Taxi Driver — and I’m not complainin’

I was able to binge-watch three episodes of 모범택시 (Taxi Driver) in Netflix continuously from 35% before the phone died. If I’ll do the math for you, that was more than three (3) hours worth of video playback.

If that isn’t believable enough, I also went out with this phone to take a lot of sample photos plus some social media updating in-between. Believe it or not, it only managed to consume 15% of its overall percentage. This is also safe to say that the 4G-only Snapdragon 888 was efficient to save battery life in times where you don’t play hard on it.

The drawbacks

1. 2021 flagship with a 2019 back

Despite loving its dual-matrix camera design, I’m not a total fan of this finish. While there’s an included silicon case in its packaging, dust and smears still accumulate over time.

I haven’t even started yet but it’s difficult to clean its back when I did beauty and usage shots for this device — even when I used a soft microfiber cloth for it. I’d rather have a “boring” matte back over a shiny back that’s ultra-glossy and smudgy that made waves until 2019.

2. Not all curves are pretty

I used to love curved smartphone displays way back when Samsung announced the Galaxy S6 Edge in 2015. But after realizing it’s more of an aesthetic rather than function, it became more of a “gimmick” for me.

I don’t think having a curved display means “premium” especially when most phone brands slowly transitioned their flagship smartphones back to flat displays for durability and better display legibility.

Surprisingly, the P50 Pro’s embargo lift shared the same day as Sheon’s birthday from Billlie 🥳

During those instances where you’re surrounded with uncontrollable bright lights, those make the curved display more prominent. It may be immersive for some, but it’s distracting for me. It’s also just more expensive to get repaired if ever it gets knocked down on the floor and shattered.

And should I also mention that its in-display fingerprint scanner sometimes require multiple presses in order to get recognized?

3. Where’s 5G?

I know you’re wondering and it isn’t a typo. The P50 Pro is equipped with a flagship-grade Snapdragon 888 — but only with 4G.

The China-exclusive P50 units were shipped with Kirin 9000 — which is a 5nm 5G chip that made its debut through 2020’s Mate 40 Pro. If you’ve been keeping track of the Huawei saga for the past few years, Qualcomm has offered only 4G chips for Huawei, not those with 5G in it.

With the ongoing global chip shortage that also affected major players such as Apple, Sony, and Intel (and could last until 2023), it’s quite understandable for Huawei to reserve the Kirin chips in their homeland.

But admit it or not, most of us want a smartphone that could last up to three to five years. By then, 5G has drastically improved. And as someone who has experienced the instantaneous speeds of 5G and how it helped me do tasks faster such as downloading heavy files for editing or playing intensive games whenever I’m outside, the P50 Pro lacking 5G support is a dealbreaker for me.

Considering its competitive price tag in an already highly-competitive smartphone market full of 5G midrangers and flagships, this is where Huawei might able to make or break a customer’s satisfaction.

4. Super fast charging? Only with Huawei

To fully maximize Huawei’s super fast charging feature, you only need to use its bundled 66W SuperCharge adapter and USB-C to USB-A cable. I know they’re not the only one as Chinese manufacturers such as Xiaomi and vivo also do the same for their phones. But hey, the good thing is the chargers are still bundled!

Not that third-party chargers and cables won’t totally work, they’ll just charge the P50 Pro slower than what’s advertised. So if you have a large GaN charger and fast USB-C to USB-C cables like I do, forget it. The Huawei P50 Pro will still treat that as a normal 25W charger.

Here are the charging results using the 66W charging brick:

  • 3 minutes = 4%
  • 5 minutes = 10%
  • 10 minutes = 25%
  • 15 minutes = 38%
  • 25 minutes = 55%
  • 30 minutes = 67%
  • 45 minutes = 92%
  • 50 minutes = 98%
  • 55 minutes = 100%

Whereas the third-party chargers and cables took longer as expected for about more than 65~70 minutes as Huawei limits the fast charging capabilities using other accessories.

5. Still, the lack of Google

While it may not be a problem for others, the lack of Google Mobile Services (GMS) is still a problem for most.

As someone who relies on Google apps often such as YouTube, Gmail, Meet, and Drive, it’s hard to justify buying this phone if the user wants the best of everything with Google in it. There is and will always be other Android smartphones out there with Google Mobile Services.

