For Honor happened to be a huge surprise when announced at E3 2015. Although pretty rough around the edges, the game is a bold move to expand Ubisoft’s catalogue. But it’s an entry point, not the definitive product.
If you think about Ubisoft’s recent ongoings, it’s hard to miss the fact that the company likes the idea of going “always online.” The original Watch Dogs – without taking its final scores into consideration – brought the idea of seamless multiplayer, with other players invading your world. Since then we received The Division (once again, let’s not focus on the final effect), Steep, Watch Dogs 2 (a sequel much more thoughtful than the original) and more recently Ghost Recon Wildlands, with an honorable mention of an online success in a form of Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege. It’s okay to play Ubisoft’s games solo, but they’re much better with others.
And For Honor is quite unique among all those titles. It’s a medieval action-oriented PvP game with RPG elements, and when you try to compare it with other titles, the best that comes to mind… are fighting games. You quickly learn that button mashing might sometimes be a strategy here, but to be effective on the battlefield you have some learning to do. Skills over stats is a good definition here.
Before I go into the gameplay mechanics, let’s deal with the campaign and the plot in general. There are Knights, Vikings and Samurai fighting all each other. While historians may freak out here, remember that this is an example of fiction and everyone decided that a story of infertile white-haired monster slayer set in a Slavic-like kingdom is GOTY.
The whole single player story isn’t long, taking about eight hours of your gamer life. On normal difficulty it isn’t challenging, with multiplayer-like objectives and minor AI-controlled hordes. From time to time there are also major boss encounters, sometimes quite hard and demanding. The plot itself lacks memorable characters and it’s there to be forgotten. And I’m okay with that even though it’s not good for setting a new IP. There are some nice sequences like a horse pursuit or some elephant “fun,” but they are few and far between. The campaign is great for teaching you how each hero plays and how gameplay works in general. Don’t buy this game for solo play only, though.
As I have mentioned, there are three factions. Each has its own heroes for you to choose. While you have to select the side you support, you are free to play as any unit. Each faction has slow, hard-hitting fighters, quick assassins etc. And there are more to come with the upcoming content updates.
And the fighting itself is what makes For Honor a truly unique game. This melee approach is something that online titles were missing. Each character can attack from three angles – left, right and from above. There are also blocks, stuns, dodges, light and heavy attacks, not to mention combos and move chains. Every hero is somehow different and there’s a lot of learning before you’ll feel confident in all encounters.
There are also two things you learn with this experience. The first is the fact that sometimes the best strategy is to retreat. If the numbers are against you (and it’s hard to fight two or more opponents, but not impossible), it’s better to regroup and plan again. The second is the fact that you can beat even the most proficient player if you understand how to use your surroundings, just like the Dark Knight – one, well-timed kick may end with the enemy being thrown into a pit or off a bridge.
A side note: I’ve tried playing For Honor using a keyboard and mouse. Don’t do that. The gamepad seems more natural here, with much easier controls over angles and the power of attacks.
The game shines in Player vs Player modes. Basically, there are 1 vs 1 and 2 vs 2 duels, with more casual 4 vs 4 modes. I was surprised how much I liked Dominion, where eight players are split into two teams and fight for control. There are AI-controlled troops that serve as cannon fodder (MOBA-style). It isn’t as intense as the modes for two or four players and grants you a chance to just run and appreciate the views while occasionally fighting.
But I must admit that For Honor’s fighting system is best in those small encounters. It is where you face the truth: am I experienced enough to fight the player that will make its first move in a mere seconds?
I also like the design of maps that are available at launch. Some are more open-spaced battlegrounds, where you are free with your moves. But there are also levels with small bridges, corridors and places quite dangerous for even the most experienced warrior.
While it took me some time to explore both the campaign and the online modes of For Honor, I’m far from feeling ready for every battle. And that’s totally fine! Ubisoft seems to acknowledge how Rainbow Six Siege has grown during its first year and the roadmap for the reviewed title looks quite similar. New heroes, new maps, various things to unlock – we will be busy while gaining XP.
Unfortunately, there are some troublesome aspects that I have to mention. The game’s matches are peer to peer based and there are some serious server problems. Although some fixes were implemented since the release, it sometimes happens that your internet/server connection might be as important as your skill. Much work has been done after the betas, but further improvements are a must if the game is to live for months to come.
What’s worse, I’m not convinced that the form of microtransactions used in For Honor is the best possible one. You can unlock everything simply by playing, but it is a way for the Masters of Grind. Some Reddit users even calculated that it can take years to get everything (and many things are awarded randomly), but the other solution is to pay. There are even boosters that unlock all feats including those that come really handy in direct fights.
If you aren’t troubled with server connection issues, there’s a lot to do – just to mention daily and contract orders, numerous unlocks (if you don’t pay) and The War of Factions that represents the global conflict, where additional awards await. I love the looks of the game, especially with all the customization options. Unfortunately, it’s not the best possible outcome for a new IP. Ubisoft has proven that it can fix its titles. In a few months we’ll see if that’s the case here, but now, if you haven’t bought the game already, waiting for a sale seems the more reasonable step.