This product was reviewed on a Windows PC using a review copy provided by Ubisoft.
Available Platforms: Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Players: Single Player, Multiplayer
The rain beats down upon the remnants of a ruined castle as I stand, supported by a giant poleaxe. A lone Samurai Kensei stares me down from atop a small flight of stairs, waiting for me to make the first move. My first strike glances off his sword, parried effortlessly as my movements are easy to decipher. However, my second blow ploughs through his defenses. The struggle lasts for less than a minute as my weapon embeds itself in his skull, remorseless as its wielder. I ask myself, why do I keep coming back to this game, despite its obvious flaws and my lack of skill? It’s simple really, I do it For Honor.
Yes, I know the setup for that joke wasn’t really worth the punchline. Let’s never mention it and just move on to the review.
First off, do not be misled by the screenshots as this is not your traditional hack and slash game. For Honor incorporates fighting mechanics like blocking, special moves and countering but it can’t possibly be put in the same category as Street Fighter. There are elements of Musou-style games, co-op multiplayers and even MOBAs, although that’s only for certain game modes.
The Single-player mode serves as a basic tutorial for the game and introduces the players to the over-arching Faction War that takes place throughout the game. For Honor consists of three different factions – The Legion (Knights), The Warborn (Vikings) and The Chosen (Samurai). Each of these factions have four classes based around a specific style of fighting, all with varying levels of “I’m trying to understand what they’re doing” difficulty.
I chose to primarily play Vanguards, whose offense and defense is mostly balanced, and Heavies, who walk around and smash people’s heads into the ground with abandon. The latter suffers horrifically in competitive play, where agile Nobushi and Valkyries hang you out to dry. But I still managed to have fun along the way, which is a testament to how enjoyable the gameplay is.
Multiplayer comes with five different modes that allow for a somewhat diverse experience. Dominion is a 4v4 battle that draws inspiration from traditional multiplayer game modes like Team Deathmatch. Players capture zones on the battlefield to repel the enemy team and then eliminate their opponents to win the match.
Brawls are 2v2 and Duels are 1v1 game modes where you must eliminate the opponent team to win. Elimination involves the same objective but with teams of four players and Skirmish is pretty much the same except you must reach a certain number of points before eliminating the enemy team.
The over-arching Faction War is an interesting concept utilized in For Honor. The three factions are in a constant state of war and players who participate in online multiplayer matches are awarded War Assets based on the outcome and their performance. These War Assets are used to defend or conquer territories, which are updated every six hours. The faction with the most war assets deployed in a given territory take over that area and the players earn rewards.
The basic combat mechanics seem simple enough at first. When you enter into combat mode, there are three directions you can attack or defend from: the left, right and up above. You receive hints about your opponent’s movement and positioning based on an on-screen display so you can respond accordingly. Are they going in for that big swing on the right? Deflect it with your shield and then jab your own sword into their face.
Apart from positioning, there are also various other techniques to utilize like feinting, combo moves, guard breaks, throws and parrying attacks. Each playable character has their own unique skills as well that incorporate their individual playstyles. All these layers of combat mechanics make for an enjoyable game that is easy to get a handle on and gives room for your skill level to grow.
There are two main resources to keep an eye out when you are battling it out with a stranger from across the pond: your health bar and the stamina meter. Stamina is expended every time you perform attack moves, roll, break guards and get parried. Heavy attacks use up more stamina than light attacks, so keep those in check so you don’t end up out of breath lying on the floor.
The Revenge Meter is another interesting mechanic. Defensive actions like blocking attacks fill up a yellow bar at the bottom of your screen. Once the bar is full, the player can activate Revenge Mode to receive a short boost in Attack, Defense and Stamina as well as knock your opponent off balance if they’re in the middle of attacking you.
The AI system is actually decent for practicing against, maybe even annoying sometimes as they can predict your moves faster than you can think. But the best part of For Honor is when you’re up against another human player. It’s Mano-a-mano as you try to break past your opponent’s defenses and bring them to their knees. The combat system truly shines when you try to decipher each other’s moves and perform intricate movements to throw them off. Me? I just run around in circles to distract them.
The single-player story starts off as an interesting way to figure out the controls and various combat mechanics of your character. The story itself is divided into three parts, one for each faction and you get to try out the various types of combatants. However, that’s about it really. The entire campaign is just an excuse to practice against the AI but with simple tasks that function as objectives and a mostly dull storyline.
The cutscenes that are interspersed among the cookie-cutter missions serve little purpose apart from looking pretty cool. The AI bosses you fight can be tough to defeat, to the point that it’s actually annoying. There’s very little strategy involved since the AI knows your every move, so you’re basically devolved into hacking and slashing away at them until they give in.
One thing that does make the campaign worthwhile is if you have a friend to join you. Yes, the single-player mode functions as co-op mode as well. While this an enjoyable addition to the game, it only end up reminding you how much better the game would have been if they actually implemented a split-screen local mode.
One of the reasons why I took my time with this review is because of the rampant multiplayer issues that ravage For Honor. The game uses P2P (peer-to-peer) networks to conduct online matches rather than dedicated servers. This means you are at the mercy of the host players’ internet connection. While P2P connections have been used fairly well in some games, For Honor’s algorithm or monkey behind a computer that manages the selection of hosts doesn’t do all that great a job. Most of the games I had played in the early stages of the game involved random disconnections and poor latency.
Living in an apartment filled with gamers, I take pride in my internet speed. Being forced to suffer network issues due to reasons beyond my control is frustrating to say the least. However, all things considered, Ubisoft is trying something fairly unique in this particular scenario and it’s worth giving a shot.
For Honor employs a system of P2P connection that involves tying the responsibilities of hosting a game to all the players of a session rather than just one. By synchronizing the game state from each player and then comparing it, they’re able to conduct games without the inherent “host advantage” that gives one player better latency. This was an issue with games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 that made the game difficult to play if one player an internet connection that was miles ahead of the others.
This could very well just end up as a mixture of regular P2P networks and lag compensation. Let’s not forget that it is still not even close to a decent dedicated server. But I respect what they’re trying and I have seen actual effort from their part going towards fixing the issues with the online multiplayer connectivity. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had fewer disconnects and more tragic losses of appendages (in-game). They seem to have a clear vision with their multiplayer platform and I look forward to seeing how the game improves over time.
Chucking all that aside, playing against human players online in the variety of game modes provided is more fun than I had originally anticipated. Even the distaste I have towards the inclusion of micro transactions is possible to overlook. Thin ice though Ubisoft, thin ice.
All things considered, For Honor brings another great title to Ubisoft’s arsenal and possibly one of the best multiplayer games they have on their platform. There is a ton of potential here for them to work with but also a ton of issues to sort through. Personally, I would love to see the split-screen feature that was talked about during the development phase and perhaps some more stories added to the campaign mode that offer a bit of depth to the war between factions.
Understandably, there is no reliance on historical accuracy in For Honor and that’s just the way it should be. It’s a hack and slash, fighting, strategy action game that dips its sticky fingers in multiple genres to bring us a messy yet delightful experience.