Ubisoft’s new IP delivers the thrill of Hollywood fight scenes to the masses. Strategy and skill combine in a bloody, unforgiving world of war.
The horns of war are blazing. Trembling soldiers surround your vast mass. You look one way, and then the other, before unleashing your war-cry and rushing to the front. Nervously, but proudly, the soldiers follow, eager to prove their worth. A rumbling of footsteps can be heard a few hundred metres away. Every step you take brings that awful noise ever closer. Now, its a roaring earthquake, threatening and menacing. You spot your foe, and a faint smirk begins to emerge from your fiery, proud beard. Closing in, you decide not to brace for impact. Instead you hold your axe aloft, its weight is mammoth. You pity the poor soul who will feel its incredible blow. As the clash of steel against flesh is heard from all directions, you bring down your mighty axe. You relish the sound as it meets the skull of your enemy. But you cannot savour this moment, for the battle has only just begun.
“-this is a punishing game, but you don’t understand true punishment until you learn how to deliver it yourself.”
If you have ever wanted to brave the fields of battle as a mighty Viking, then For Honor could be the perfect title for you. Ubisoft’s latest IP pits three factions, the Samurai, the Knights and the Vikings against each other in all-out war. In order to begin your campaign as a feared warrior, you first must decide which faction to align yourself with. From there, you are given access to all 12 of the starting heroes (with six more on the way in the form of paid DLC).
The striking differences between the classes (Vanguard, Heavy, Assassin, and Hybrid) are minuscule when compared to the variety between Heroes that fall within those categories. If you have become a master of the Viking’s vanguard hero, you will be (unpleasantly) surprised to realise that you have much to learn about playing as the Samurai’s vanguard, young grasshopper.
KNOW THY ENEMY
Committing to one class is the common way to begin this game. It helps you learn the basic moveset that is shared across all characters. But to truly become a legend, you must display a good understanding of all of the classes. For Honor is a punishing game at the best of times. I love that everything you do as a player, you are accountable for. Hesitating for a split-second can often be the difference between life and death. Countering at the most opportune time can seem fortunate, until you’ve forgotten that your opponent’s class is superb and countering the counter!
The depth is huge, with players already scrambling to create their own advanced guides and tutorials on specific classes. I initially despised the combat system. It felt clunky, awkward and I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong. This turns out to be one of For Honor’s greatest assets. I’ve already mentioned that this is a punishing game, but you don’t understand true punishment until you learn how to deliver it yourself.
What seems like a basic twist on Rock, Paper, Scissors becomes a devious game of deception, anticipation, aggression and dexterity. I cannot stress enough the pure satisfaction you receive once you commit to learning how the system works. This extends beyond defeating your opponents, but also in crafting your hero to suit your playstyle. The customisation is actually impressive, with various items affecting your hero’s base stats. Weapon upgrades can offer greater attacking power, but usually at the cost of another critical attribute. Armour not only boosts resistance, but may affect stamina regeneration, or health gained from executions. Creating builds that benefit the style you prefer to use, as well as your hero’s strengths and weaknesses is incredibly important.
FEEL MY STEEL
Steel is For Honor’s currency, and it is used to purchase a variety of items. Packages containing new armour or weapons can be bought for varying prices. The currency system is backed by the unfortunate addition of micro-transactions. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Ubisoft has opted to include it. Luckily, like most micro-transaction systems, in-game currency can be earned through hard graft. Varying amounts of Steel will drop as a post-game reward depending on your individual performance. Loot can also be earned this way, but its not guaranteed. Almost everything in game centres around using Steel to purchase it. Outfits, Emotes, Executions, you can have it all. It’ll only cost you your hard-earned coin. It would be nice to see some return on dismantling older equipment, but instead you are rewarded with class-specific materials. As you’d expect, these materials are used to upgrade items to higher tiers, unlocking increased levels of stat boosts.
None of these ideas are particularly new. But its a tried and tested system that rewards players for consistency. I only wish that there were quicker ways to earn Steel. The amount you receive post-game is pittance compared to the cost of some of the emotes and outfits. You can fill your purse quicker by completing “Orders”, which may ask you to complete a certain amount of Brawl matches, etc. The real crotch-shot comes from Ubisoft’s bizarre asking price of 500 Steel to simply unlock a character’s customisation screen! You start off with full access to only the three Vanguard classes of each faction. Sure, you can play as a Peacekeeper to your heart’s content, but until you pay the upfront cost, you won’t be able to change her armour, weapons or even colour scheme! its frustrating, to say the least.
