Ubisoft’s For Honor has been available for free this weekend for Xbox Live Gold members as part of the Free Play Days program and so I finally caved and gave it a go. Let me preface by stating that this is NOT a review per-say. I feel it’s unfair to review a game during a free trial period, even when the full game is available as the trial. Personal conviction. But I still want to share what I think of what I have been able to partake of. Let’s dive right in.
For transparency: The reviewer played the game for 8 hours. In this time, they completed the “Knights” campaign and made it halfway through the “Vikings” campaign. They also participated in one online “Duel” match and three online “Dominion” 4v4 matches. They are very proud of their performance in all four.
When For Honor was announced at E3 2016, the idea seemed laughable. A game where Vikings, Samurai, and Knights do battle in chess-like sword fights. It was pitched with the kind of words-don’t-even fervor that a seven year old uses to pitch his dreams to be the first cowboy-president of the Moon. It seemed like it would be impossible to make gameplay live up to the idea. But let me tell ya. The gameplay is the best part of the experience hands down. In the game, you fight by moving your right stick into a direction to select a “stance”. Much like Rock-Paper-Scissors, if your opponent matches stance they can block or parry, if you catch them in one of the other two stances, you land a hit. Mixing this stance mechanic with grapples and dodges actually make For Honor, as other reviews have said, feel like a fighting game! Players can also use environmental hazards like fire or spikes to damage the opponent, which makes every online match feel like a game of patience and wit. Rushing in alone and striking wildly will see you quickly dispatched, and I actually felt rewarded for waiting and planning based on my enemy’s stance and surroundings. The thrill of dodging a heavy strike and then kicking the opponent off a wooden bridge they weren’t thinking about is unparalleled. When I won 1v1 match-ups, I felt clever more than strong, which is something many online matchmaking experiences fail to provide.
Let’s focus on the online modes for a little bit, as they are without dispute the strongest half of the game. Multiplayer consists of four modes: Duel, Brawl, Dominion, and Elimination. Like indie darling Rocket League, the first three modes are 1v1, 2v2, and 4v4 respectively. In these modes you battle for ownership of three points on the map which award points. Reaching 1000 points as a team sends the enemy team into “Break” which means that they lose the ability to respawn. In Elimination, the game starts 4v4, but there are no points and no respawns. This mode is a clean deathmatch, so naturally I stayed far away out of fear. The biggest flaw in team modes is the tendency for more skilled teams to roll in as a wave. This often means you will end up in fights where you are left alone, dutifully defending a point, to fight two to four people yourself. It feels unfair when this happens, but that’s probably why those kills are considered “dishonorable” by the game’s scoring system. Multiplayer is also the only real way to earn currency to customize your heroes and shuffle through the rather large loot catalog. It very much felt like, if I wanted to look unique at all, or unlock a single achievement of decent score amount, I had to wade into multiplayer, which will dissuade the more solo oriented crowd.
Which brings us to the Single Player campaign. The campaign consists of three segments; one for each of the in-game factions. The knights come in first, followed by vikings, and finally samurai. Each story sort of collapses into the next, and rarely (VERY rarely) a unique set-piece moment changes up the combat focused gameplay for a while. These were my favorite segments. One in particular has the viking warrior riding on horseback, dodging falling trees and huts while fighting off enemy barbarians. This moment served as a good breather to remove me from my least favorite aspect of the game: the repetitive nature of it all.
In single player, the AI is actually very dumb, rarely able to offer a challenge. I played on hard (the third hardest difficulty of four) and rarely felt threatened. I could actively tell this was not my doing, but rather that such an elaborate combat system means you have far too many options for the AI to fully prepare for. If an enemy blocked too much, I threw them into fire. They love to swing away violently? Parry once and then watch them flounder to defend. And these are the more advanced enemies. Surrounding the generals and fully trained warriors are “soldiers”, insanely weak enemies that always die in a single strike. It feels grindy and boring to fight them, in the same manner that makes me naturally disliking of the Dynasty Warriors franchise. I understand the visual and lore need to have hundreds of soldiers in battle, but they’re little more than breakable boxes under the weight of the power given to the player. It makes you feel strong at first, but it is quickly overridden by boredom. Boss fights relieve this stress, serving as the only real trial and actually manage to counter player options well. I sort of wish that every foe with a real health-bar was the same strength level?
Lastly, I want to hit this loot system. Everybody’s doing it. Injustice 2 launched with a custom armor system, and For Honor may well have been inspired by the same vein of thought. Players will unlock hundreds of armor pieces, ranging from the blade of their sword to the steel of their boots. If anything, I feel there may be too many categories of loot to equip? I received four different sword blades for the knight hero “The Warden” but only earned two other parts for her: a chest-plate and a hilt. (As a side-track: big ups to Ubisoft for having every hero class available as male and female. Wasn’t so hard…was it everybody)? But I also felt like the rate of loot unlocks was incredibly slow. The currency was earned in doses of around 30-50, with the cheapest loot package costing 500. Emotes, executions, and other trappings cost upwards of 3000, with new heroes costing 500 as well. You also gain “Premium” loot boxes through natural progression, but opening them before you have a max level character is a waste, something the game fails to tell you. All in all, the loot system is a beautiful idea, but is far too exclusive.
-Great combat mechanics that games will likely steal for generations onward
-High diversity of character looks and styles, with customization taking center stage
-Many combat options that reward players who use them to the fullest like no other game
-Single Player modes feel bland and without strategic complication
-Loot system has a high barrier to entry that encourages microtransactions
-Single Player mode is far too long to offer so little gameplay diversity
I actually enjoy For Honor, in that it is a beautifully designed game that appealed to my wit more often than my reflexes. But it also isn’t for me. While I dare say I was fairly skilled at the game, I felt bored as a result of this? But this should not detract from the obvious design talent that went into making this complex combat system function and do so well. If you enjoy multiplayer heavy experiences, and want something a little more involved than games like Overwatch has become, definitely give For Honor a try. Now, can we import this combat system into Assassin’s Creed before Origins releases?