When For Honor was first shown back at E3 2015, many a gamer was wowed and rapidly jumped it to the top of their most anticipated list. All the more so when the Alpha turned up a little over a year later. Already boasting a really solid, smooth, and beautiful looking experience that only seemed to improve as time went by. The always online requirement started to seem like it wouldn’t be such a big deal too, even after learning that there were no dedicated servers. So now that it’s finally here, it’s time to dive in and see if it really could live up to the hype.
Of course it couldn’t, what the hell were you thinking? Nothing ever lives up to the hype, which is precisely why you should never board the train. Rather, wait, remain sceptically optimistic and give it a chance to settle in before making a final judgment. Especially with a game as high profile as For Honor. Having said that, even if you did get a bit caught up in the moment, like I did despite all my efforts to the contrary, there’s still a damned fine game in here, bursting to get out.
The lack of dedicated servers is the single, largest issue that prevents Honor from being a truly great game. Especially since it relies on the tried and true method of favouring the poor internet connection, making it all too easy (and common) to be screwed over by someone intentionally lagging to get an advantage. Something which, at least, is mostly reserved to the directly competitive game modes, but is nevertheless an utter pain in the arse. And this isn’t the only time you will experience some dodgy connection moments. As with any online game, especially one as heavily reaction based as this, the PvE and, to a lesser extent, campaign falls victim to some moments of flat out ignoring your button inputs.
On top of that, level 2 bots frequently fly into a wild rage, never losing stamina, completely overriding your own attempts at combat and launching a never ending barrage of whoopass. Whether this is because the game just derps out sometimes, or it’s deliberately programmed…yeah, I’m sure it’s the latter too. It’s always the level 2 bots, never level 1, which aren’t much of a challenge to be fair. Or even level 3, which often offer the best fighting experience because they feel the most balanced. You know you done goofed when the, supposedly, stronger AI is a more genuinely challenging, but enjoyable fighting experience.
Speaking of AI, this is one of those rare occasions where fighting against other players is almost universally less frustrating. Because they’re far less likely to be a dick about it. It seems such a bizarre decision, to have a game that not only has honour in the title, but is unambiguously about being an honourable warrior. Then have the AI characters cast it aside completely, in favour of being as cheap and fighting as dirty as possible. Running away from a straight fight to go for the gank attack at every opportunity. Which could be interesting if it was reserved to certain classes or even individual bots, because each has its own personality. They all have their own names, and you will always see them playing as the same character after all.
But having said all that, that’s about the beginning, end and entirety of the complaints For Honor has raised. There are some other, smaller issues, but all of those are purely based on balancing out the (currently) sixteen fighters on the roster. Four for each faction. This is to be expected with a game that has such a relatively varied cast, especially when you consider that each and every one of them has its own role in combat. Even characters within the same class will play just differently enough that their will inevitably be more or less advantaged against their contemporaries. Honestly, no one character is categorically better than any other, with the vast majority of engagements coming far more down to skill and a dash of luck.
And there are no two ways about it, even for Ubisoft, this is a gorgeous game. I was blown away by the first Alpha, which had a lot of low res textures. Now that the game is running in its full glory, it looks absolutely frikkin’ amazing. And is really well optimised to boot. I know right, Ubisoft being competent?! There are a few points, in the Myre areas, where there’s a lot of water that affects most peoples’ performance noticeably, but not insufferably. And it is a lot of water effects, so that’s to be expected really.
Sound effects are equally top notch, though the voice acting is a bit hit or miss at times. Solid for the most part, and certainly more than adequate for the competitive side of the game, but fluctuates somewhat throughout the campaign. Whilst the music is decent, but mostly forgettable. It’s just sort of there, in the background, doing its job without ever really making itself known. So it certainly succeeds in that respect. Sound effects are great, the clash of weapons is deep and resonant, and echoes really well in the distance.
