For Honor is an odd game. That’s not to say it’s bad (it isn’t) or that it defies any attempt to categorise it, but it seems completely out of step with much of the Triple A scene.
Here is a new Ubisoft IP that completely ignores the standard templates and mechanics the developer shoves into so many of its games; there’s no map to unlock, towers to climb or side-quests to bother with.
It’s a third-person melee brawler, like Dark Siders or the upcoming God Of War, but it shares more in common in terms of its structure with the COD and Battlefield franchises. Its campaign’s main function is to educate players in the nuances of warrior classes, load-out powers and mechanics, before turning them loose in an online mode.
For Honor is also underpinned by the silliest in-game lore in recent memory; a seismic event causes a complete reimagining of earth’s geography, putting the Viking clans of the north, the samurai of feudal Japan and the knights of old Europe within spitting distance of each other. If you can get over that rather ridiculous conceit, For Honor is a lot of fun.
For Honor Review – A silly tale, earnestly told
The game’s single player campaign is its low point, so let’s get that out of the way first. Split along three strands, each of which centre on one of the three factions mentioned above, For Honor’s campaign is at best a competent tutorial and at worst a load of rubbish.
On the plus side, players get to grips with the strengths and weaknesses of each warrior class, learn the game’s mechanics (attacks, blocks, parries and footwork) and even get to enjoy a couple of mini-games. On the downside, they have to put up with poor AI (both allies and enemies), an erratic checkpoint system and a story that’s utter nonsense.
The plot, such as it is, involves all three factions battering each other while a nefarious woman name Apollyon conspires to keep the world in a constant state of war. Her reason? To weed out the weak, or something. It’s all brilliantly animated and the voice acting is top notch, but it’s a chore to sit through and at eight or so hours – depending on your skill level – it goes on for way too long.
For Honor Review – Remote swordsmanship
It’s worth playing the campaign on ‘Hard’ difficulty, because players will find they’re able to blaze through it on ‘Normal’ and ‘Easy’ by spamming the same attacks – the odd boss notwithstanding. While this approach introduces them competently to the game’s basic mechanics, it won’t stand them in good stead when they venture into the online battleground.
Button-bashing doesn’t cut it after a point; survival depends on learning the game’s relatively decent combat mechanics. Pull in the left trigger and a warrior goes into a more focused stance, offering three directions in which to attack and block. Landing a shot on a foe is a tense game of ‘rock, paper, scissors’ in which players not only has to successfully assess how their enemy is coming at them, they have to watch out for feints and parries too.
There aren’t lengthy combos to learn like one would find in an arcade fighter, but this is balanced out by the variety in warrior classes. Each faction has four variations, which are essentially, standard, light, shield-bearer and tank, but there are keen differences between classes in every group.
For example, the Raider (Viking tank) has the reach and speed to torment players who aren’t any good at parrying or dodging, while the Shugoki (Samurai tank) is slower, but more deadly in its attacks.
For Honor Review – The war online
Once players have struggled through the campaign – and if they feel the need, some of the tutorials – they’re ready for the meat of the game: the online multiplayer. There’s a lot to unpack here, so everyone strap in.
First up, For Honor boasts five online match types: Duel (1v1) Brawl (either 2v2 elimination or 4v4 elimination), Skirmish (a 4v4 deathmatch) and Dominion (a 4v4 control point mode that involves AI sword-fodder). One would think Dominion would be the main draw here, but the matches that don’t involve AI drones are less cluttered and, the less players that are involved, the more intimate they become.
The developers have also thrown a couple of kinks into the system to put players off dishonourable play. First, when faced with two enemies, players don’t need to tag both of them. They can simply switch to the side the second attacker is on and block them. Of course, if their opponents work in tandem, defence could involve some quick thumbstick work.
If a player is attacked from behind once too often they can activate the ‘Revenge’ mechanic, which for a limited time gifts their warrior with extra armour and allows them to bash through blocks as though they’re paper. There’s also the nifty charge mechanic, which players can use to push opponents off ledges; if you’re on the back foot, rushing an enemy and leaving them to fall to their death can be a get-out-of-jail-free card. It’s underhanded and cheap, sure, but it works.
For Honor Review – War plunder
At the beginning of the game, players select a faction to join and this puts them in one of three sides of an ongoing war online. This is clearly the aspect that Ubisoft hopes will keep players coming back for more as the year stretches on, but whether it’s successful remains to be seen.
The Faction Wars meta game pits players in each group against each other over a battle for territory. Players can select a warrior from each faction and each class, although the victories and defeats they participate in will effect the progression of their main faction.
Every battle earns players in-game currency, which they can use to buy accoutrements for their warriors, in the form of visual enhancements and weapons, but the lion’s share of goodies comes from the Faction War. Every match affects the territorial power struggle online and, at the end of the season, the faction out in front receives its rewards.
For Honor Review – Online issues
For Honor has had its fair share of issues over the last couple of weeks. The match-making hasn’t been great, there have been a paucity of players in some matches with bots making up the numbers and online has been plagued by connectivity issues.
However over the last few days, it’s become a less bug-ridden affair and more players have joined the fray. However, if the host player has a lousy connection – which (shock! horror!) is a regular problem locally – it can sour the experience.
For Honor Review – Verdict
That having been said, there’s much to recommend here. The campaign’s disposable as a story but enjoyable as a challenge – if you kick up the difficulty – and the multiplayer is fun, compelling and occasionally chaotic. If the online issues are sorted out this is a melee brawler well worth investigating, even if its lore is the silliest in gaming at present.
- For Honor was reviewed on an Xbox One. A retail copy was provided by the publisher.