For Honor is a bold attempt at something different by Ubisoft – an always online melee brawler, where Vikings, samurai and knights are incongruously mixed together in deadly combat. For a company like Ubisoft, where endless side quests and collectibles are de rigueur, this singular focus on just one, core gameplay mechanise stands out starkly. And For Honor is better for it. Slashing and hacking at your foes is delightful, and it is only when the game looks out past what makes it good onto the accouterments typical of the studio and AAA gaming more does it lose track.
For Honour features tactical combat that is at its best in one on one duels. Despite being set in the medieval, there’s no ranged combat such as archery available to your heroes. At the start you’re quickly familiarised through a quick tutorial with the standard blocks, attacks, guard breaks and parries and then taken straight into the action. It starts hard and only gets harder. Timing is everything.
You can block or attack in one of three directions. Simple enough but planning your attacks while constantly keeping an eye not just on your opponent but the wider field of battle requires intense concentration. You can be downed in just a few hits and one mistake can be harshly punished. On top of this you must manage your stamina, and it can be devastating if you run out of it. It’s relatively difficult now, and I can imagine that in a few months the skill ceiling will be enormously high, and may be a deterrent to newbies breaking onto the scene.
There are a variety of game modes, including a tutorial-esque single-player campaign which has some of the worst writing and dialogue in a game I’ve ever played, a control point Domination mode, Skirmish (my personal favourite) and 2v2 and 4v4. But even within the larger battles, spontaneous 1v1 duels are the highlight. For Honor feels like it really should be a game only about 1v1 duels, but Ubisoft being Ubisoft felt they had to add more and more to justify its asking price.
A more stripped-down game, with a main focus on 1v1 at a third of the price might have been a much better fit. The core mechanics are well thought-through and feel fantastic. But Ubisoft have enveloped them in all the trappings of a modern AAA game, with some unwelcome free-to-play additions such as micro-transactions to boot. Why a game about dueling needs two types of collectibles – one of which you obtain by smashing pots – is beyond me. I can only hope that Ubisoft releases a “starter edition” or something like it featuring only duels, sometime in the future, as the current asking price is far more than I would be willing to pay.
For me it was a huge shame that the factions didn’t play differently from one another. There was a huge opportunity to develop a scissors-paper-rock trifecta of skills, a la Fire Emblem or Starcraft, but instead each faction is instead broken down into the four classes that play very similarly to one another. That said, each hero has their own unique movesets and strengths, just as in a fighting game, and as time goes by and players master these movesets, I’m sure an interesting and vibrant metagame will emerge. And Ubisoft have committed to adding more content to the game over time, not only more cosmetic items or weapons but heroes as well, which should keep the meta fresh.
There’s also metagame between the factions, but beside pride and in-game rewards, I never found any compelling reason to care. When I opened multiplayer coloured sections of the map would shift around (think Civilization), but why I should be invested in that wider conflict I never really understood.
2v2 and 4v4 can be great, but at the same time the battle usually goes the way of the team that can whittle down numbers early in the piece. Comebacks one you’re outnumbered are incredibly difficult and with the smallest amount of co-ordination (okay, ganking), it’s relatively easy to knock out a teammate early on.
Dominion is less structured and more of a free-for-all. By killing opponents and capturing zones of the map, you work to be first to 1,000 points. Points can be accumulated by taking out mobs, captains, heroes and capturing objectives. But it’s not a steady march upwards, points can be lowered, such as by losing an objective/control point. It’s the mode that best makes the case for a version of this game that goes beyond 1v1 duels. It can be hectic and hugely kinetic. But because of this, it also largely does away with the mechanical finesse required in the other modes. A much lesser combat system would work just as well, and I can’t feel that the “Art of Battle” system is largely wasted here. Nevertheless, it is definitely enjoyable, and I can imagine elite teams of four having enormous fun.
At least on PC and from Australia, I do have some complaints about matchmaking. Even when it stated that there was “very high” level of activity, I found it difficult to find a match with people in my region and around my skill level. Almost every time it quickly expanded its search to all regions, all game modes and all skill levels. This is obviously not ideal, for new players especially, who often have no choice but to be paired up with high level players from another country, and its subsequent high ping rate, which is often murderous in a game such as this. I also had a number of disconnections, which may be partly due to the lack of dedicated servers and reliance on P2P as well. You can play with relatively worthy AI, but playing with and against humans is undoubtedly the preferred way to hack and slash.
I had more fun with For Honor than I originally thought I would. It seemed to be too much. Some MOBA like gameplay, duels, a single-player campaign and more? Surely that doesn’t work. But somehow it does. A very solid core loop is immensely satisfying. The additions piled on top of that feel less necessary, and may distract, but fortunately rarely overwhelm what makes this game great in the first place. For Honor is the rare new IP that manages to get right straight out of the gate. I have a feeling that it may become the next Rainbow Six Siege, a sleeper hit that will only get better with time, but with a commensurate increase in skill needed to play.
Released: February 2017
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Windows 7 or Higher)