General game information
Game name: For Honor
Release date: February 14, 2017
Price: US$ 59.99 (Standard Edition)
Genre: 3D fighting game
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
For Honor is a fighting game cleverly disguised as a third person action title. It offers a singleplayer campaign which lasts from six to eight hours and a host of multiplayer modes that can be played against real opponents or competent AI substitutes. A faction war metagame runs in the background as players clash against each other, with virtual land changing hands as three factions (Knights, Vikings and Samurai) battle for control of a fictional world that never evolved past the Middle Ages.
For Honor’s main gameplay loop will probably seem quite simple to those who haven’t yet tasted the intricacies of the game’s Art of War combat system, but looks can be deceiving, and in this case, they certainly are. We can choose freely between Knights, Vikings and Samurai, and each faction has four different hero classes (more heroes will be added in the future, and they may be obtained through ingame grinding or by purchasing the title’s Season Pass)
- Vanguards are your typical Jack of all trades unit, as they can adapt to any given situation with their sturdy armor and powerful weaponry that lets them fend off multiple attackers with relative ease.
- Assassins are quick and lethal characters, they are mostly unarmored and their short blades are perfect for single target combat against heavier heroes.
- Heavies are perfect for defense inclined players, as their larger health pool will let them outlive the competition in fights against multiple opponents, and their slow but powerful weaponry can spell certain doom for enemy players who don’t block or parry on time. Of the three available Heavy characters, two are weapon plus shield fighters, and as such, come with a special defensive stance that blocks all incoming damage, no matter the direction.
- The last class is the Hybrid, a mix between the other unit types, they wield long range melee weaponry and, depending on the chosen faction, may serve wildly different purposes. For instance, the Knights’ Hybrid soldier (known as the Lawbringer) is a tower of a man who fights with a massive halberd and can take almost as much punishment as a Heavy hero, the Samurai equivalent is nimble like an Assassin, and the Vikings’ Hybrid unit seems like a mix between an Assassin and a Vanguard hero.
As we can see from the class list, our choice of faction won’t just have an effect on our character’s appearance, but it will also affect our playstyle. Knights are balanced, Samurai prefer speed over power and defensive strength (with the exception of their Heavy unit) and the Vikings value raw offensive potential over everything else.
After choosing our faction and class, we’ll be deployed to a medieval battlefield to face off against similarly equipped opponents. For Honor‘s combat system (dubbed the Art of War by its developers) lets us choose between three different directions, left, right and up. When locking on to another combatant, they will be able to see our chosen direction, and in turn, we’ll be able to see theirs. Most classes will automatically block normal or heavy attacks coming from the same direction as the one chosen by the player (characters without a default stance must manually block each hit, but at the same time, they don’t telegraph their attack direction as the other classes do) Aside from simple normal or heavy blows and the blocking mechanism, we can also parry attacks with a well timed heavy strike, grab enemy combatants to execute a guard break maneuver, counter that same move when inflicted upon us, dodge (faster than blocking, but must be timed very carefully) feint (cancelling attacks to make the enemy think that they should guard in a certain direction, then capitalizing on that mistake with a powerful blow to the opposite side) and execute powerful combos that don’t require careful memorization.
A stamina system is in place, punishing careless players should they attempt to button mash past their opponent’s stalwart defense. Losing all stamina puts gamers in a dizzy state, slowing down their attacks and knocking them down, should the enemy parry their blows. Fighting against more than one opponent at the same time and successfully blocking their blows will trigger Revenge mode, a buff that grants us more armor and infinite stamina (for a limited time) in order to even the odds. If all that wasn’t enough, we can also use the environment to deal with our foes, throwing them into bottomless pits, flaming pieces of debris, spiky death traps, or even dropping castle doors on their unsuspecting heads as they attempt to reach a capture point.