Luckily, there’s an app that could temporarily fix this issue. By installing GSpace from Huawei’s AppGallery, it will be able to open apps that rely on GMS. Albeit, you have to withstand another layer of pop-up ads before you can use an app — unless you pay for a premium and remove ads for life.

With it, I was able to open and play videos on YouTube, glance at emails on Gmail, upload photos to Drive, and even color-grade photos in VSCO. Just expect casual app crashes in-between.

And with GMS in mind, one more rant is that EMUI doesn’t show music controls on the lock and control center if you play from third-party apps such as Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Spotify — unless it’s played by Huawei’s native Music app.

Is the Huawei P50 Pro your GadgetMatch?

If you’re that eager to own a smartphone with a superior set of cameras, astounding display and speakers, slim and lightweight design, flagship-grade performance with an efficient battery life, the P50 Pro is no doubt the best option for you. But if the lack of GMS, 5G, and other considerable drawbacks affect your purchasing decision, owning a Huawei smartphone simply isn’t for you.

For now, the Huawei P50 Pro has one of (if not the) best cameras in a smartphone today. This might be a bold statement but the P50 Pro can even beat last year’s Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra in terms of camera prowess. But remember, the Galaxy S22 Ultra is just around the corner so we have to wait before we can tell which smartphone has the best cameras in this specific quarter.

The Huawei P50 Pro is currently available in Europe for EUR 1199 (approximately US$ 1337, SG$ 1810, PhP 68,503). Stay tuned for the official Singaporean and Philippine pricing as they will be announced soon.

UPDATE 1: Huawei P50 Pro’s SRP (Suggested Retail Pricing) in the Philippines is actually cheaper at PhP 52,999 and comes with a free Huawei Freebuds Pro (worth PhP 7,999) if you purchase from February 4 to 10, 2022.

UPDATE 2: In Singapore, the Huawei P50 Pro retails for SG$ 1548. The phone is currently being sold in several retailers like Best Denki, Challenger, Courts, Gain City, iShopChangi, Lazada, and Shopee. It’s also available in carriers such as M1, Starhub, and Singtel,

Reviews

POCO X5 Pro 5G review: Must-have mid-ranger?

Business as usual for POCO

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POCO X5 Pro 5G

Standing out in a crowded mid-range segment has become increasingly difficult in 2023. It isn’t enough to hit home runs; to stand out, you need to hit grand slams. To be a game-changer, a smartphone needs to be a generational talent. 

It’s difficult to be painted as generational, especially because mid-rangers, by nature, face compromises that force manufacturers to skimp on certain parts of a smartphone to keep its price as low as possible. A mid-ranger truly needs to be special, so it can be undeniable rather than undesirable.

The POCO X5 Pro 5G is the Chinese brand’s latest attempt at bringing a game-changing smartphone to the ultra competitive segment. They’re branding the X5 Pro 5G as ‘The secret to win’, a device that will help students and young professionals succeed with whatever challenges they’re facing. 

It’s one thing to make a hefty promise, but it’s another thing to walk the talk. Does the POCO X5 Pro 5G stand and deliver, or is it just another self-proclaimed game-changer exposed as a wannabe flagship killer? 

Design: Puts the MID in midrange

 

Remember when I said that manufacturers tend to skimp on certain parts of a smartphone to keep its price as low as possible? Right out of the box, even without holding the phone, you already know where POCO decided to make its necessary sacrifices. 

Allow me to describe this design with a Gen Z word made popular by Long Island’s very best in professional wrestling: mid. The X5 Pro 5G’s design, is quite frankly, mid. It doesn’t stand out in the mid-range segment, nor, does it even impress for any unique personality quirks. You’d prefer to purchase a unique case for this so you wouldn’t hesitate to bring this out during parties.

Durability: A phone that will last through an Iron Man Match

POCO X5 Pro 5G

First impressions matter, but they aren’t everything. While the X5 Pro 5G isn’t for those looking for love at first sight, its choice of materials will leave you impressed in the long run.

This phone simply works. It clearly isn’t the prettiest phone, but pretty doesn’t always mean substantial. Plastic is still the most practical material for a smartphone, and POCO’s choice of plastics for the X5 Pro 5G hit the mark. It’s so durable, in fact, you could confidently use the phone without a case even when walking around the streets of Metro Manila. 

