Available on PS4, Xbox One and PC February 14
For Honor stole my heart at E3 even before a second of gameplay was shown. This is because of director Jason VandenBerghe’s passion, oozed through every word he spoke. I enjoyed the surprising depth offered by its simple controls in my brief time with the game. Getting the chance to play much more recently, its multiplayer combat is still as intense, but its solo campaign isn’t up for the fight.
Before playing For Honor, Ubisoft discussed its plans for the metagame and post-launch content. You’ll be pleased to know the developer is taking an approach very similar to Rainbow Six: Siege, with playable content free for all players in order to avoid segregating the gamers. At launch there will be 12 maps, each with four to six variants, bringing the total number of battlefields to 60. But expect new maps to be released after release.
Also, to keep players in For Honor and not moving over to the 500 other games vying for their attention, there will be a “Faction War” metagame. By selecting one of the three factions (Viking, Samurai or Knight) everything you do in the game will earn points toward that faction. The winning faction crowned at the end of each season (seasons lasting ten weeks total). Winners will be rewarding with crates containing items to customise your warriors. The more you compete, the greater the reward.
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After all that, it’s finally time to play. Jumping straight into For Honor’s largest mode, Dominion, sees teams of four compete in a domination match for control over three points. Points A and C are unguarded while B is a battleground where weaker AI soldiers fight for ground position – think tug of war with Titanfall Grunts, except they’re holding swords and shields. It’s an interesting mode, if a little chaotic.
Communication is vital, as For Honor is so delicately balanced towards one-on-one fights, any time you find yourself outnumbered you’ll most definitely be in trouble. My team of four were constantly chatting about who is manning which flag, and when someone was in the greatest need we ran to that checkpoint to help. When the teamwork was at its finest, the match was a doddle. Any miscommunication or periods of silence and the opposing team spanked us.
This is where the maps are largest, too, and they’re all rendered in amazing detail. The game really captures a sense of the time with gorgeous castle structures and a meaty soundtrack to match. The layouts of each map mean there are multiple paths to each of the key objectives, meaning there are opportunities to flank and ambush targets, too. It’s all very well thought out.
Moving onto the next mode, elimination, contests become more refined, and more enjoyable because of it. We stay in the same teams, except now the only objective is to kill every member on the enemy squad. After an ally is downed, there’s a chance for you to revive them and tip the numbers back into your favour. That is unless your friend was victim to a brutal execution, in which their heads are usually lopped off.
The first few matches didn’t go well for me and I’m dead within seconds, but then I finally took the time to re-learn For Honor’s battle system and fights then turned in my favour.
Running around the new variations of maps – which seemed to add many more nooks and crannies for fighters to battle in and hide behind – the contests only became more enjoyable as they got closer to the climax. As numbers whittled down and fallen fighters begged for revives, each contest thrilled. It helps that the combat doesn’t take long to learn the basics of so your focus remains on the action.
For Honor uses a very simple combat mechanic: hold the right stick up, left or right to guard that direction, with R1 or R2 for light and heavy attacks on the same side as the right stick. There are also parries and counters for more advanced maneouvres, but the basics are very simple. Playing against human opponents means the winner is decided by fractions of a second between commands, spacing between opponents and also the most minute errors. It makes for thrilling contests. However, if the balance of skill between two players is off, contests can feel a little simplistic.
Having played the For Honor alpha, I managed to get to grips with combat fairly quickly, and as such knew of certain exploits. Therefore most of my kills came from a simple ‘light attack left/light attack right/repeat’ combo, and I soon became the deadliest on my team because light attacks can be devastating if the opponent isn’t blocking. Being first to the punch is a key tactic in For Honor, and it worked a little too well in the hands-on session, devaluing too many matches.
It wasn’t until moving on to the final multiplayer mode, Duel, that For Honor really shone. One on one duels to the death feel like what For Honor was built for, and was the most fun I had. The light attack spam tactic no longer worked, and now it was the Viking-equivalent of the Luke and Darth lightsaber duel, plenty of pauses between sword-clashes waiting for the first error.
At the close of the session I got to play some of the single player campaign, which unfortunately was very poor. While gamers often bemoan multiplayer-focused games lacking single-player, its inclusion serves to For Honor’s detriment. As mentioned above, For Honor gets better the more it narrows its focus. Some of my duel matches were more fun than I’ve had in any recent 2D fighter. But the mechanics aren’t built for single-player, because the intensity is lost.
Starting off in a latter Samurai mission in the first chapter, it starts with a stealth sequence, but it isn’t long before you realise the stealth doesn’t work. As soon as I lock-on to any target, they spot me, even if facing the other way. There are no stealth takedowns, no hiding behind over and no crawling. Also most of the time there are multiple enemies to fight, leading to basic right-stick pointing/trigger mashing encounters. It devolves the complexity of the combat to the point where it’s soulless and boring.
The second campaign mission – Raiding the Raiders – attempts to diversify with a horseback chase scene, but it controls terribly. Perhaps the For Honor campaign would have been better served doing what Battlefield 1 did – using the same structure for its single player missions as multiplayer.
For Honor works best when it’s played on the smaller scale. The fewer people I had to fight the more I enjoyed it as I felt in control – duelling with a single opponent was intense and immense fun. Even the four-versus-four elimination battles can be brilliant when working as a team. However, Dominion can be a little too chaotic and, as things stand, the single player campaign has many problems.
I hope the final product offers a more consistent package, as there’s plenty to love in the game, and it deserves a community to pick up and run with it.