Every now and then, I’ll see a trailer for a game and think to myself, “man, that looks cool. I want that”. The curious thing is, the ones that enthuse me the most are those that I know I’ll be utterly crap at. For Honor definitely falls into that category but I just liked the idea of running around hitting things with a huge sword so much I ended up buying the Gold Edition today. Luckily, I got a very good deal on a key, so if this game is beyond my skills set or fails to meet expectations I won’t be too disappointed. The last time I “come a cropper” with an impetuous purchase of this nature was with Watch Dogs, back in 2014. Spookily enough that was a Ubisoft game, same as For Honor.
For Honor is a curious hybrid game that doesn’t exactly fit in to any specific genre 100%. It is essentially a fighting game but there are MOBA elements, as well as systems and mechanics from both MMOs and RPS. It’s combat system is multi-layered. At first while working your way through the tutorial, the tri-directional blocks as well as the light and heavy attacks seem quite straightforward. However, as you progress these moves are complimented by charges, and throws plus special finisher moves. Combine all these with a target lock system and a high degree of situational awareness and you have a complex system with a wide variety of permutations.
As soon as you enter multiplayer mode, the reality of For Honor hits you and hits you hard. Combat is not over quickly, often coming down to a battle of wits and patients. You’ll frequently find yourself just facing off against an opponent, waiting for a tell. Fights are not just a forgone conclusion after trading a few blows. You can wear your enemy down to one third of their health, only to see them out manoeuvre you and then get you on the ropes. Victory can be stolen by both big and small mistakes. Then you’ll get organised players who fight collaboratively. Giving chase to someone whose fleeing may well lead you in to a trap. Then of course there are players who roam the battlefield craftily, watching and waiting to stab you in the back as you fight another.
Yet despite the inevitable frustration and steep learning curve there is still much satisfaction to be gained from multiplayer mode. Running away is a perfectly valid option and as the Irish novelist, playwright, poet and physician Oliver Goldsmith noted, “He who fights and runs away, may live to fight another day”. If you are not burdened by romantic notions of fighting honourably or a fair fight, then there is much fun to be had taking a predatory approach to combat. Lurking in choke points and shortcuts, slipstreaming more successful players or patrolling the battlements and throwing unsuspecting players off ladders as they climb, can be immensely satisfying.
Aesthetically, For Honor is very pleasing. Character models are suitably detailed and the combat animations feel suitably weighty. Stamina is an important factor in game play so you can’t simply mash keys hoping to get lucky. There is a broad variety of classes with some being harder to master than others. So far, I have stuck with the default Warden as it seems to be a good all-rounder. There is an air of credibility to the way he wields his broadsword. It would appear that the balance issues that some players complained about during the beta has been addressed. The matchmaking has not been unfair to me so far, although the peer to peer connection system obviously favours the host.
Dominion mode, is the easiest way to acquaint yourself with For Honor with its objective-based team play. Its design affords you a look at the games various complexities and helps you hone your skills. You soon learn that the game requires individual acts of heroism as well as coordinated action. Then there’s Duel, Brawl, and Elimination modes, all of which offer a spectrum of playstyles. And for those who like both challenge and “glory”, there’s a hardcore duelling mode without respawns. Furthermore, it should be remembered that although these differing modes all offer a variety of gameplay, the reality of each session is often quite different. There are equal chances for cooperation or chaos, especially in the four versus four deathmatch mode. Play this and you’ll soon be humming Yakety sax.
For Honor also sports a campaign mode. Like those associated with the FPS genre, people are often quick to write these off. Yet it so far has been quite engaging. The voice acting is solid and the cutscenes handsomely produced. The central story featuring a war between the three main factions in a nonspecific setting is somewhat abstract but if you can look beyond it, then the story will provide you with an alternative way of learning your class and perfecting your skills. And for those players like myself, who are not so good at twitch gaming and managing multiple systems simultaneously, there is always a player versus AI option. You can make this as testing or as easy as you like, thus ensuring that you can still know the pleasure of wantonly dismembering your enemies.
Like many contemporary games, there is still much to criticise on the business management side of things. DLC, cash stores, multiple buying options are all present in For Honor. Many potential players may well balk at the overall price of the game and season pass, preferring to purchase six month on when a deal can be secured. In my estimation, the long-term longevity of For Honor hinges on future map updates, as with CoD and other shooters. Ubisoft obviously feel this original IP may be able to sustain franchise and if you think about it, there is scope to broaden the remit of the game. Collaborative gameplay and complimentary classes may be one way to go. In the meantime, For Honor certainly satisfies your “hitting things with a big sword” itch. It’s a superior and nuanced fighting game whose uncomplex and unreconstructed raison d'être is its greatest virtue.