TELL ME A STORY
For Honor is undoubtedly intended to be an online multiplayer experience. But its single player campaign is nothing to sniff at. Acting as a prequel to the events of the faction war, it delivers a great piece of story telling. The campaign is split into 3 acts, each one following a different member of the factions. its tale of great legends on the battlefield is one told many times before. Yet For Honor manages to keep it fresh and engaging thanks to some brilliant voice acting. Main antagonist, Opollyon, is a convincing villain. Her characterisation is mysterious and enchanting.
“Instead of being the grand hero, For Honor places you in the shoes of a man led astray-“
For the initial section of the campaign, you take the role of a skilled Warden who finds himself in the difficult position of being forced to fight for his sworn enemy, The Blackstone Legion. its a refreshing change of pace. Instead of being the grand hero, For Honor places you in the shoes of a man led astray, fighting for a cause he does not believe in.
The campaign isn’t groundbreaking. Don’t get me wrong, its enjoyable enough and offers a good way to learn some of the classes in a basic sense. Unfortunately it suffers from a lack of ingenuity. Most encounters have you fight through lower level bots until you reach a boss battle. Ultimately, it follows the “head to point A, kill, head to point B, kill, cutscene, set piece, end scene” formula. It get’s tiring and leads the player to become disengaged from the story. The “Assassin’s Sabotage” and the “Battering Ram Defense” level offer some interesting mechanics. I would have liked to have seen similar game modes in multiplayer. Perhaps they’re on the way with DLC, but there’s no way of knowing for now.
1V1 ME BRO
Speaking of multiplayer, there are a multitude of game modes to choose from. Classic deathmatch makes an appearance, however my favourite mode has to be Dominion. It reeks of Capture the Flag, but with the fun twist of having AI-controlled ground troops fighting for both sides. Multiplayer is engaging, and harsh. Some early issues with matchmaking have lower-level players being thrown against those of a superior calibre. This could be a launch issue, but its jarring and demotivating to be slaughtered game after game. Hopefully once the matchmaking levels out and tiers of skill become more apparent, we’ll see some improvement.
Multiplayer seems to be the main source of gripe for many players. Calls for nerfs and buffs are thrown around willy-nilly. To me, this speaks of the brilliance of For Honor’s online mode. When everything needs a nerf, nothing does. This gameplay encourages deeper learning of the characters and equipment for you to really break into higher-level play. It is very common to find yourself in a 2-v-1 situation on the battleground, but the truly elite player will know how to manoeuvre themselves to victory. An even smarter player will know not to get themselves in that situation in the first place. I’m truly in awe with the complex depth that For Honor displays, even in its infancy. Time will only improve this, as further levels of skill and knowledge will emerge. This is a game that hears the word “meta”, and laughs in its face.
THE GREAT WAR
The grand purpose of multiplayer is to engage in the game’s “Faction War”. Each online battle accrues the player “war assets” that they can spend to bolster their offence or defence in certain regions on the world map. At the end of rounds, a winner will be decided based on total land conquered. Currently, this mechanic feels almost redundant. There are no immediate benefits to this game, with rewards on a distant horizon. It takes a few months for a full game of Faction War to be completed, and the prize for your efforts aren’t even known to the player yet.
While I can appreciate Ubisoft’s efforts to create a long-game, this isn’t as engaging as creating a raid or a dungeon in MMOs. These game modes often become overlooked as a by-product, rather than the pièce de résistance. While I’m happy to offer my assets to the cause, I honestly could not care less about the results of the war. It’s a problem for Ubisoft, and hopefully the first batch of winnings will entice players to actually give a damn about the Faction Wars. Time will tell, but I’m not holding my breath.
WAR IS UNKIND… DEAL WITH IT
Ultimately, For Honor has polarised many gamers. Its appeal is both amplified and crushed by its intense combat system, deep level of gameplay and eager attempts at redefining “class warfare”. At its core, it is a thoroughly enjoyable game, with huge potential. Even without the inbound DLC, I can see the community making this game their own. It might be a stretch to call this the next E-Sports giant, but its competitive reach is daunting. For those who are familiar with the pure devastation and crushing defeat of the Dark Souls games, you may just like this.