For Honor doesn’t tell you whether the samurai were better fighters than the vikings but it does give some perspective.
This bold, ambitious new IP from Ubisoft not only casts unlikely adversaries against one another, but it does so in a way that reimagines how we control the flow of battle. Using a dynamic new combat system, players can parry, dodge, and counter with a fluidity and ease that strips away the often complex and convoluted combinations found in other fighters. You no longer need to pull off ten buttons to be competent on the battlefield, you just need to know the basics and evolve your gameplan from there.
Using a simple focusing-in point, combat in For Honor is often about patience, timing, and reading your enemy before they read you. You can deflect attacks from above, or left and right, and also penetrate defences with barges or heavy strikes. Finding openings and weak spots is crucial to survival and victory, and really makes this as much a game about strategy as it is swinging a sword around and hoping it hits something.
That’s what makes For Honor special. Not only is it thematically very bold and bordering on the fan-ficcy, it goes against all other fighting conventions. This is less of a medieval Streetfighter, more of a big-budget, fully fleshed out and 3D animated series of duels from World of Warcraft. It’s about using your skills wisely, considering cooldown periods and making sure you play to your strengths. It’s also about choosing fights wisely, picking your spots – eww, not those – and not being afraid to use the large playspaces to gain an advantage.
And while this has clearly been pitched as a multiplayer game, For Honor has a surprisingly deep and entertaining campaign that explains the crossover and what has brought these three factions together.
Players will traipse the environment, gaining backstory by observing landmarks and picking up collectables by fulfilling set mission criteria. The Warcraft comparison is also quite applicable here as the campaign really reminded me of the RTS days of the franchise, in that, you control key figures from each faction, learning more about their motivations for battle and discovering the role they play in the saga’s tapestry. While the mission structure does feel a tad repetitive, the cut-scenes are illuminating and engaging and some of the conquests are particularly memorable in their execution.
What is also really surprising about For Honor is that it doesn’t actually feel like a Ubisoft game where there’s a huge map for you to collect a bajillion different things. In fact, it doesn’t feel like any other multiplayer game on the market. While it certainly borrows heavily from other titles, the way it’s all brought together feels entirely separate from the competition. There are modes which will be familiar like Domination (CTF) and Standard PVP Deathmatch. But modes like Elimination really fit the game like a glove and take on a whole other identity here.
The idea is each player has one life and the aim is for one team to completely wipe the other out. Each round starts with you stood across from another player or bot, effectively setting up several one on one duels all over the map. In an age where MP matches usually require you to track down your enemies and kill them, here you’re immediately thrust into the action which is both daunting and thrilling. It also feels like more of a test of skill as you both start with no clear advantage and everything to prove. No doubt, For Honor is damn good at getting the blood pumping.
And because of that, For Honor has potential to blow up in a big way. It’s easy to envisage it being a huge eSports hit and you can see ways they could expand it further by having other factions getting involved. Like most things, it will live and die on engagement and how long the community stick with it. Fortunately, the Season concept driving the game offers incentives to stick with it for the long haul. Each faction you play with can deposit resources and defenses to contested areas on the wider battleground based on what type of rewards you get from each battle. The more you contribute, the more chance you have of gaining unique rewards and recognition as seasons change over.
It also impacts the bigger picture as what happens in one season will dramatically impact what happens in future seasons, whether the Vikings gain a foothold on one area of the map, or the Samurai have successfully defended their own lands from invasion.
Ubisoft are already clearly invested in the project, documenting balance changes for classes in future updates, offering up a season pass and talking about upcoming features for the game. In that sense, For Honor’s roadmap looks set to be quite extraordinary. The worry is, will it be forgotten about by Summer?
The reason I say that is I did struggle to find much difference between playing different factions. While they do offer different methods of attack – like Samurai’s have poison clouds andVikings have rallying cries – after a while, it did feel like everyone played in mostly similar ways. While each faction does have a character with different attributes – fast strikers, big hitters – and they all use different weapons, there’s a safeness to the formula which doesn’t allow for enough diversity, unlike factions of the RTS games I’ve previously compared it to. While I appreciate they’re different genres, in Starcraft, it’s clear to see the differences between Terra and Protoss, but apart from an asset refresh and changes to combat approach, I can’t necessarily say the same for Vikings and Knights.
Still, I feel like For Honor is the beginnings of a longer conversation. While I can’t imagine how the pitch for this game went down, let alone how it was initially received, For Honor is a genuine surprise and occasional delight. It’s not perfect and it’s not always pretty, but there’s something refreshing and interesting here that – unlike many other multiplayer games which I’ll play, then shelf – I might actually come back to this.
+ A unique and satisfying multiplayer foray
+ Surprisingly detailed and entertaining campaign
+ Re-energised combat that offers genuine thrills
+ Plenty for the long haul
– Faction diversity not always clear to see
– Mission structure can feel repetitive in campaign