- Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
- Publisher: Ubisoft
- Release Date: February 14, 2017
- Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC
- Playtime: 25 Hours
- Acquisition: Purchased by reviewer
On in June of 2015, Ubisoft Montreal gave the world its first look at their original IP, “For Honor.” The excellent trailer generated hype around the game by featuring high-octane fights between Vikings, Knights, and Samurai. After 2.5 weeks of playing, Two Left Sticks asks how For Honor’s execution lived up to the hype.
Gameplay: New and Polished
When gamers were introduced to the fighting system, they began to understand how For Honor would play differently from other games of it’s kind. Players fight in third person style, using trigger buttons to lock on to opponents. They can then choose between three stances to guard or attack from, represented by a shield symbol. Other common moves include dodging and parrying, which add needed complexity during combos.
Every mechanic in the game can be learned in depth during advanced video or interactive tutorials. One can sit with an AI bot for hours perfecting when exactly one character should dodge another.
The beauty of this system comes in focused simplicity. With little variation, attacks can only come from three directions. All twelve characters hold to this style, which keeps them from getting too unbalanced.
Many of the peripheral moves serve to distract characters from the location of the next attack. The Samurai Orochi may spin around its opponent, or feign attacks to garner a false guard, but if the enemy is quick enough they can always guard. Some exceptions include guard breaks, moves always counterable, which stuns the character for a split second.
Another exception comes when characters meet their own specialized combos, which can end in an unblockable attack. Players can always recognize these specials due to For Honor’s attack color coordination, which imbues unblockable and poison attacks with certain colors to help the player recognize the difference.
Contributions to Intensity
This simple and focused system garners Ubisoft’s desired effect. When you lock on to an opponent, no matter the context, adrenaline, fear, and trust in the ability to win all surge in the player. A game of errors begins, each character chipping away at the opponent’s health until one is dead.
Players may also tumble into a blitz of well-timed attacks that dismantle the enemy’s defenses and leave them annihilated. A skilled player may even land an extremely satisfying execution which displays a cool cinematic moment which gives extra health for the killer and leaves the enemy unrevivable.
For Honor becomes more complex outside of a duel, where multiple enemies roam in groups. Realistically, when a player stumbles upon an enemy group, nervousness may set in. Ubisoft Montreal offers outnumbered players the “Revenge Mode,” (cinematically displayed at the end of the announcement trailer) which gives the character extra health and damage. While players do not often obtain the satisfying experience of killing a small group of opponents, the skilled and patient can accomplish the task.
Cast of Characters
For Honor’s characters make up the soul of the experience. Each has his or her own take on the guard system, as well as a list of combos and special moves. The characters have similar personalities rooted in the presentation of the game, but what they lack in personality is made up for in style and look.
There are several dynamics to choosing a character, which Ubisoft mostly balances well. Health, speed, the number of combos, passive attributes, and attack power all play their parts. The four classes, Vanguard, Assassin, Heavy, and Hybrid are evenly distributed throughout the factions.
Vanguards have balanced health and attacks, along with a few moves that hit harder than normal. Assassin characters use speed and combos to drain life from their opponents. Heavies often have more defense and health, though their attacks range from slow and powerful to average speed and light. Hybrids have the longest lists of combos and have their own feel. They range from the high defense and health of the Lawbringer to the stinging poison of the Nobushi.
With little exception, each character feels balanced in nearly any context. Any character can fight any other character 1 vs. 1 as long as they know what makes that character tick. Even with the consistent thread of the stance system, pretending every character acts the same will end in frustration.
Players will make some of their first choices in For Honor when they create their emblem. These choices set the tone for the customization, as the player can customize each piece of gear for each character. For Honor freely provides some options early on, while doling out others during the Story Mode.
Players can unlock other options by leveling up the selected character or using the in-game currency, “Steel,” which is awarded after each match. Players may also pick up gear after matches, depending on the level of the character they fought with.
While colors and styles change nothing, the actual gear can change three of the character’s stats in certain modes. Each stat increase decreases another stat, so the gear keeps characters balanced while playing to the player’s preference.
Characters also have access to different special skills called “feats” in the same modes their gear impacts gameplay. Players can customize the selected feats, which vary from ranged attacks to passive skills. Feat options unlock as the player levels their characters.
The amount of grinding needed to get gear and Steel keeps the customizations steady and fresh, but Ubisoft offers a way to buy chests of gear and Steel for those who do not have time to grind.
As noted above, since gear always balances itself the customization becomes mostly aesthetic. With that said, those who pay for extra gear have the opportunity to acquire gear that is more in step with their playstyles. While For Honor limits the acquirable gear based on level, this process still provides an advantage to those who have the money to buy gear.
Whether one decides if the Steel store can turn into “pay to win” or not, everyone will agree that For Honor’s major customization fault lies in the fact that players may only customize character outfits from the menu. During character selection for matches, the player can only look at move sets and change feats. During map loading times, the player can do nothing but look at a map overview.