All these system come into play beautifully when battling human opponents online. One on one fights (Duels) can become mind games, as both players circle one another, waiting for their opponent to make the first move. Pulling off parries, feints and timely dodges generates a sense of excitement and adrenaline that can only be traced back to pure fighting games, and even losing can feel good if the battle was fair. As all the small scale engagements are round based, we can use the knowledge acquired from a defeat in the first round to successfully best our erstwhile conquerors and emerge victorious. Two versus two Brawl matches are similar, although there are rare situations in which a team may choose to gang up on a single opponent. Still, thanks to the Revenge mode boost, skillful players can achieve victory even against stacked odds.
Moving on to larger battlegrounds, such as the ones available in the Dominion, Elimination or Skirmish game modes, the thrill of single combat is somewhat dulled by the introduction of other factors. Dominion is an objective based mode which pits two teams of four players against each other in a fight over three control points that generate points for the team, while AI units also fight each other in the middle lane of the map. The computer controlled opponents don’t pose a significant threat, as they go down in one hit, but the introduction of Feats (unlockable consumables that can be obtained as we level up during the match and range from bandages to catapult strikes) changes the battlefield quite a bit, and evens the odds between highly skilled players and others who may not have taken the time to practice the intricacies of the combat system. Some gamers may also decide to form gank squads, roaming the map as single units and picking up lone wolves, though this tactic can backfire if the enemy team starts capturing defenseless control points.
Elimination and Skirmish matches also also feature four versus four combat, but without the objectives. Reviving teammates plays a huge role here, and the introduction of boosts that can be found on the battlefield adds another “unfair” element on top of the Feats system (which is also active in this playlist)
The three 4vs4 modes also feature a gear system, with different armor pieces and weapon parts that can be found through end of match drops, purchased with metal earned through battle (or purchased from the ingame store) and upgraded with pieces scrapped from other parts that were deemed unnecessary by the player. Aside from stat changing items, we may also acquire cosmetic parts that can be equipped on all game modes, including the Brawl and Duel playlists.
Aside from the various multiplayer modes described above, For Honor also comes with a singleplayer campaign that lasts between six and eight hours and can also be played in co-op with a friend. The same great battle system is in place here, but instead of facing off against human players, we’ll have to fight AI units that aren’t even as good as the bots that can be used to practice in the Versus AI playlists that can be found in the multiplayer section. The story is a collection of clichés, but it serves as a nice extended tutorial thanks to the introduction of boss fights which feature highly improved enemy AI (although they may straight up cheat at some times, cancelling guard breaks flawlessly or seeing feints even before I tried to execute them) Fans of spectacle will not be disappointed, as there are some impressive set pieces to behold.
Moving on to the tech side of things, For Honor is a graphically impressive title, sporting a number of postprocessing effects that bring its ruined medieval world to life with astonishing detail and some truly impressive texture work. Playing on two different systems (one equipped with a GTX 970 graphics card, and the other with a GTX 1070) I never had any issues when playing at 1080p on the Extreme preset. The 970 saw dips to 50 frames per second during heated engagements, but the game was still perfectly playable, and a far cry from the locked 30fps experience that can be found in current gen consoles. The newer GPU had no trouble staying at a locked 60 frames per second at 1080p, and even after ramping up the resolution to 1440p, I was still able to play at 60 fps without any major issues.
Sadly, network performance suffers a lot thanks to a strange decision on Ubisoft‘s part. The developers chose to use a P2P networking architecture instead of dedicated servers, and the amount of issues that this seemingly small choice brings to the fold is staggering. Mid match error messages are common, and the dreaded host migration screen will pop up from time to time, disrupting evenly matched duels or even kicking players to the menu with cryptic error codes. The worst part about this issue is that the networking problems have been part of the game since its first closed alpha, so it would seem that the development team didn’t care about them or didn’t have enough time to fix them before the title shipped.
Matchmaking is also slow and clunky, with some questionable design choices rearing their ugly head here as well. For instance, the game never searches for people who play the game in a different language, but will quickly remove the skill level filter if it can’t find any players when that’s enabled, leading to high level combatants fighting against total rookies.
Ultimately, For Honor is an excellent multiplayer fighting title held back by poor matchmaking and annoying connection issues. Gamers willing to look past these problems will discover one of the best multiplayer experiences of this generation but less patient players may be discouraged by the title’s technical issues.
7.5/10 (Very good)