At last the beautiful minds at Ubisoft have graced us with the release of the medieval marvel that is For Honor. This game feels like a much-needed breath of fresh air in an otherwise ‘stale’ gaming market as nothing this original has been released for some time now. That’s not to say all its ideas are original but there are some new and unfamiliar mechanics that are certainly intriguing.
The world of For Honor is set around the middle ages and has the player choose from one of three unique factions to fight for, these are the noble medieval Knights, the blood thirsty Vikings or the righteous Samurai. This choice then thrusts you into a gruesome three-way war that has each army fighting for not only the survival of their kingsman but for their very honour. Now, even though you're forced to choose which faction you wish to fight for, you are always able to play as warriors from whichever faction you like. The only real significance this has on the game is on the faction war but more on that further down. It's also noteworthy that you can change your allied faction at any point with little to mild consequences.
To be honest, For Honor’s gameplay is very straight forward. On paper the combat system is quite simple but the beauty of this is that Ubisoft has done a great job of getting all the simple things right. Unlike a lot of melee oriented games For Honor focuses on both offence and defence simultaneously through means of direction. The way they capture this kind of flow is that you must lock on to the enemy you wish to strike. This means that rather than button mashing and swinging your weapon wildly in their general direction of your enemy the attacks and/or blocks and parry’s now have the freedom to be direction specific when you perform them. This is made possible by using the right stick in conjunction with the attack you wish to perform. For example, if the opponent you are currently locked on to attempts to swing his weapon at you from his right, to block this attack, you must block to your left to avoid taking damage. While there are 3 possible directions to attack or defend from, this approach alone could easily get awfully repetitive. Fortunately, there are a vast array of unique attacks and defences at your disposal to mix things up and keep your enemy guessing what your next move may be. After a couple of tutorials, you will easily pick up the basics of controlling your characters’ combat manoeuvres.
There are several other simple techniques learned from the initial training tutorials. Your characters’ stamina level needs to be closely monitored as you can easily find yourself exhausted and unable to perform certain actions until your character catches their breath. Guard breaks are an unblockable stun attack that keep your opponent from standing in one place and simply blocking everything you throw at them. The only way to avoid a guard break is to use a precautionary dash and avoid contact, or counter it with a guard break of your own at the same time, which will perform a guard break counter. They can also provide an opening to other moves, such as throws. These must follow by a successful guard break, and by pressing the same button a second time along with a direction you can throw your enemy off balance forcing them into the desired direction. This is most effective when fighting near the edge of a cliff, a large drop, or when engaging an enemy near an environmental hazard such as a pit of spikes or a flaming wreckage of some description.
As mentioned before, dashing allows the player to quickly stride in one of four directions; forwards, backwards, left and right. This can be especially useful when trying to quickly reduce the distance between you and your target or as an alternative to physically blocking your opponents attacks potentially giving you an opening to counter attack while your opponent is left vulnerable. Another useful technique is parrying. While you can block an incoming attack with your weapon or shield, parrying doesn’t just stop you from taking damage but also stops your opponent from following up quick, successive attacks and even throws them off balance for a moment leaving them completely defenceless.
There are still many more relatively simple commands at your disposal from switching targets rapidly to blocking and parrying attacks that come from targets you aren’t even locked on to. But knowing how to do all of that will only get you so far. There are 12 different warriors you can fight as, each with their own unique weapons, armour and fighting style. For example, the lightly armoured assassin style warriors can deflect incoming attacks by dashing in their direction at exactly the right moment, setting up for some brutal counters. Another example is the Viking Raider, which is able to physically pick another player up off the ground and run with them over its shoulder until they run out of stamina or stop running and throw their enemy to the ground. This can be especially devastating when fighting them on top of high ground as they don’t necessarily need to be near the edge to pick you up and effortlessly hurl you to an instant death.
Other things to consider are how each character handles. Basically, there are four classes to choose from in each faction. They are the vanguards, which are the most basic and simple to use having medium armour and a large, two-handed weapon that deals medium damage. Then there’s the heavy, the sort of heavier big brother of the vanguard. They tend to move more slowly but make up for this with thicker armour and a heavy weapon or shield to match. Next are the assassins, the fast moving and lightly armoured counter attackers you’ll always want to keep an eye out for. And finally, are the hybrids. These guys are a bit of a mixed bag with weapons and armour that tend to differ from one another, however they share the same kind of long range, highly adaptable playstyles making them the most difficult to master. With all that said, obviously, a character with heavy armour or a shield carried in their off-hand is going to be better at blocking incoming attacks, and in the same way somebody equipped with spear is going to have superior range with their attacks. Some of the other weapons in this game include greatswords, maces, pole arms, battle axes and katanas, with each of these weapons have their own unique traits.
