Do not let the hulking warriors on the cover of this game fool you. For Honor does not fit into the style of PvP play one might expect. On the surface, Ubisoft’s newest IP may look like it would attract those who enjoy the spammy brawls in the PvP arena of Dark Souls III but this game plays a lot more like the deadly ballets of Dead or Alive. I must admit, the complex mechanics hidden beneath the brutal three-way melee between Vikings, Knights, and Samurai caught me by surprise. Having not played either beta, I was unsure of how well For Honor’s style of play would match the tone of the game. I quickly realized my fears were misplaced and, after sinking nearly thirty hours into the game, I am still coming back for more.
Much like Dead or Alive, For Honor is a complex game of rock, paper, scissors. While in combat, players lock onto their opponents and decide whether to hold their weapon in a guard position above their head, to the left, or to the right. The opposing player does the same and the player’s character can only do damage if they strike at one of the two sides where their opponent is not blocking. If the combat ended there, the game would be relatively forgiving to new-comers. Instead, For Honor gives players the ability to dodge, parry, counter, light or heavy attack, feint, guard break, grab or throw, stun, and execute. The game also throws in environmental dangers for good measure just to keep the player constantly aware of their surroundings.
The complexity does not end there. Players have the choice of twelve different heroes, each with their own playstyle, move sets, and combo chains. Each of the three factions of Viking, Knight, and Samurai has four heroes. Each faction has one Vanguard (an evenly balanced fighter), one Heavy (a lumbering but powerful tank), one Assassin (a quick and deadly fighter who crumples under a few hits), and one Hybrid (a polearm wielder who typically incorporates a few of the strengths and weakness of two of the other heroes). When I started out, I used the Warden, the Vanguard hero for the Knights, to get a feel for blocking and striking and using basic combos against my foes. I have since moved on to the Knight’s Hybrid hero, Lawbringer, and take great pleasure in shrugging off my opponent’s strikes with parries and following up with powerful lunges that end with my enemy impaled for the rest of the battlefield to see.
Players cannot expect all the heroes from the same class to act the same way either. The Knight’s Lawbringer is a deflector whose poleaxe keeps opponents from landing a hit until they are so exhausted they cannot do anything but meekly block or run away. However, the Vikings’ Valkyrie has a spear and shield and can attack with both, creating the opportunity for some impressive takedowns. The Samurai’s Nobushi has long jabs and sweeps that allow her to carefully retreat and annoy her enemy to death while staying completely out of an opponent’s range.
For a player to be good at For Honor, they cannot stop at mastering their one hero. They need to have a basic understanding of how all the heroes move, defend, and attack and switch up their playstyle accordingly depending on who they are dueling against. As Lawbringer, I understand that the Assassin hero Peacekeeper and the Heavy hero Shugoki have an advantage over me as Peacekeeper’s twin blades and incredible speed allow her to easily recover from my deflections and Shugoki’s massive size prevents me from overpowering him and driving him over a ledge. Against either foe I cannot rely on Lawbringer’s usual defensive fighting style. Instead, I have to take the offensive and hit them with a mixture of heavy shoves and one of Lawbringer’s signature chain combos Judge, Jury, and Executioner: a slow but powerful attack that cannot be blocked on the third swing and does devastating amounts of damage to a hero that does not carry a shield (neither of them do).
Ubisoft did a superb job differentiating all twelve heroes enough so that not one plays the same as another but no hero feels overpowered or significantly weaker than their counterparts. Perhaps in the coming months, one hero will eventually prove slightly more powerful than the others but initial impressions of the game suggest no one hero is necessary for a higher chance of success. It comes down to finding the hero you excel at a little more than the others and training with that hero consistently until you have mastered their particular weapon. It is very much unlike Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six: Siege in that regard. Siege has two dozen characters that handle the same way. Their unique abilities allow each to better handle one particular situation but not much else. Players have to work together as one cohesive whole to counter whatever their opponents throw at them. For Honor essentially gives all the tools for success to each of its heroes. A skilled enough player can stand on their own in any sort of situation.
The true intricacy of For Honor’s combat comes through in the game’s one vs. one Duel and two vs. two Brawl modes. The mind falls into a concentrated rhythm as heroes jab, slice, parry, and dance between attacking and defending. Longer, more evenly matched fights drag out into stressful battles of endurance where the first mistake is often the last. Fighting your opponent in a Brawl can be all the more frightening as it requires constant awareness of your surroundings. If your ally falls, you can bet their opponent is now on their way to outnumber you two-to-one.
Some of this nuance is lost in the four vs. four Deathmatch and Skirmish, or the Dynasty Warriors-like Dominion. Too often, the one-on-one or two-on-one duels transform into mindless mayhem when a third or fourth player come charging in and the intricate dance devolves into pushing and shoving for any sort of battle supremacy. It can be frustrating to have almost beaten your opponent, only for all three of their teammates to rush in and suddenly spam you to death in a corner or bully you over a ledge onto some spikes.
