For Honor Review – Ubisoft’s latest comes out swinging
Whisking players into a medieval inspired fantasy setting where Knights, Samurai and Vikings have all decided to start a ruckus over a bunch of stuff nobody really cares about, For Honor has players caving in each other’s faces during visceral contests of hard fought melee supremacy.
Happily then, I can report that satisfaction can be found in just about every strand of For Honor’s bloodstained tapestry, from something as subtle as the palpable heft of its weapons, to being the last warrior standing after an especially intense game of Dominion, Ubisoft’s latest has no shortage of compelling hooks to keep you engaged with its unique brand of savagery.
Truly, it’s the combat that shines brightest in For Honor. An intoxicating marriage of precision mechanics, battlefield tactics and progressive systems, stabbing and slashing folks into quivering slivers of butcher meat from a third-person perspective has never been quite this satisfying, nor quite so nuanced. Even the basic meat and potatoes of attacking and defending isn’t just a matter of mashing buttons or memorising long combo chains either, instead every strike and block can be set to one of three directions, while the ability to dodge, counter, or break your opponent’s guard also deftly compliments the moves on offer.
For anyone coming from a regular brawler or fighting game, For Honor can seem laboured and even downright slow at times. Persevere with it though, and the game’s more deliberate approach manifests, as the weight of your character, coupled with the emergent stratagems available makes each battle feel much more tactical than the sort of freewheeling chaos that we’ve witnessed in other genre efforts up until now. In this sense, For Honor feels like a throwback to oft-overlooked Squaresoft fighter Bushido Blade, and those few folks who make up the cult following for that PSOne title will certainly find much to like here.
One area of its craft where this nuance is most keenly felt is in how For Honor demands that the player respects the environment that they are in. Nowhere is this more obvious than when you are swinging your weapons in close spaces, with errant attacks that end up striking the walls and thus leaving you vulnerable. Simply put, in For Honor, you are no longer saved by your weapon passing through solid objects (nor by friendly fire) and so it forces you to keep mind of your surroundings, to judge distance and to lure stronger, longer range foes into close quarters to make the same mistake.
Compounding this remarkable amount of depth are the various heroes that you can choose from. With each of the three factions possessing four very different characters that each fall into various broad archetypes, tanks, fast attackers, all-rounders and so on, players will struggle to find a character that doesn’t suit their individual playstyle. Additionally, each hero is reassuringly unique in their own way. From different movesets to allowing an extensive amount of visual customisation, For Honor provides the player with impressive scope to make each hero their own.
The Peacemaker class, for example, looks like she has stepped over from Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed series, as she is extremely quick and great at causing bleed attacks that sap the health from her foe, but on the other hand, suffers from low health which means that if you don’t want end up in the ground, you need to keep on the move. Likewise, each class has a number of special abilities which can be charged up during play, such as smoke bombs, thrown weapons and much more besides to keep things interesting. Fortunately, these abilities don’t unbalance the proceedings since it takes a little while to get them in the first place and the cooldown period after their use is rather substantial.
Ironically for a game so obsessed with the notion of honor and battlefield etiquette, it’s a welcome surprise that For Honor allows the player to get by with very little of either since you can dash about the battlefield, interrupting fights by ganging up on the opposite side, and gain an easy kill in the process. The thing is, however, while you can engage in all manner of vagrant backstabbery, For Honor actually rewards you for taking on an enemy in a duel and defeating them without any outside interference, so there’s also an incentive to fight ‘properly’, too.
An uninspiring single-player story mode
It’s fair to say that at the beginning, For Honor doesn’t quite put its best foot forward. A big reason for this is that the tutorial, while informative regarding the combat mechanics, does a pretty poor job everywhere else. You see, it’s not all just beheading foes and shoulder-barging folk off of high ledges to their doom, For Honor also has a fairly sophisticated tangle of progression and metagame systems, which while keeping the game feeling fresh for the longer term, simply just aren’t explained all that well to the player.
Equally disappointing is For Honor’s story mode. A hodgepodge of maps and cutscenes strung together with a limp semblance of hackneyed plot; some might argue that the mode acts as an effective training ground for the multiplayer, which might be true were it not for the fact that it’s head-throbbingly dull and, well, the best way to learn the multiplayer in For Honor is simply just to play it.