The X5 Pro 5G’s battery performance enriches its durability. During the review period, I had the opportunity of using the phone not only as my main daily driver, but also as my primary hotspot source during remote work situations. Even for extremely heavy users, this is a phone that can last you through the day. In rare cases when you’ll need to charge in the middle of the day, the X5 Pro 5G comes with a 67W charger out of the box (yes, they still have chargers out of the box! Big W here by POCO). 

Performance: Will have you feeling like a generational talent 

POCO X5 Pro 5G

Most manufacturers hope to position their mid-rangers as bang-for-you-buck devices that can bring flagship-level technology. It’s a hefty promise. Most brands tend to miss the mark, one way or another. 

Coming from a flagship daily driver, I was already expecting a drop in performance when the X5 Pro 5G came in. Right out of the box, to my surprise, it didn’t feel like there was any drop in overall performance. Even a week after, the X5 Pro 5G’s maintained the smoothness it came with from Day 1. POCO did not miss the mark.

The 120 Hz refresh rate certainly helped accentuate that feeling of smoothness, especially when going through daily social media scrolling. But even when testing with a relatively high-intensive game such as DB Legends, the X5 Pro 5G and its Snapdragon 778G processor went through the gauntlet with relative ease. Relative to other mid-range phones, that’s generational. 

Camera: Consistently colorful 

POCO X5 Pro 5G

There’s a common misconception that when you have more cameras, the better shots you’ll get. Having multiple cameras isn’t enough; choosing the right lenses and having software that processes shots properly matters even more. 

I’m happy to say that at the very least, POCO was able to choose the right lenses for its multi-camera setup. Supporting its 108MP wide camera is an 8MP ultra-wide lens and a 2MP macro camera. Other manufacturers have missed the mark by taking out the ultra-wide, but thankfully, POCO did not make that mistake. 

The ultra-wide lens performs relatively well too. The difference in quality between the main lens and the ultra-wide isn’t as drastic as you’d expect. It captures detail very well, and HDR is on point too. 

Users concerned about their social media image don’t have to worry. Its ultra-wide lens is good enough for your much-coveted Gen Z selfies. 

Performance outdoors is definitely better. There’s a noticeable drop in quality when taking indoor shots, but its nothing too criminal. 

Night mode on the X5 Pro 5G was decent too. On this shot of my very good friend’s jersey, it captured the details well, although there’s noticeable grain in the background. 

In terms of processing, the X5 Pro 5G comes out with consistently colorful shots, which is to be expected at this point. It ups the saturation to intense levels, and shadows can be overblown at times. It’s nothing too concerning, just something to consider before posting your photos on the ‘gram.

Is this your GadgetMatch? 

POC X5 Pro 5G

With an SRP of PhP 16,999, the POCO X5 Pro 5G presents itself with an intriguing list of features. At first glance it won’t impress, but its value as a smartphone is all about what’s under the hood. It’s a powerful device that gets the job done. Whether you’re a busy workaholic, a student who’s trying to survive through modern hybrid setups, or a gamer who wants to pick up endless W’s, the POCO X5 Pro 5G is a great choice to have if you’re looking for a weapon that will bring you victory in whatever battles you’ll face. 

The POCO X5 Pro 5G may just be better than you, and you’ll know it. Its design is mid, but everything else, you wouldn’t hesitate to call generational.

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Computers

Apple M2 Mac mini Review

More Affordable, More Powerful

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Apple silently revealed the 2023 M2 Mac mini to the world.

Back in 2005, the Mac mini G4 was the cheapest Mac you can buy for US$ 499.

Almost 18 years after, the Mac mini still is the cheapest Mac at just US$ 599.

That’s still a lot of savings versus buying a US$ 1299 iMac.

The biggest difference? The newest Mac mini runs two of the most powerful chips right now — the M2 and M2 Pro.

But is it actually the right Mac for you?

Watch our Apple M2 Mac mini review now!

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Gaming

Forspoken review: Outspoken with little to speak of

Wait for a sale

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Forspoken

It doesn’t take a lot to create a decent roleplaying game. All you need is a fish-out-of-water character, a vast open map, and a seemingly endless list of objectives. Though it has all three, Forspoken struggles to keep up with its pretenses as a Western roleplaying game.