The story mode plays out over three chapters, each following one of the three warring factions. Overall you could easily beat the campaign in less than 10 hours of gameplay but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The focus for this game was always the player vs player interaction and if you were given too much time to immerse yourself in a single player campaign you might lose sight of that. That being said, the story mode does have a mild level of replay ability through means of being given the option to play two player co-operatively with a friend, having the chapters littered with collectable items usable in multiplayer and by being given a selection of different difficulty levels. If you’re like myself and like a bit of a challenge then hard will leave you satisfied as the A.I don’t mess around, especially with the boss fights. Or if you’re one of those people who gets a kick out of completing impossible challenges there is also the option of choosing to play through the campaign on realistic difficulty. This choice will remove the entire combat interface, give you fewer check points and stack you up against even harder enemies.
Personally, I believe For Honor could have easily gotten away without having a playable story mode as a single player or co-operative option, but I’m happy they have one. I mean there are times where it almost feels like a simple pre-cursor to the multiplayer but there are certainly more moments where it truly isn’t.
Some negative notes would be lack of enemy variation. Most combatants are a variety of A.I. controlled characters from the multiplayer that come in varying degrees of difficulty. Then there are captain-like enemies who are a step down from these guys with less health and simpler combat mechanics. Most of your enemies however are literally one-shot minions who die from a single strike of a sword and deal such little damage that you barely notice they’re there. In other words, they’re just like the minions from Titanfall if you’re familiar with them. On the other hand, there is something they do quite well and that is probably their intended purpose; making the bigger, tougher enemies look well, bigger and tougher. Let me ask you this; what would feel more satisfying, slaying a Viking in a quiet forest with just you and him, or cutting him down amid a large-scale battle being waged between your comrades and his? You aren’t meant to enjoy killing these minion style enemies too much, but you’re supposed to feel empowered being able to slaughter them effortlessly by the hundreds. And it’s that satiable bloodlust that keeps feeding your hunger while you push onwards. Alone they aren’t worthy targets but they’ll keep you amused while you hunt for someone who is. They make for an enticing build up to larger fights but regardless I think to really separate the story mode from the multiplayer some new enemies would have been necessary.
Another thing that failed to impress me was the dialogue of the cut scenes. The overall storyline was decent but I think giving characters’ personality can be crucial to immersing the player in the story your game hopes to tell, so it can feel disappointing when the voice acting is almost as tasteless as the lines they’re forced to spew out. For example, some of the cheesy one liners were dated rather than amusing, and some of the lines didn’t seem to fit the character they were coming from e.g. Samurai are known for living highly disciplined lifestyles and their dialogue should accurately reflect this. On a positive note, some of the locations and scenery were gorgeous, from the snowy viking forests to the beautiful Japanese fortresses and sprawling medieval castles, the graphics in For Honor really allow the locations to visually come to life. There were also some nice cinematic moments to briefly break up the somewhat repetitive action such as chasing someone down on horseback. These moments weren’t fantastic but they keep the player intrigued and were short enough that you barely notice any of their short comings. The story mode didn’t really do anything new, or that other games haven’t done better but it’s worth playing through at least once, even if it’s just for some sweet multiplayer collectables and the feeling of accomplishment when the story finally draws to a close.
This brings me to the bread and butter of the game, the multiplayer. Matches are played out over a total of 5 rounds (first to 3 wins) in a few different game modes. Firstly, there are the 1v1 duels and 2v2 brawls. These are generally played in smaller sectioned off areas of larger maps and focus on precise combat with little interference. The 2v2 brawls can get intense rather quickly because as soon as you or your target fall in combat the surviving fighter can run over to the other combatants and turn the fight into a 1v2 scenario in the blink of an eye. The next game mode is deathmatch, which in itself has two options; elimination and skirmish. Elimination plays exactly the same as the 2v2 style brawl, only instead elimination is 4v4 and is played on a larger map. This only increases the intensity since you not only have to focus on your own opponent right before you, but you also need to be mindful of the other three duels happening around you and whether your allies win or lose and how you should react if you manage to survive your own fight.
