For Honor is, at its core, a game about beating the absolute hell out of your opponents with medieval weaponry. Whether you’re wielding the Knight’s longsword, swinging the Viking’s axe, or flourishing the Samurai’s katana, you’re going to spend most of your time in deadly one on one combat to decide who has the most honour.
So why, in Odin’s name, isn’t it a masterpiece?
Unfortunately, For Honor suffers from the same problem as Liz Lemon in the hit sitcom 30 Rock. For Honor is trying to have it all. In attempting to deliver a fresh story, innovative combat, and deep multiplayer, For Honor has fallen short on all fronts. Not a lot – there's some good stuff in there – but just enough that it falls short of greatness.
I was intensely disappointed when it turned out that the plot of For Honor wasn’t just fighting over a puddle, as I was led to believe when I played the closed beta. Instead it’s your standard plot of “dude meets bad guys, dude joins bad guys, dude becomes steadily more disillusioned with the bad guys until he becomes a Mitchell and Webb sketch, dude fights back.” I was reverse-disappointed when it turned out it wasn’t that, but instead a gamified version of Thus Spake Zarathustra, with antagonist Apollyon trying to force the people of the land to rise from complacency, and become predators instead of prey.
So sure, it stopped making conventional sense fairly quickly. You know what, though? I liked it more after that. At least the antagonist didn’t just want to do “Evil Plan #1: Exterminate”. Sure, she wants to create some kind of Ubermensch army of man-wolves instead, but who doesn’t in this crazy world? I actually found the narrative endearing, simply because it wasn’t what I expected; I’ll take batshit insanity over boring tropes any day.
Combat in Story Mode is both empowering and frustrating, providing a nice taste of each Hero and style to prepare you for Multiplayer. The Art of Battle system has you slashing and stabbing and blocking and parrying to your heart’s content, and I’ve done a complete turnaround from my initial impressions; it just clicked for me all of a sudden, and now I understand it. The standard AI will fall to some fairly reliable combos most of the time (stun, hack, repeat), but the bosses have the preternatural reflexes of, well, AI. I’m not saying they’re unbeatable, but I am saying they’ll make you hate everything about the world before they finally go down.
The levels are pretty, but always just short of gorgeous. Design is pretty good, with interesting environments and some twisty paths leading to hidden Feats and collectibles. Oh yeah, collectibles; c’mon guys, it’s a Ubisoft game, of course there are collectibles. At least they’ve toned it down now from the usual fare to about 15 per level, and they’re relatively obvious. Don’t lose sleep over them either, because aside from some gaudy ornamentation in Multiplayer, they don’t really do anything but slightly expand the lore.
The music is dead on, and I really loved it. It took me a couple of times booting up the game before I realised it changed depending on your Hero and faction, which I thought was a nice, subtle touch. I’ll tell you how good it is: I actually spent UPlay points on the digital soundtrack, which I haven’t done since I don’t know when. Maybe Assassin’s Creed 2? If that’s not praise, I don’t know what is.
The game isn’t very challenging, at least not when you’re playing as a Hero you mesh well with. I’m not usually one to advocate for difficulty in games, but I have to say, don’t play on Normal. In my case, I was bored by the third level, and I’m not especially good. If you still feel you need some simplicity, head into Hard; otherwise, I strongly recommend Realistic mode. It’s harder, sure, and there’s less autosaving, but it also disables most of the UI, namely the part that tells you where your enemies will attack from. This sends the immersion through the roof, bringing an almost Souls-esque level of watching and waiting for the perfect time to strike. This is the way For Honor is meant to be played.
Heading into the online matches is where the challenge hits. Now you’re dealing with the fallibility and unpredictability of other humans, and that’ll either go really well or really, really poorly. Once you’ve spent your Steel on what looks like the coolest character (it’s the Peacekeeper), you can spend hours dolling them up and customising them juuuuust right, and then see what wonders await in online play.
It can take a while to get matched up. And I mean a while. My longest wait time so far (when I didn’t just give up and try a new mode) was about four minutes. This doesn’t sound like long, except it’s four minutes where I stared at a screen insisting that the Dominion PvP mode had “High Activity.” I’m afraid to go near Low Activity, because I might starve to death waiting. Sometimes Player vs AI can be a better option just so you actually get a game sometime this month. But hey, it got there in the end.
Dominion, once I got a game, is hella fun. It’s a Control the Zone style game, defending captured areas from enemy Heroes, and stealing theirs at the same time. It’s a crazy, no-holds-barred melee, and I love it. You can slash through swarms of soldiers, or duel with enemy Heroes and really set them back. As far as other game modes like Duel and Brawl go, I really like them, but I’m not sure how good I am. I mean, everyone keeps disconnecting after I win the first round, so I must be doing something right, but it’d be nice to play more than one round with an actual person.
In all seriousness though, I have never, ever played a game with such a criminal rate of disconnects after one round. Thank Odin for bots; I was curious as to why they were even an option to begin with, but it’s clear that Ubisoft knew people simply couldn’t handle a loss long enough to stick it out. From an eternal backfill in Dominion, to the instant cowards in Duel, I have played just one game (one!) where the same players stayed in from start to finish. It’s actually worse than it was during the beta. This is likely to calm down once those people drift away, but right now the multiplayer experience isn’t the most stable in the world.
Overall, For Honor is a good game. The campaign is enjoyable, even if it doesn’t feel long enough, it looks nice, and it sounds great. And… that’s pretty much it. It’s a solid game, but it just doesn’t have that wow factor. The multiplayer may hold out for a while among those who like the PvP aspects of Dark Souls, or are super into Renaissance fairs, and the story will always be worth a go regardless of the antagonist randomly becoming Friedrich Nietzche in a breastplate, it’s only real flaw being that it’s clearly just there to train you up for multiplayer.
For Honor falls short of greatness, but I still had a pretty good time with it. It’s worth picking up, especially if you’re intrigued by the online play. Play it for a fun story, for love of the setting, and of course For Honor.
Brian received a digital copy of For Honor from Ubisoft for review.