In addition to being rampantly unentertaining, the single-player mode also performs the cardinal sin of tutoring the player on everything that they were just told to do in the tutorial that proceeded it; representing an utterly baffling and frustrating bit of design if there ever was one. Essentially then, when you load up For Honor for the first time, feel free to skip the story mode, since time wasted on that is time which you could be spending wading in the glorious depths of its tremendous multiplayer offering.
Riotously entertaining multiplayer
And what glorious depths they are. For Honor’s multiplayer shenanigans are largely split up into three main modes, Skirmish, Elimination and Dominion. Of the three, the first two are deathmatch modes with Skirmish having teams fight to reach a 1,000 point cap and Elimination, which disallows respawns and has each battle occurring on a round-by-round basis. Though Skirmish is pretty much a predictable affair, Elimination turns out to be a quite the surprise.
Largely, this is because Elimination relies on the fact that players can revive other players and thrust them back into the game, and this adds an extra tactical level to the proceedings since it pays off to have members of your team guarding fallen enemies to prevent their return. Because of this dynamic, Skirmish becomes an almost tug-of-war style scenario, as players rush about dispatching each other but also trying to revive their allies whilst they attempt to prevent the enemy from doing the same. Elsewhere, for those who have hankering towards something purely skill-based and more honorable, the rather self-explanatory ‘Duel and Brawl’ game modes let opposing players duke it out for supremacy, without worrying about interference from other parties.
The meat of For Honor’s multiplayer offering though, at least for this reviewer, is clearly Dominion mode. A riotously engaging mode, Dominion represents a riff on the traditional ‘territories’ game mode where players not only have to capture a number of points on the map, but must also help a small army of AI grunts to move across the map in a MOBA-ish fashion to secure a central control point. Objective-wise, the idea is to reach 1,000 points in score, at which point the side who is on the losing end effectively ‘breaks’, and is not permitted to have any respawns (though player revivals can still occur), effectively forcing them into self-preservation mode as they attempt to rally back.
Where Dominion truly shines though is in the freedom it provides the player to formulate their own strategies on the fly. Indeed, in a similar fashion to Blizzard’s Overwatch, For Honor places a real premium on teamwork and communication the likes of which folk might not infer upon initial glance. Whether that comes from a group of you singling out an enemy hero wading through the crowd of your fellow soldiers, or, taking a capture point en masse, teamwork is arguably crucial to success in Dominion.
Sitting atop For Honor’s multiplayer modes is a meta-game of sorts where players are presented with a world map whereupon they can deploy ‘war assets’ into territories and maps into which they are fighting or defending, based on the faction that they have chosen at the beginning of the game. Incentivising this distraction is the fact that you can gain valuable experience points, gear and in-game currency to progress your character which also ties into For Honor’s overarching progression system. Speaking of which, this system is buoyed by the in-game currency of Steel which is used to buy everything from fancy new symbols and décor for your heroes, through to new weapons and armour that provide performance tweaks to your fighting style.
Certainly, like Rainbow Six: Siege before it — an offering that also possessed a strong inclination towards online competitive play — For Honor is partial to a bit of the old microtransactions, where real money can be used to buy in-game Steel. Regardless though, despite the array of shiny things on offer, success in For Honor steadfastly remains tied to your level skill, rather than the bulge of your wallet.
Matchmaking needs lotta work
There’s no getting around it, however, the matchmaking in For Honor is desperately inflexible. An example of this is that you can have an opposing team full of players versus your team that contains a mixture of flesh and blood players and AI combatants, but rather than the game automatically providing an equal number of human bodies to each side, the match just kicks off anyway.
Equally, losing network connection in the middle of duel is hardly ideal either, and while such occurrences are thankfully few and far between, it frustrates greatly when such scenarios come to pass; doubly so when you receive a server error which boots you out of the game entirely. Clearly then going forward, the networking side of things in For Honor is going to need a fair bit of love from Ubisoft before it reaches an acceptable standard by which it can bare the bulk of French publisher’s expansive ambitions going forward.
Though perhaps lacking in a small handful of areas that are easily attributed to its freshman status in what looks to be a new franchise, For Honor nonetheless charges out of the gate as an excellent combat title worthy of the hundreds of hours that it invites players to invest into it.