Another thing to take into consideration is the fact that the maps are littered with pick ups which can either boost your damage output, give you a shield over your health bar that grants you some damage resistance, a speed boost to your players movement and of course your standard health pickup. These are available from the second the round starts so your situational awareness needs to be on point from the moment things kick off. The skirmish plays out a bit differently. The biggest difference is that you can respawn after a small delay. The other thing you’ll notice is that the maps are full of the aforementioned minions. These features alone help make skirmishes feel a lot more chill as one death doesn’t necessarily affect your team to the extent of defeat. Since this game mode includes respawns, winning a match isn’t as simple as killing the enemy team. Well, sort of. Each team earns points by killing the opposing team members and their minions. Once a team reaches 1000 points the opposing team goes into sudden death mode. This means that team can no longer respawn and when all 4 team members are killed, they have lost. The final game mode is, domination and plays almost identically to skirmish only it also includes objectives. Capture and hold the most objectives and your team will score points, as well as those from killing the enemy team. Now as I mentioned earlier through playing multiplayer you indirectly contribute to the faction war. How this works is that on the game mode selection screen the 3 factions are displayed on a map with the 3 base game modes sitting on each of the 3 factions boarders. Their positioning will regularly rotate amongst the boarders and by winning games on that boarder and choosing where to deploy your war assets you can contribute to seizing territory from the faction that also lies on that boarder. Roughly every 8 hours the round will end and tally up how many territories each faction has seized by winning games and the faction with the most territory at the round will receive XP bonuses. It isn’t a main feature of the game, but having small games of 8 players in total means it’s nice having this small idea in the back of your mind that all your fighting is somehow contributing to the war effort.
The multiplayer maps are reasonably sized considering there are only a maximum of 8 human players in a match. The level design is also cleverly thought out making the environments exciting places to engage in combat. Another exciting feature is the deep level of customisation the multiplayer offers. Through earning XP and currency or ‘steel’ you're able to unlock a variety of both stat enhancing and visual customisation items. Items that physically alter your hero’s appearance by changing their armour or changing features of their weapons can also change their stats. For example, unlocking a new helmet might apply more block damage resistance while a different handle for your sword may reduce the amount of stamina required to swing it etc. The other options you’re given to edit your hero’s appearance are purely cosmetic, and come in the form of altering the colours of your characters armour with several unlockable colour schemes, patterns and engravings (tattoos for Vikings) as well as having ornaments that are worn on your heroes helmet or head. There are also emotes that you can purchase with your currency. There are non-visual emotes that you don’t need to unlock that simplly put some words up in the chat bar during gameplay and allow you say phrases like ‘thanks’ and ‘good fight’ in a similar fashion to the Battlefield games. These other emotes however are simple animations your character can perform during the game as a means of expression, such as taunts and cheers. The final thing you are able to purchase is different executions. So basically, If the final blow that kills your enemy is a heavy strike, you are then given a brief moment to perform an execution by pressing one of two buttons. These are without a doubt the most satisfying part of the game as they are insanely brutal. The camera will often pan around your helpless adversary to give you a more cinematic point of view as you mercilessly humiliate your opponent with a Mortal Kombat style fatality, which can range from stylishly beheading someone with an axe to snapping their neck in gruesome fashion.
For Honor delivers a simple yet complex style of gameplay that make for some amazing yet entirely unscripted moments with its unique approach to combat. That feeling you get when you start a 1v1 duel and, from the very beginning of the fight, both you and your human opponent slowly walk towards each other instead of madly sprinting at each other. Upon reaching the minimum safe distance from one another you both pause for a moment, trigger one of your heroes emotes, and then commence in some of the most intense and precise melee combat multiplayer gaming has ever seen. And at the end of the fight after your blade has swiftly separated your opponents head from his or her shoulders, you emote once more to say that was a good fight and they do the same. This isn’t always the case and is just an example but the level of appreciation and respect in this game is at times awe-inspiring. Both winner and loser can really appreciate this style of gameplay as no first-person shooter could ever hope to be this humble. Of course, being an online competitive multiplayer you will always get disrespectful players who troll and what not but this game will also bring you some of your most memorable gaming experiences yet. It’s not perfect, it still has some minor bugs and clipping issues here and there, and at times the servers can be unreliable which is a shame following the success of the beta but with a bit of a cut and polish this game would be destined for greatness.