For Honor is the latest multiplayer-based game from Ubisoft which focuses on incredibly intimate and tightly crafted combat mechanics. Between this and Rainbow Six: Siege, it is still hard to believe that For Honor is published by Ubisoft and isn’t set in an open-world which requires you to climb towers to unlock tedious side-missions. For Honor is decidedly small in scope, focusing down to the timings and counters of a new and distinct one on one combat engine.
On a very basic level, the combat mechanics come down to blocking and/or countering your opponents’ attacks to give yourself a window in which to strike. Every character’s basic functionality is the same, with a light and heavy attack that can be made from left, right, or above. The block requires you to match the direction of your opponents attack, and guard-breaking allows you to break your opponents block, giving you the opportunity to assault or shove them. Finally, you can turn a block into a parry by initiating a heavy attack in the direction of your opponents’ attack just as they’re about to strike. And that’s it for the basics, which all work well in and of themselves.
Nonetheless, your first few hours with For Honor will no doubt be undeniably frustrating as you fumble around working out blocking, countering, specific move sets, and combos. There is a tutorial that does, in fairness, do a clear job of teaching these basics, but it only goes so far. It can take hours to really get to grips with the finer details of the combat mechanics, which is one of the game’s biggest initial problems; the learning curve isn’t so much a curve as it is a toddler’s mindless scribble. As such, commitment is required. For Honor is not a game in which you can have a casual match every now and then. It’s all or nothing. This does lead me to another caveat, though, in that you do (initially, at least) have to also fully commit to one character to really utilize their specific combos, timings, and special abilities.
You have a choice of twelve heroes in three groups; Knights, Vikings, and Samurai. Each class has a light, standard, heavy, and defensive variant that all play completely distinctly from one another. This is a testament to For Honor’s combat engine, as two wildly different characters can – when used correctly – have a fair fight. Compare Peacekeeper (Knights) and Shugoki (Samurai) for example. Peacekeeper is swift, with quick attacks that do little damage but can cause a bleeding effect. She’s nimble but will go down with two heavy hits. Shugoki, by contrast, is a tank, boasting a lot more health, and heavy attacks that hit hard. Yet he is cripplingly slow. Despite the differences in speed, damage, and style, however, it is a fair fight… if, like I said, they are used correctly.
Fortunately, if you do struggle in the multiplayer, or simply find the prospect of it unappealing, there are bots, and they are not to be underestimated. The bots have three skill levels, with three being the toughest, and the level I would suggest choosing from the outset. They’re aggressive, defensive, and will utilize both counter manoeuvers and combos. They work as a terrific means of learning how to both use and counter more advanced techniques without the hassle of waiting for a new match to try again. Moreover, the bots are often challenging enough to provide an exciting fight for those who want to avoid the multiplayer.
The fact that For Honor not only features bots, but that the bots also provide this level of skill and enjoyment at all, is commendable. Between the lacklustre campaign and the inherent connectivity issues that multiplayer-based games often face, the effort put into ensuring that these bots function as they do gives For Honor a layer of future proofing that the campaign simply cannot provide.
The campaign is intended to last for roughly eight hours, though it can be completed in two. There came a point during the second Viking chapter in which I was required to clear an objective of enemies and activate a switch further along the bridge. Out of curiosity I made a beeline for the switch and tried to active it. Sure enough, it worked. A cut-scene started, shortly followed by the level completion screen. My curiosity peaked, so I went back and started the campaign again. Needless to say, no level actually requires you to engage with the enemies, boss fights aside. The entire campaign is ultimately a facade, with enemies scattered about the levels to give the illusion of a large and exciting war, despite being nothing of the sort. It’s all window dressing and deceptive padding. Sprint to the objective marker, press the button. The enemies’ only purpose is to extend the time it takes for you to hit that button. I could forgive this lack of required agency were the story even remotely compelling.
I am being somewhat facetious because I do find the initial set-up rather enjoyable for its absurdity. A preposterously large earthquake causes Earth’s landmasses to shift and collide. Apparently the only survivors consist of Knights with American accents, Vikings, and Samurai. The three factions clashed, before settling in their respective territories. Until, that is, the bloodthirsty warlord Apollyon creates an age of all-out war as she believes these once-great warriors have grown weak. This intriguing set-up is almost completely undermined by the fact that there is no more to it; nothing to motivate the player, no compelling reason to fight and take down the villain. Apollyon, despite her wonderfully vindictive vocal performance, is laughably underwritten. Her final monologue reveals that her entire scheme – to weed out the weak through a continuous war – was literally born from the desire to make the warriors admit that they enjoy hitting people with big swords…
Commendably the game looks great, though not necessarily due to the lighting or texture quality on their own terms. Rather, it’s the individual heroes that really sell the show. Visually distinct, well modelled with great animations, each character is fantastic to watch in combat. The motions are wonderfully fluid, and each attack has real impact. It is evident that there was a great deal of care in characterising these heroes, from their play-styles to their mannerisms.
As is evident, I cannot recommend For Honor for the campaign. It’s certainly functional, and does admittedly boast some decent boss fights, but I am grasping at straws. Its worst offence is that it’s utterly pointless. The multiplayer, however, is a much different story. As stated it does require a commitment, and I imagine that the initial few hours are going to turn many players off, as they nearly did me. Stick with it. Once you’ve mastered the mechanics the feeling of triumph you get from winning a tough fight is second to none, because For Honor’s matches are truly thrilling. When you use every tool at your disposal to overthrow your opponent the sensation is akin to that of defeating a boss in Dark Souls. It can and will get frustrating, and that is an unfortunate inevitability of a game such as this. Even so, the calculated precision of the core mechanics, the addition of stellar bots, and the undeniable tension that comes from a tough fight makes For Honor a fight worth starting.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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