Gameplay is a lot more complex than it seems on the surface, offering a lot of depth if you go looking for it, but allowing a generally rewarding experience if you just want to mash buttons. Basic attacks can be pulled off at any time, but activating guard mode opens up your full move set. This prevents you from panning the camera around, but will lock on to the nearest hero if they are close enough. Sacrificing awareness of the battlefield in favour of focusing on the larger threat. A risk/reward approach to gameplay that makes each fight a very tense, exhilarating experience when you’re not on the receiving end of a bullshit mode bot, or lagging up the yin yang. Even being stomped with extreme prejudice can be a great experience when you see a skilled player pull out all the tricks to beat you into the dirt.
Basically, combat consists of three key button presses. You have your light and heavy attack, which can typically be strung together into various combos, with a press of both pulling off a sweeping, generally unblockable “zone” attack that does massive damage, hits a lot of things, but is a tad on the slow side. And will leave you heavily disadvantaged if your opponent parries (more on that in a moment) because it drains your stamina like it’s going out of fashion. This can also be chained into the final attack of a larger combo to do even more damage.
Your final, primary, combat button is a guard break, which can also be worked into combos, and even has a “combo” of its own. A successful guardbreak leaves your opponent vulnerable for a few seconds, allowing you to score a big hit, stun them, or throw them off a ledge (if available) with a second press of the button. At time of writing, a guardbreak can be countered only by pressing your own guardbreak at the moment that an enemy makes contact with you, but with a coming update will be loosened so that you can spam the button to break out of it more easily. This does take out some of the skill of the game, which is a little disappointing, but considering how easily the guardbreak can be exploited to keep you pretty much permanently disabled, it’s not such a bad change.
Now, this is where things start to get a tad more complex. Activating guard mode locks your character into facing one direction, though it does allow you to automatically strafe around a locked on opponent. It opens up the ability to block and parry incoming attacks. The former simply requires having your guard in one of the three directions (left, right and up) the game supports, relative to the direction of the attack incoming. So an attack from the left with be blocked by a left guard stance. With left being subjective to the defenders perspective in this case. As in, the enemy attacking from their right, will be counted as your left.
Blocking works against most attacks, but some require more precise timing for a parry. Most zone attacks cannot be blocked, and some combos have an unblockable aspect too, which will be denoted by the attacker being, literally, on fire for a moment. Any attack can actually be parried, which will not only drain an opponent’s stamina, but leave them vulnerable to a counter-attack. Timing is key here, as you have to wait for the enemies guard indicator to flash red, then press your own attack button. With the parry varying in intensity depending whether you parry with light, heavy, or zone attack. They are a real challenge to pull off sometimes, especially against fast attackers and those that can stun you, because the latter prevent you from seeing their guard direction for a couple of seconds. But dayum do they feel good to pull off.
Each character has a set of twelve feats to choose from, three at each level. You can pre-assign one from each tier, varying from passive bonuses like increased damage, to thrown weapons and area affect buffs. These are unlocking during a round by earning Renown, the game’s version of experience points. This can be a little frustrating at times, requiring you to unlock them all over again each time you play a round, and being completely removed from others. But it also helps keep the game more balanced, with lengthy cooldown timers thrown on top, to ensure more experienced players don’t immediately come in and dominate a battlefield.
Beyond that, loosely speaking, there are four gameplay styles currently to choose from. With two more classes, totalling a further six characters, set to be released over the coming year. Each of the three factions has one hero within each class, who play pretty much the same, sharing similar combos and special move button inputs, making it fairly easy to switch between them and still know what you are doing. Even though the specific attacks may vary in the animation, their effect will remain mostly consistent from one to the next, with perhaps two or three distinct abilities for each unit. Though even those can sometimes be shared by a hero in a different class. The existing roster, at time of writing, is broken down into the following:
The Vanguard. As the name suggests, the backbone of their respective faction army. The most straightforward and simplest class, offering an easy “pick up and play” style that still offers a great deal of variety, but also allows a generally rewarding gameplay experience if you simply mash buttons for basic combos. Vanguards have no specific strengths or weaknesses to consider, making them the best place to start for someone just looking to get a feel for the overall style of the game. They do a little bit of everything, and their roster includes the Knight Warden, Viking Raider and Samurai Kensei.
