I’m obsessed with For Honor. Granted, I only started playing a couple days ago, but in that time, I’ve amassed 22 hours of pure fun. Like Hearthstone or Dota 2, For Honor excels at cultivating the “just one more match” craving in even the most jaded of gamers. Its fighting-game-inspired combat is deep and satisfying, and its tutorial and story modes do a great job of helping newbies hike up the steep learning curve. For Honor is aesthetically stunning and well-animated, with sound effects and music that pair perfectly with the chaos of a medieval melee. While many have complained about the peer-to-peer networking, I’ve very rarely encountered connection issues serious enough to hamper my enjoyment of the game. For Honor is without a doubt my favorite new multiplayer experience of 2017 so far, but there’s just one problem: that pesky “honor” word.
In For Honor, most maps have several pits or long falls. Landing in such a pit or falling off a bridge results in instant death, as it realistically should. Players can (and often do) use throws or charges to launch their opponents off a precipice and into the dark below, usually with the accompaniment of maniacal laughter and furious gesticulating. This tactic can be defended against by matching the opponent’s throw attempt with a guard break, or blocking the charge: it’s by no means unstoppable. I’m glad Ubisoft included this mechanic. It’s fun to pull off, it’s hilarious, and it adds a layer of depth to the gameplay, in the same vein as the “edge game” of Super Smash Bros: Melee.
Unfortunately, use of this mechanic will draw the ire of other players, both friend and foe. See, the For Honor community takes the “honor” half of the game’s name very seriously, to the point that an entire structure of player-created rules governs etiquette and “proper play.” The concept of honor developed during beta, where the lack of a 1v1 Duel mode forced players to improvise with an honor system in other modes. In 2v2, each player would square off in single combat. The first victor would then simply watch the remaining two players duel, and only jump in after their ally had fallen. Using the environment (including ledges and spiked walls) to one’s advantage was considered dishonorable, despite the obvious intention of the developers for this feature to be utilized.
I’m no stranger to player-created honor systems, and I’m not alone. Most gamers, in fact, have encountered this phenomenon at one point or another. If you’ve ever had someone ask you to play “fair” in Smash or Street Fighter when you’ve just won by spamming projectiles, that’s a form of honor system. Dark Souls players developed a similar etiquette to For Honor’s out of necessity, due to that game’s unconventional player-vs-player mechanics. Lowbies in World of Warcraft hated gankers, Starcraft players complained about 6-pool Zerg rushes, and Minecraft server admins had wildly varying definitions of the term “griefing.”
As long as video games have been around, gamers have attempted to pin down the concept of fairness, and set in stone what well-mannered and what is lame. Some games have dealt with this impulse head on. OBEY, for example, is designed to pit players against each other, forcing them to lie, cheat, and steal for a fighting chance. EVE Online allows, and even incentivizes players to scam each other through the in-game economy: it’s just part of the game’s fun. For Honor also encourages these impulses, yet its community’s steadfast opposition to dishonorable play removes a key aspect of gameplay as the developers intended it.
For Honor now has a perfectly good 1v1 Duel mode and a private lobby creator, yet the vestigial honor system remains in 2v2 Brawls. This effectively turns Brawls into a bastardized 1v1 Duel mode, which hurts gameplay diversity by removing the option for a real 2v2 fight. Even in the 4v4 Dominion mode, vanquished “heroes” sometimes whine incessantly that they were ganged up on, or that they were unfairly thrown from a cliff during so-called honorable combat. Having outlived its original purpose, the honor system is now a shield behind which immature players guard their fragile egos. Any semblance of fun derived from role-playing chivalrous combat is now gone as well.
By itself, this wouldn’t be much of an issue. It’s the unwavering acceptance of this system as the norm by the community which presents a problem. Creation of one’s own rules, or the acceptance of a set of extra rules between friends is perfectly fine. However, players shouldn’t expect others to follow their self-made rules without deviation. People are justified in being annoyed when a previously favorable fight ends in their instant death. The trouble occurs when this frustration is directed at others, rather than at themselves for failure to defend against the throw or charge. Having your opponents disparage your fair-and-square victory because they don’t like your tactics is also annoying.
Put simply, gamers in general fear taking personal responsibility for their mistakes. The honor system is an outgrowth of this fear, which left unchecked breeds toxicity. Many For Honor players will simply rage-quit or aggressively flame in chat when they perceive a breach of the “honor code.” For new players, or those who aren’t familiar with this concept, it’s a bewildering and discouraging experience. Proper community management is a possible solution to this problem, along with a visible ranking system. This is supposedly a competitive game, yet there’s no outlet for serious players to scratch that itch with other serious players. Instead, For Honor has become an example of the pitfalls of matching casuals with competitive players. Both playstyles are valid, but they’re completely incompatible.
By now, most gamers are used to having a choice between casual play and serious competition. Popular eSports like Dota 2, League of Legends, Overwatch¸ and CS:GO all have separate casual and ranked queues. Even Capcom, a company which is notoriously behind the times, made sure to separate these audiences in Street Fighter V’s multiplayer. Ubisoft’s failure to include a ranked ladder speaks to their inexperience in creating competitive games for the eSports crowd. Why they didn’t simply lift Rainbow Six: Siege’s ranked system is beyond me. Perhaps it’s an attempt at fostering unity among the player-base. Perhaps it’s caused by laziness or a lack of development time. Regardless of the intent, it’s a misguided strategy that needs to change soon for the game’s long-term health.
I absolutely adore For Honor. It’s a beautiful experience in almost every way (the menus are absolutely nightmarish), and the love its developers poured into the combat system becomes more apparent each time I play. I badly want this game to succeed, and that begins with the death of the unofficial honor system, and the birth of a proper competitive ladder. My hope is that Ubisoft realizes this before the community lands in an endless feedback loop of negativity, where “honorable” and “no honor” players squabble over which style is correct. For Honor is a great game that could be even better, and with the right tweaks it may end up being my favorite multiplayer experience of the year.
Video credit: Reddit user Johnnyjackson