Multiplayer: Active Factions
For Honor’s gameplay offers an intense and satisfying experience, but does this strength play well in multiplayer? As the player enters the multiplayer menu, For Honor confronts them with an interesting map.
The Faction War determines the maps that each mode is played in, while also displaying the strength of each faction. If the player pledged allegiance to the Knights then they will aid the Knights in this war, though they can play as any character. The Faction War updates are split into seasons, rounds, and then territory cycles; each garner some advantages to the winning faction’s players. Maps also change depending on where the war is fought and who owns the territory.
The Faction War’s goal seems to lie in playing up the intensity of the war. The player cannot help but feel some despair or pride upon seeing that their faction dominated during a given cycle. Despite the effort that Ubisoft put into this feature, it typically ends up simply distracting from the focus of the game: fighting enemies.
The strategy on the map is too light, and dents that players make are too small. A player may never really know what their efforts meant to the overall war. Their investment in that war gets dampened by the fact that players can choose any character regardless of faction during the faction war. While Ubisoft Montreal is wise not to limit that choice, it underlines how little the player ends up caring about the overall war.
Players decide their modes from the Faction War map based off where fighting needs to happen and what they want to play (typically the later). Modes span from 1 vs. 1 Duels to 4 vs. 4 Domination style fights. Each mode capitalizes on one of For Honor’s strengths.
Duels hone in on the fighting, where whoever can block most and attack fastest wins. Once a player is killed, the first out of five rounds ends. Domination features the large scale battles cinematized in the trailer, which includes a mix of player controlled heroes and AI grunts. Whoever can control the most points, including dominating the AI’s area forces the enemy team into sudden death, which often turn into manhunts and desperate fights for survival.
The three other modes basically span the gap between these two. 2 vs 2 brawls, 4 vs 4 skirmishes, and deathmatches have their place. Depending on the style of the mode, players will be allowed access to their character’s feats and gear balances.
The mode selection highlights the strengths and weaknesses of For Honor. Gameplay always revolves around the highly original ideas related to the guard stance system. Players’ wins basically correlate to how well they can use that system in different group settings.
The Limits of Gameplay
For Honor simply provides few modes to showcase the system in different lenses. While winning a brawl with a friend is fun, it feels much like a duel. Most other modes feel like stripped down versions of the Domination mode.
The variety of 12 maps (with 5 combinations of weather each) adds some diversity, but who can get pushed into or off of what tends to serve as the bottom line in terms of strategy and gameplay.
While the original ideas related to the fighting style of For Honor keep the game fun, the community needs more modes to keep play fresh in the future. Additional characters will help stave off the boredom, but without dramatically enhancing mode selection and map dynamics, For Honor might get stale before it’s time. Ubisoft may hasten that distaste with their connectivity issues, which happens too regularly in complex matches like Domination.
Campaign: The Exploratory Warscape
Ubisoft Montreal’s central focus lies with the multiplayer, but For Honor’s campaign delivers a cinematic and engaging experience that gamers can even play through co-op. In addition to its dynamic story, For Honor’s campaign offers a more in-depth play experience for most of the character models than the practice arena. The campaign ends up as far more than a preparation for multiplayer, though and provides some perspective in the world of For Honor’s particular world.
At its core, For Honor’s story explores the pole on the far side of civilization. A cataclysm has destroyed much of the world, and three fractions have risen up to fight over the resources. During For Honor, we see what the world would look life if everyone fought over everything all the time.
The writing staff skillfully unfolds this scenario by narrating the game through the antagonist, the knight Apollyon, who desires to bring about new “golden age” of war. The player controls her subordinates who gradually catch on to her plan as they fight battles against neighboring Vikings. Even in the land where war reigns, people desire peace and security.
The player sees the effects of Apollyon’s actions through more than her knights, but also through her enemies. When Apollyon leaves little food for the Vikings to fight over, we see the effects first hand. Instead of survival of the fittest, the Vikings unite to fight their oppressor. The whole war between the three factions features several diverse sieges and battles that could freshen up the multiplayer if incorporated.
The stories of For Honor provide perspective by transcending ranks and enemy boarders. Along the way, the player feels the comradery and desperation of the characters’ struggles. Even amidst the turmoil, hope, friendships, and even mercy grow in the face of Apollyon’s progression.
Since For Honor’s experience lies mostly in multiplayer, gamers may not expect much from the story. If they choose to play through it, they will find an enriching and cinematic experience.
For Honor’s simple and focused gameplay leave the player experiencing something like an epic 3D fighter. Ubisoft builds upon their system with an interesting and dynamic cast of fighters, all with easy to learn yet hard to master techniques and styles. Those character models get their own spotlight in a story that can only be told in For Honor’s unique world. Ubisoft Montreal’s experience stalls some in a multiplayer arena that offers high octane fun with little variety. For Honor has polished and original foundations that need to branch out into interesting directions.
All media in this review was captured by the reviewer