The Heavy. Big, beefy, kind slow, but heavy hitters that can take a hell of a kicking. Each hero is a tad more varied than the class before it, with some having more disabling attacks, others being more combo focused and one (Shugoki) even having the ability to pretty much ignore the first hit received. Still taking damage and having debuffs applied, but being able to keep swinging through it like it didn’t happen. One of the more difficult classes to play, requiring a large focus on timing, counter-attacking and disabling an opponent. The heavy class includes the Knight Conqueror, Viking Warlord and Samurai Shugoki.
The Assassin. Presently the most difficult classes to master, but also the greatest challenge to overcome when faced in direct combat. Unlike the other classes, Assassin’s do not hold their guard stance for more than a few seconds, meaning the player must constantly be aware of where attacks are coming from, even if your opponent spams a whole slew of attacks from the same direction. They are the physically and fortitudinally weakest fighters, going down fast if they take hits and doing less per hit. They rely almost exclusively on constantly moving and counter attacking, though their speed also makes a constant. Rapid, barrage a viable tactic if you can get your flow going. This class consists of the Knight Peacekeeper, Viking Berserker and Samurai Orochi.
The Hybrid. The most varied of all classes so far, each one is a distinct personality, taking bits and pieces from all of the other heroes to form a playstyle unique to them. In some ways both the easiest and most difficult to get to grips with, they can typically do a bit of everything, somewhat akin to the Vanguards, but have a bit more focus towards specific roles on the battlefield. This is my personal favourite class, with my overall favourite hero ranked among them. The Hybrid class consists of the Knight Lawbringer, Viking Valkyrie and Samurai Nobushi.
Each hero can further be customised with gear, which can be earned by completing matches, levelling up, in game currency (Steel), from extremely rare scavenger crates. Or real world money, which can also be used to buy more Steel. Actually, Steel can do pretty much everything, including upgrading existing equipment, unlocking heroes and getting your Feats early. As well as extra costumes, variant emotes and executions. Customising your hero, each managed individually, with gear is a very risk/reward type of system though. With each gear item increasing one stat, but lowering another.
The game modes are loosely split into four areas. Three multiplayer, one campaign. Though the campaign mode can also be played in four player co-op, somewhat (but not quite) making up for the always online requirement. The campaign is further split into three sections, one for each faction that can be played in any order, but are intended to progress from Knights to Vikings and finishing with the Samurai. Bringing the story full circle to wrap up with how it all kicked off. Each story has six missions, some of them absolutely massive, and contains some gameplay elements unique to it which are sorely, sorely missing from the multiplayer.
The campaign is also dumb as shit, and would have been far better if it had been three distinct stories with only minimal overlap, rather than trying to tie it into one, overarching narrative. The motivations of the main villain, Apollyon, are absolutely asinine. She’s supposed to come across as a vicious, brutal, but not entirely irredeemable villainess, with a twisted code of ethics. Aiming to create one, all powerful army of only the strongest and most determined, ostensibly those who refuse to back down under any circumstances. Yet she is frequently seen arbitrarily murdering people because reasons. Her character is so inconsistent, it’s like the story was written by a dozen different people who had no communication between them. Instead, she’s a one dimensional, Saturday morning cartoon villain that even Skeletor would cringe at.
The more individualised story parts, on the other hand, are rather engaging. The Samurai story was particularly interesting, focusing on an internecine conflict to find a new Daimyo who everyone would be willing to stand behind. Also, the aforementioned unique gameplay elements, and a Realistic difficulty that removes your Guard mode HUD, make the campaign, far and away, the most enjoyable part of the whole game. With intense boss fights that are gruelling, but never genuinely unfair. Worth playing more than once just for the gameplay alone.
Multiplayer modes consist of a 1v1 Duel, 2v2 Brawl and 4v4 Elimination. Each of which removes feats and gives you base stats, intended to ensure that a fight comes down entirely based on skill. They are also the three modes where you will most often encounter lag cheaters, with Brawl being the least frequent, and thus the most enjoyable of the three. Then there’s the 4v4 Skirmish, which is similar to Elimination, but adds in AI soldiers, who die in one hit. This tasks you with acquiring 1000 points through various actions, then eliminating the enemy team. It’s a bit of a clusterfuck in most cases, as everyone just meets in the middle and wades in like lunatics, but being able to respawn and earn Feats makes it far less frustrating then the three before.