There is a “Revenge” mechanic to help combat this unfortunate turn of events but it does not always work out as well as I think Ubisoft wanted it to. To activate Revenge, players must successfully deflect, parry, or block enough attacks. Once activated, Revenge gives a player a temporary boost in attack and stamina and provides a small shield over the player’s health. Although I have seen Revenge occasionally turn the tide, these boosts really only help when dealing with just two opponents. They rarely give a player enough to overcome three-on-one odds and they are practically worthless when it is four-on-one. Most players I encountered while playing For Honor simply used Revenge to create enough breathing room to run away and find more teammates. I mostly use it in Dominion to force the enemy team into committing three or four heroes to taking me down so my friends can capture the other points on the map without any trouble. A cheap trick, but no one said you actually have to fight honorably in this game.
For the most part, four vs. four multi-player in For Honor is a good time and made all the better if you and a full team all grab mics and play together. However, Ubisoft has implemented an unfortunate hosting mechanic. Rather than have dedicated servers hosting games, For Honor picks out one player in particular to host the match of a game. Normally, it works fine. Then every once in a while, there are instances where the host has a spotty internet connection or (even worse) the host leaves in the middle of a match and the game lags to a standstill as the game searches for a new host. It totally breaks immersion and can prove deadly if in the middle of a duel with another player.
There have been several moments where I have been wracked with anxiety as I watch my frozen screen and pray my opponent is suffering as well and I am still alive. Sometimes the game can never recover and everyone is just booted to the main menu screen. Thankfully, it is happening less and less often as the game picks people with better Internet connection and lower quitting rates to host but it really should not be happening at all. I hope Ubisoft has some updates planned to fix this problem.
For Honor’s in-game economy ensures that players will have to fully commit to playing this game. To enjoy the full scope of customization and be able to outfit your chosen hero with all the coolest looking armor, executions, and emotes, you will have to unlock tens of thousands of For Honor’s Steel currency. Most rounds end with the player unlocking 20-40 pieces of Steel (a little bit more if you are the top player for that game). You are in for quite the grind if you want the fancy stuff.
For Honor offers daily “orders” which the player can follow while matchmaking to unlock additional Steel, but it is nowhere near enough to unlock the expensive effects quickly. Players can pay with real world money if they feel they are not earning Steel fast enough (I did, and now my Lawbringer is tricked out with some fierce flames that sprout like wings whenever I execute someone) but thankfully the game never pushes micro-transactions too much. There is no pay to win scheme here, just pay to look cool. When I started out with Level 1 gear, I never felt I was at a severe disadvantage when faced with someone in Level 6 gear. More often than not, my deaths were the cause of inexperience or cockiness.
In an attempt to avoid the failures of games like Star Wars Battlefront and the successes of Titanfall 2, For Honor does have a single-player campaign. The campaign is a decent, albeit repetitive, eight-hour affair. The story explains how and why three very different warrior factions are fighting one another, but it is full of clichés, cheesy one-liners, and plot twists anyone could see coming a mile away. Most of the gameplay involves fighting A.I. controlled bots that fight as dumb-downed versions of what to expect in multi-player, followed at the end of the chapter by a boss that can occasionally be quite the challenge. It gets tedious after a while, but a few unique gaming segments are dispersed throughout to keep things fresh like climbing a wall as you siege a fortress, dealing with the devastation of an out-of-control elephant, or riding horseback and cutting down enemy knights.
If anything, the campaign is an excellent tutorial for how to play with different heroes. Players will get the chance to try most of the heroes across all three factions without the pressure of trying them for the first time online against more experienced players. The campaign spoon-feeds combos for each hero slowly and provides situations where a certain chain of attacks, throws, and blocks for that particular hero would be most effective. The advanced moves for each hero are still up for each individual player to practice and learn themselves but playing the campaign will give anyone trying For Honor for the first time an excellent baseline to decide which fighting style and hero they excel at the most. The campaign was not enjoyable enough for a second time through, but masochists may find reason to return to try the “Realistic” difficulty which removes the indicators of how your opponent is defending or attacking. I have only tried one level on Realistic and it is a nightmare.
This would not be a Ubisoft game if there were not plenty of useless collectibles to search for as well. For Honor’s campaign includes pots to smash and specific landmarks to look at. The pots are easy enough to find but the landmarks will have you cursing and aimlessly wandering around each chapter, desperately searching in vain for the symbol that marks a landmark but does not appear until you are right on top of it.
For Honor is a great game. The story in its campaign is nothing to write home about but the gameplay is fun, engaging, and contains just the right amounts of heightened stress. The brutal melee is some of the most in-depth and well-orchestrated combat outside of a Dead or Alive title and proves easy to understand but difficult to master. The in-game economy hides all the coolest armor and executions behind hours of grinding but ensures no player can achieve greatness through their wallet. If Ubisoft can just find a way to update the game so that it will stop crashing every time someone quits or implement some form of punishment to stop people from quitting, For Honor could prove to be a multi-player mainstay for 2017.