There are never any real winners in war. One side will always emerge victorious, sure, but always at great cost.
There was a time though, when war was perhaps more honorable; when a man (or woman) was forced to look into the whites of their adversaries’ eyes before stealing their last breath away from them. For Honor is a game that wishes to take you back to those times, pitting Knights against Vikings against Samurai in a never-ending battle for supremacy. Ultimately though, whether you do fight honorably or become a lowly, opportunistic back-stabber is up to you.
At the heart of For Honor is an innovative combat system that works in conjunction with its weighty controls to give it a unique and authentic feel. Its muscular, armour clad heroes react to your inputs like they have real heft, and the exertion they put into swinging their variety of weapons is almost tangible. The result is that battles are hard-fought and laborious, favouring the strong-willed who are resolute in the face of danger. Skill is a major contributor to victory in For Honor, but so is keeping a level head and knowing when and where to engage in battle.
Locking onto your opponent by holding the left trigger when in range, the crux of For Honor’s combat relies on a shield-like HUD element that indicates which direction your opponent’s attacks will originate from – though merely studying their stance can also tell you the same. It’s then up to you to use that information to block, parry or dodge your opponent’s attacks successfully whilst exploiting openings in order to mount an assault of your own. On a basic level it leads to fights with plenty of to-ing and fro-ing as each opponent momentarily gains the upper hand, but once more complex manoeuvres are factored in the mix, mastery of them can lead to much more one-sided affairs.
Charging into your opponent can break their defences, opening them up for a quick combo attack or perhaps a throw, making use of the environment around you. Heavy attacks can be cancelled, messing with your opponent’s mind to keep them on their toes. Revenge mode may be activated in dire circumstances to help you even the odds with buffed attributes. And many heroes have their own unique moves, the use of which can prove to be pivotal to success if used correctly. For Honor is a game that reveals more depth as you put in time with it; a just reward, in my humble opinion.
Those picking up For Honor would be wise to make its story mode their first port of call, as it essentially serves as training. In 18 missions spread across three chapters – one for each faction – the fundamentals of For Honor’s gameplay will be explained to you in a way that’s actually quite efficient and entertaining. You’ll take control of pretty much all of the available heroes at some point or another – their nuances often highlighted by the task at hand – and after eight hours or so you’ll have a firm grasp of the game’s core concepts. Whether or not you’ll return to the mode after completion is questionable however; the story isn’t particularly enthralling, though there are a number of collectibles, difficulty levels and unlockable skills called feats to serve as a carrot dangling on the end of a stick.
For Honor’s real raison d’etre is its multiplayer offerings, and thankfully they’re mostly excellent. Duels and Brawls are 1v1 and 2v2 affairs respectively, where you’re stripped of any benefits accumulated by your online endeavours to facilitate fair, skill-based fights. Well, I say they’re fair, but when a 2v2 situation becomes 2v1, a player’s honour is called into question if they go in for some cheap swipes at their outnumbered opponent’s back. The 4v4 Dominion and Skirmish matches are much livelier in contrast, with players allowed unlimited respawns until the opposing team has scored 1,000 points. Capturing and holding zones is the name of the game in Dominion, with 100 points up for grabs for each of the three zones available on each map. Skirmish on the other hand is essentially Team Deathmatch, with the added dynamic that more points are scored when your situation is dire.
The weakest of For Honor’s online offerings is Elimination mode, which for me fails because of the game’s revive mechanic. Pitting four players against another team of four, Elimination is like playing a medieval version of a Gears of War Warzone match where respawns are not allowed. Find yourself outnumbered two to one or more when you’re the only member left on your team however, and there’s often little you can do to prevent the other team from continually reviving their heroes. Just a simple change such as making it so that heroes that have been executed cannot be revived would greatly improve Elimination mode in my opinion, but who knows if any alterations will actually be made to it in the future.
Experience is earned by competing in all multiplayer modes, increasing the rank and reputation of your heroes while unlocking new visual customisation items and feats along the way. Steel, For Honor’s currency, is also earned, which can be used to unlock new heroes for use, as well as purchase further customisation items and basic loot packs. With the wealth of variables on offer, tweaking your heroes to achieve a look that resonates with you can become quite an addictive pursuit, though the effect that each piece of equipment has on your attributes also needs to be taken into consideration. It adds reasonable long term depth to your online escapades, but many will find that the steel cost of customisation items is perhaps a little too high. Of course, microtransactions are at hand for those who don’t mind flashing the cash.
Adding the final touch to For Honor’s multiplayer gameplay is the Faction War which envelops it. Forced to choose between the three factions when you first start the game, you fight to gain territory for your chosen faction – the maps changing accordingly as the war progresses. What truly drives the Faction War is the deployment of War Assets – resources you earn based on your match performance – though whether or not you manually deploy them between matches is up to you. Stay with your faction for a whole war and emerge victorious and there’s promise of reward, but to be honest, you can enjoyably play without caring too much for it all.
As enjoyable as For Honor can be when played online however, it does have some issues. Matchmaking, for example, can be problematic, doing a poor job of balancing players and the AI bots that fill in the empty spaces when needs be. Also, playing on Xbox One for review, there were connection issues from time to time that would throw me unceremoniously out of games. Moving on, it’s not uncommon for combat to get rather messy when fighting on the front in Dominion matches. On the one hand it accurately reflects the chaotic nature of a melee, but on the other it can lead to moments of frustration as your character gets stuck on or blocked by fodder. It also gives the advantage to AI bots who don’t need to clearly see your stance indicator to counter your actions. Finally, combatants playing dishonorably can be a bit of a bugbear too, either running away when the going gets tough or picking off players that are already actively engaged in battle, but that’s not really the game’s fault, is it?
I didn’t take part in any of For Honor’s betas. From day one I’ve admired the concept of it and wanted to jump into the final product blind, and I’m glad I did. For Honor may have a multitude of match types that are conceptually generic, but the actual act of combat and its many intricacies means it’s unlike anything else I’ve ever played. Duels are tense affairs – a tentative dance of death between two combatants. Brawls add in the uncertainty of a potential two on one situation in which the concept of honor is truly tested. Meanwhile, Skirmishes and Dominion matches offer larger scales battles where you have to keep your wits about you to survive and take effective command of the battlefield to emerge victorious. All in all it makes for a captivating package that I believe has a long life ahead of it, especially if Ubisoft effectively manages interest in the title with a steady stream of new content. For Honor has quickly become my favourite online multiplayer game, and one that I’m certain will have me honing my skills, and my blade, for months to come.