Dominion, the final game mode, is pretty much unarguably where the game really shows its potential. Also a 4v4 with soldiers, this has three control points. Typically with B, in the middle, being the main battle zone, where all of the AI units will gather. Whilst A and C sit out at either side, one being right beside the two opposing spawn points. Again you need to hit 1000 points, then eliminate the other team. But since capturing a zone gives your team 100 points, whilst deducting it from the other, matches can take a lot longer as the flow of battle swings to and from, making things feel a lot more like a genuine battlezone, and making it far easier to make up the deficit of a poor or inexperienced player.
Ultimately, there’s a lot of potential in For Honor, but the downright fucking insulting lack of dedicated servers is a slap in the face. Ubisoft are not some tiny indie studio, on a shoestring budget. They are an international company with almost a dozen bloody offices. If shoestring indie studios can still manage to provide dedicated servers…sheesh! Add on to that all the microtransactions, like buying Steel packs and “Champion” status to level up faster…Gods, it gets even worse. The actual boost you get from Champion status is so laughably small, that I’m sure Ubisoft are laughing all the way to the bank at our stupidity for allowing this to happen. Seriously, fuck those guys.
Having said all of that, for all the complaints and all the disgusting business practices that have gone along with it. For Honor is a game worth playing, and a game worth buying. Maybe, I’d go so far as to say, even worth your hard earned moolah at full price. It does have flaws, some really serious ones, and they are not so easily overlooked. But there’s enough left behind that works as intended, with enough potential to become a great game if correctly handled that, well, there’s a reason I’ve already clocked up an average ten hours per day since launch. Just make sure you go in with your eyes wide open and stay conscious of the potential pitfalls.
Campaign: The story is dumb as shit, but the gameplay and level design is the best the game has to offer.
Gameplay: Surprisingly easy to pick up and much deeper than it first seems.
Visuals: One of Ubisoft’s best looking games, hands down.
Always Online: It’s not quite a deal breaker, but it’s a pretty big issue for such a reaction based game.
Micro-transactions: Because charging above average for the game isn’t enough, now you can give Ubisoft even more money to get stuff faster.
No Dedicated Servers: Eat a fucking dick Ubisoft.
For Honor is a difficult one. It’s one of those love and hate cases. The gameplay itself is fantastic. It has this really great and innovative combat system that very much reminds me of Dark Souls PvP, it has a very similar feeling. You really need to focus on your enemy, on what he does, how he reacts to your moves and how he prefers to attack you. Does he like to use his kick attack quite often? Then, adapt. Evade kick with a side step and follow that up with a light attack. Get the timing right, and get it right quickly, or the fight will be over soon. For Honor is a game about reading your enemy, about learning combos and when to perform them. It’s about patience, mashing buttons won’t get you anywhere. After 30 hours it still isn’t boring, easily the best duelling experience since Dark Souls.
Of course, it all gets a little crazy in the 4v4 modes, like Elimination, or the most favored mode right now – Dominion. The duelling aspect is still there, but rarely will you actually finish a fair fight against the enemy. People often quit duels in order to escape to a safer place and maybe regenerate some health. Often other players interfere, so you end up in a 1v2 or 1v3 situation. It’s a frantic back and forth, a fight for spawn tickets or control zones. It is a lot of fun, but there is not that much honor to be found here. Which is why I generally prefer 1v1 and 2v2. If I lose, it is my fault, and mine alone, if I succeed in a 2v2, I will stand there and watch the duel between my ally and the enemy and will not interfere. I will wait for them to finish, and if the enemy is victorious, only then will I approach him. This game is called For Honor, after all!
So, why did I say it’s a difficult one? You can probably guess by now that I really enjoy this game. Well, the main problem with it is the connectivity issues everyone has right now. Ubisoft decided to use P2P technology, which unfortunately results in several problems. Sometimes you will need several attempts to even join a game. Once you’re in a match, it is very possible that the game simply throws you out for no apparent reason. If someone else leaves, the game can get stuck in an endless loop where it tries to reconfigure the network session over and over again, which is especially common on the 4v4 modes. Ubisoft really needs to address these issues soon.