Jim doesn’t have the time to review For Honor himself? I guess I’ll take up the mantle. Why? FOOOOOOOOOOOOR …….. HONOOOOOOOOOOOOOOR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Format: PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Released: February 14, 2017
Copy provided by publisher
For Honor is a traditional fighting game masquerading as a 3D action title. On the surface, it looks like a Dynasty Warriors style experience where you take big cool weapons, smash through countless armies of idiotic AI enemies and feel like an unstoppable badass. At its heart, it’s a far more slow and methodical fighting game themed around careful reading of your enemies, forcing openings, and piling on the pressure only when the time is right.
At its best, For Honor pits two human players against each other in one on one combat and tests their wits. At its worst, For Honor forces you to try and brute force your way past AI enemies that seemingly read player inputs enough to feel more like a soulless roadblock than an engaging challenge.
For Honor’s heart is a 3D interpretation of 2D competitive fighting game combat (Jim’s Note: Anyone remember Cardinal Syn? Great days).
Playing as one of three distinct warrior types – Samurai, Viking, or Knight – you can attack or defend in three directions: left, right or up. Launching an attack in any one of these directions will trigger a notification for your opponent, giving them a small window of time in which to block the incoming attack or attempt to dodge it. Dodges are far faster than blocks, but have to be completed with much more precise timing to avoid opening the player up to damage.
Beyond that basic set of core attacks and defenses, you can also launch a feint attack in any of those directions, starting and then canceling an attack. If your enemy attempts to block a feint, they will often be left open for a sudden unexpected attack from a different direction.
Throw in a parrying system, a stamina meter that causes extreme vulnerability when depleted, throws, combos, guard breaks, environmental hazards and unique specials for each class, you’re left with a combat system that’s easily mechanically executed while containing enough depth to give serious players room to grow and improve.
Each of these sets of systems is then layered onto classes and factions of heroes to play as with variable stats and different ratios of power versus speed. Knights are the jack-of-all-trades faction, Samurai generally trade a drop in defense for an increase in speed, and the Vikings trade a drop in speed for a hefty boost in attack.
The three factions offer three Vanguard class heroes to play – an adaptable “easy” fighter class, an Assassin class which trades crowd control for increased dueling proficiency, and a heavy unit trading speed for power, alongside a handful of combination class units.
When battling against human players there’s a tension to knowing you are locked into a single shared moment of tense combat. Will you make the first move? Will you be on the offense or the defense? Are they confident? Are they testing the waters? Are they going to jump straight for a feint or lull me into a false sense of security first?
The game shines when pitting two human players against each other and letting them try to read each other’s intentions. It doesn’t work nearly as well in single-player.
E3 2016 made me think For Honor was about three historically distinct factions fighting for thousands of years over a single tiny puddle of water. I thought this game was going to be some kind of Mad Max hellscape where water was such a rare resource that time and space crumpled in on themselves to culminate in a fight over a puddle.
The realisation that For Honor’s three classes were fighting over an entire continent was infinitely less exciting. In fact it was a fairly bland, uninteresting, and soulless excuse for combat to take place. This pretty well sums up my thoughts on the single-player campaign. The combat mechanics were still simple to execute with impressive depth available, but there was no soul to playing through AI matches with bots who could seemingly read my inputs for advanced techniques and anticipate feinting.
Single player matches were frustratingly difficult fights with vapid enemies who repeated the same phrases and didn’t feel nearly as interestingly fallible in combat as actual human players. Fighting a human player adds this dance to the proceedings, a back-and-forth mind game of bluffing and countering that just can’t exist against a computer.
The AI is competent but some of the boss fights are fucking infuriating. They know reliably when I’m going to feint, which just pisses me off to no end.
Pair this with uninteresting cutscenes building towards a plot that’s tough to care about, and For Honor’s single player feels like it has very few redeeming points besides giving you a low risk place to practice move execution.
For Honor’s online mode features multiple match types, including 2v2 and 4v4 match types, but 1v1 matches are where the game feels at its most skill based. When For Honor reaches a point where everything is working as it should, and you’re just staring down another human player trying to read them without being read yourself, there’s a tension to be found that feels like a mix of Dark Souls PVP crossed with a traditional competitive 2D fighter.
When it works…
It’s impossible to talk about For Honor’s online multiplayer without acknowledging how unreliable it can be. The game uses Peer-to-Peer networks for online, rather than a centralized network, meaning that one player hosts the match on their machine and all other players connect to the match through that player.
The problem with this in For Honor is that the game seems to be very unreliable at selecting accurately the best host player. This can at times leave players with variable connection speeds hosting matches that either induce unfair levels of lag, or just cause the match to end part way through.
The number of matches I have had fail on me due to network issues in the first few days since launch has been staggering. As someone with a business-level fibre internet connection, there’s no reason I should be paired with a host player with slow or unreliable internet.
The frequency of issues being caused by this has put a real damper on my online experience. I’ve certainly played a decent number of matches that worked as intended, but every match that decides to fail part way through kills off a little of my love.
Ultimately, For Honor doesn’t focus on making sense or being historically accurate, it just puts cool stuff in a field and tells it to go out and fight. Everything outside of playing online sucks, like microtransactions, customization options and single-player. Hell, the multiplayer itself sometimes sucks when it pairs you with a badly selected host player.
However, when the game is working and you’re murdering a single human player while screaming “FOOOOOOOOOOOR HOOOOOOOOOOOONOOOOOOOOOOOR” at their corpse, it’s pretty damn rewarding.
It’s just a shame the single player couldn’t capture the soul of playing online.