On the face of it, you could be excused for thinking For Honor is a hack and slash multiplayer title, set against a medieval backdrop. In reality, Ubisoft have given us a truly unique fighting experience that could well be the best melee combat game to date.
The premise of the game is simple; you play as one of three warring factions – Samurai, Viking or Knights, and then fight everyone else. What makes For Honor shine, is the depth of the combat system the game uses to achieve this, giving us a fighting experience that relies on patience, timing and tactics, instead of frantic button mashing to beat your opponent. The system, known as ‘The Art of Battle’, offers a range of combat moves for each of the characters, and although has a relatively high learning curve, once you master the core mechanics, you’ll be met with engaging and satisfying melee combat that will reward you for methodical combat against your opponent, and punish you for rash or poorly timed attacks. Rushing into a fight all swords swinging will get you nowhere; you need to plan your moves, studying your opponent to utilize your characters strengths against their weaknesses, and then skilfully execute your attacks, working your way past your opponent’s blocks and counters, to land devastating hits.
Your arsenal of character moves starts with the basic stuff; guarding lets you block incoming attacks from the direction (left, right or above) you are currently in, and so reading the direction of your opponents attack has to be quick in order to successfully block. Likewise, you must attack your opponent from one of their vulnerable side, in order to land a hit back on them. You have light and heavy attacks at your disposal, both of which use your characters stamina, meaning carefully thought out attacks are essential to ensure you have enough stamina left should you be required to dodge or parry an attack. You can barge, stun and throw your opponent, whilst guard breaking will open them up to a potential flurry of lightning fast combo strikes. Once you learn the perfect timing for button presses, and the flow of each attack, the combat becomes an exhilaratingly brutal game of martial arts chess, waiting for that opportune moment to strike your opponent, and unleash a deadly salvo of attacks. When you find an opponent with a similar skill set, there really is nothing out there that offers what For Honor does.
The game offers 4 different classes, for each of the 3 factions, each with their own specific attributes. The Vanguard is your attack/defence all-rounder, the Heavy is slow, but able to land hard hits, the Assassin is fast and precise, but at the expense of being fragile, whilst the Hybrid are a mix of the other three types; difficult to use at first, but once mastered have tons of utility about them. Each specific class has a different weapon/armour setup for each faction, and so plays slightly differently to the others. If you like the principle behind one class, but not the playstyle for a particular faction, the chances are you’ll be able to find one that fits for you in the other 2 factions, and so the game does accommodate different styles of play rather well. Thankfully too, the characters do seem pretty well balanced overall, with winning coming down to the most player over a particular faction class each time. Each have their strengths and weaknesses against the others, but there is no standout OP choice that I have encountered so far.
In order to have the combat, we need the maps, and once again Ubisoft has delivered a game that is graphically beautiful. The detail that has gone into the characters and environments is rich and gritty, drawing you into the historical backdrop of ruined castles and raided villages, which in turn further helps to light up the innovative gameplay For Honor is all about. The sound effects also compliment the brilliant gameplay very well, and there is very little more satisfying than hearing the heavy blow of your axe hit your opponent, and sending them crushing to the ground.
This game is by no means perfect however, and does suffer from a number of issues. First up is the content, or perceived lack of it. There is a campaign present, but the game is fundamentally there to be a multiplayer experience. The single player does a good job of teaching you the controls, and giving you a platform to practice on whilst providing you with a story, but the story isn’t all that engaging, and it ends up acting as little more than a glorified tutorial set through some beautifully historical environments. In the multiplayer, 1 vs 1 duels are where it excels, with 2 vs 2 not too far behind it. Both are fun and engaging, but once you get into the 4 vs 4 matches, it starts to fall apart, unless you are in a coherent group of players, and playing against another coherent group of opponents; having two or more opponents against you at any one time is almost guaranteed death, and so having to rely on random players, or even AI to prop up the numbers, can become increasingly frustrating. Ubisoft look set to release content packs in the future, hopefully adding to the small number of maps available, but as of now, the game does seem slightly lacking, and perhaps does not justify the full game price tag
The learning curve, whilst not necessarily a fault of the game, may too put players off the multiplayer, as time and practice is almost a guaranteed requirement to master the combat, and may therefore result in the more casual players being decimated match after match against those who know exactly what they are doing. The tutorials do a good job of teaching you the controls, and an AI practice character is there to test out on, but it is never the equivalent of getting practice in against another human player, and early in my adventure I was cannon fodder to the more experienced players. If you’re not planning on mastering the combat styles and techniques, and ultimately taking on the best players the community has to offer, you may well find yourself losing interest, regardless of how well the game plays.
Next up is the Peer-to-Peer connections used in the multiplayer. This is due to change with future updates, but for the moment it is causing many players repeated issues with connectivity, and in all honestly was a stupid decision from Ubisoft to set it up this way instead of using dedicated servers for such an intricate Player vs Player multiplayer game. Also, the decision to allow players to join a match midway through a round and replacing one of the AI with a full health character seems bizarre, and can really hinder the enjoyment of the match when being tasked with taking down a new opponent when not at full health yourself.
My last gripe with the game, is the inclusion of microtransactions, which is becoming an unfortunate feature in more and more games. You don’t need to spend real currency in order to get ahead in For Honor, as the in game currency can be earned, however the process of gaining enough to make a real push through the attainable items is a slow one, and therefore anyone paying to get the better gear will have a distinct advantage over those who push on and grind it out.
Overall I enjoyed my time on For Honor, and it’s nice to see a new IP offer something different to what we’ve seen before. The combat left me feeling thoroughly rewarded when pulling off skilful melee victories against my opponents, and the overall gameplay it provides really does set itself out there as one of the best melee fighting games you could play. If you are really into your fighting games, and can put in the time to master the controls, then this game will certainly be for you. For the more casual gamer however, I feel they will ultimately be left with the feeling of something missing, especially if they wanted more depth to the single player aspect of the game. With future improvements and content drops, the game will inevitably get much better, but as it is, I was left feeling the game could have launched with so much more to offer for the price it costs.