First, the good

Credit to where it’s due, Forspoken is a fun game for the first few sections. Exploring the incredibly huge map with magical parkour is enjoyable. Eclipsed only by Elden Ring’s Torrent, magic parkour is one of the most innovative ways to quickly traverse large distances, especially after learning more advanced techniques.

Likewise, fighting balanced enemies with limited powers provides enough of a challenge to keep players on their toes in Athia. Neither the player nor the first enemies feel overpowered.

Unfortunately, the game’s novelty quickly evaporates after you figure out that you have to repeat the same motions dozens upon dozens of times. Forspoken’s map is much larger than it ever should have been. Though abundant in number, every point of interest is separated by large distances, some platforming challenges, and a battle sequence. The greater map is empty. Do this over and over, and the game gets stale quick. With adequate rewards, this shouldn’t be a problem, but Forspoken also suffers from a communication issue.

A communication issue

For most roleplaying games, completing an objective on the map usually nets palpable rewards for the player: a significant experience boost, new skills, new gear, or a bag of loot. An open-world game necessitates a lot of exploring. Even if a game is repetitive, earning substantial rewards is satisfying, at least. Forspoken does not have this — not in an easily discernible way, at least.

Treasure chests, which account for most of the points of interest on the map, reward players with a litany of crafting materials. Most of which will go unused because the game doesn’t easily tell players how to use them. After a dozen hours of collecting materials, I had a wealthy cache of each ingredient to make practically anything. Even then, I had little idea where each one went.

The map’s major rewards — new cloaks, new nail arts, and experience — also do little to explain how Frey improves with each completed objective. Clearing out an enemy camp, for example, rewards players with +1 magic. The game does not tell you how much damage that conveys. Certainly, after completing a few of these, Frey feels stronger, but it’s not easy to see how much stronger, especially when most enemies are bullet sponges with absurd health pools anyway.

Plus, these don’t even scratch the surface of objectives wherein the main reward is literally just a lore dump you have to read from a menu.

Forspoken

Difficulty shouldn’t always mean more enemies

Another issue with clearing out Athia’s large map is how Forspoken handles difficulty. Though there are options to adjust difficulty, the game relies on a limited bag of tricks to make it more difficult for players: increasing enemy health and quantity. In moderation, relying on this strategy works. However, Forspoken does this to an obnoxious level.

Prepare to fight five mini-bosses in one encounter for a lore entry. What compounds this issue more is an insane enemy health pool which causes encounters to last a lot longer than they should. One mini-boss encounter took me 15 minutes, even with appropriately leveled gear and the right spells.

Because of the sheer number of enemies, an encounter can stun-lock Frey for an absurd amount of time. The player can hardly prevent this since it relies on chance. Despite offering a wide array of moves, the risk of knockbacks shoehorn players into a slow run-and-gun tactic (which might not even play into an enemy’s weaknesses), instead of using each ability to the max.

On paper, Forspoken’s combat offers a fluid way to take down enemies by seamlessly switching between spells and moving through the battlefield with magic parkour. Unfortunately, an imbalance in enemy strategies bogs the game down in prolonged sequences that often reward players with only middling boosts.

Forspoken

A lack of optimization

For a game released on modern hardware, Forspoken took a while to launch. The game was delayed a few times. Given how delays often work, you’d think that it would release in a fairly optimized state. It’s not.

Though I haven’t hit major game-breaking bugs, there were a number of performance dips throughout the game. Even on performance-focused settings, framerates dropped to a standstill when there were high particle effects on screen. Frey constantly clipped through the terrain and found herself stuck on finnicky edges (which sometimes required reloading from previous saves).

The game is also dragged down by numerous cutscenes. Though not a bug per se, it’s not a great sign of optimization that the game has to pause for a cutscene just to show enemies arriving. For a game featuring fluid movement and combat, Forspoken often takes players out of the action by pausing for unnecessary cutscenes.

Forspoken

Better on sale

Overall, Forspoken is persistently flawed. However, amid the game’s shortcomings, the title still has an exciting combat and movement system. Plus, if you disregard the tedious open world, Forspoken’s linear story, featuring the wide range of abilities, are enjoyable. My interest always bounces back after beating one of the game’s main bosses.

Still, it’s hard to call Forspoken a game worthy of its AAA price tag. It might be better to wait for a discount.

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