Great ideas are born all the time in the video game industry, but not all of them reach fruition—and fewer still achieve their fullest potential. It seems Ubisoft’s For Honor, at least at this moment in time, falls into the latter category of a game that just isn’t where it needs to be. After conquering the campaign and playing well over 100 multiplayer matches over the past week since it’s launch, I’m sorry to say that For Honor just seems to be another in what is becoming Ubisoft’s calling card of the past several years: a tremendous idea that falls short due to lackluster or questionable technical execution.
For Honor puts players in a fantasy world that mashes up regions and time periods, placing three of the world’s greatest factions of warriors together on one limited landmass. Samurai, Knights, and Vikings fight in perpetual war over scarce resources in this fictitious world, unwittingly serving as pawns in the plans of Apollyon, a particularly ruthless black knight who feels that only in war can people maximize their abilities.
The campaign takes you through each of the three faction camps as you begin to piece together Apollyon’s plot. There are 18 chapters (six for each group), and all told the campaign shouldn’t take more than 4-6 hours to finish. There’s some replayability here, with collectibles and multiple difficulty levels (including the hardest “Realistic” difficulty that completely removes your HUD), but not much else. It’s also a bit on the repetitive side, with occasional surprises to keep you pushing forward, but what serves as the brightest spot for the campaign is that it is an excellent teaching tool. As a de facto proving ground, it gives you plenty of opportunities to test strategies and learn more advanced combos with particular classes against the computer before you take those skills into the online world.
One glaring flaw with the campaign, though, is the fact that if one of its major purposes is as a way to familiarize yourself with the game’s 12 distinct characters and it’s unique combat system in a safer offline setting, then it should give you an opportunity to play as all of the character choices. Only eight of the 12 are featured in the campaign, with the Berseker (Vikings), Conqueror (Knights), Shugoki (Samurai), and Nobushi (Samurai) being exempt.
Though, it could argue that some of these class styles are covered in other chapters. For example, the Vikings’ Warlord—who does get his own chapter—is classed as a heavy, which Shugoki and Conqueror also both fall under. However, there are enough differences between each choice and their playstyles that not being able to figure out how to fit playable sections for all 12 characters into 18 chapters—especially when many campaign chapters have all the characters in them already as NPCs—is bothersome. For example, the Nobushi has probably the most range of any character in the game (plus some attacks that can poison an enemy), while the Shugoki is the only character that can actually absorb a hit without flinching—but you need to experiment in multiplayer to find all that out. You can play the online modes against AI to get some experience with characters, and I admit that For Honor’s bots are some of the most intelligent you’re likely to find in any online game, but I believe that wrapping your training around a story and a tutorial increases your retention of learned skills, as opposed to just button mashing against a bot that falls into predictable patterns.
A big reason why it’s particularly frustrating having to learn characters in multiplayer, instead of more ideally just honing and mastering your skills against humans, is For Honor’s aforementioned combat system. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fantastic system, but it has a steep learning curve and can be incredibly complex at times. The core of For Honor is three-way directional blocking/attacking. If you are swinging from the left, and your foe blocks in that direction, nothing happens; if they leave themselves open, you do damage. It looks like a simple third-person hack ‘n’ slash mechanic, but once you get past this, you’ll find there’s more to this game—and, again, each character’s specific nuances only diversify and add wonderful depth to the gameplay. Throws, stuns, parries, specials, and unblockable attacks all must be learned if you’re to have any success in campaign or online. The beauty of it, though, is how all of this plays off that initial mechanic, which requires you to lock onto an opponent in one-on-one “honorable” combat while trying to predict their movements.
Combat is like a miniature chess game, with strategies forming and coming undone in an instant as your strikes hit, miss, or are blocked by your mark. Even positioning on the field, with one-hit kill obstacles like spikes or ledges, play into the combat, requiring you take in far more information than just which direction your opponent is blocking. I honestly couldn’t get enough of it all, and found my adrenaline pumping during the thrill of combat, screaming into my headset as cowards ran away from my Raider’s axe. (Of course, it also makes it frustrating to learn on the fly when your K/D may be on the line.)
There are some flaws to combat, though. While the game is surprisingly well balanced—with a smart player able to overcome most any other character’s strengths and exploit their weaknesses—there are those infuriating moments when it looks like the game’s physics or hit detection isn’t where it needs to be. A perfect example is when trying to throw someone off a ledge; a great way to overcome situations where you are outnumbered. Sometimes, a character will barely clip the edge of a rock or wall, and slam up against it as if a full support was there, saving the person from going over the edge and potentially falling to their doom. Or, you’ll get situations where a thrown body lands with half of it not on solid ground. You’d expect the body to slide off the edge—since that’d be the natural result—but instead the character just stands up as if their body had been fully supported. It reminds me of the original Super Mario Bros. way back in the day; as long as you had just one pixel of edge, Mario would never fall off. It’s not nearly as charming here, and definitely breaks immersion and draws my ire.
The crux of For Honor, though, is of course the multiplayer, which I’ve touched on briefly already a couple of times. The first thing everyone has to take part in is the War of the Factions. Similar to what was seen in Mortal Kombat X’s Faction War, as soon as you start the game, you choose one of the three factions to align yourself with for the entirety of a season (this doesn’t limit what characters you can play as, to be clear). By playing online you’ll earn war assets, and the better you perform, the more assets you’ll receive. Unlike MKX, you’ll get to personally assign where your assets go as you try to move the front lines of a never-ending assault against the other two factions on a satellite view of the game’s map. The faction that has procured the most land at the end of the season will receive special in-game bonuses. You can also change your faction mid-season, but at the penalty of lost rewards at the end of the season. Surprisingly, it’s one of the more addictive features of For Honor, as it gives players a sense of actually taking part in a living, breathing conflict.
Then there are five different game modes under three different umbrellas. In Deathmatch, you’ll find the 4v4 single-life-to-live Elimination mode and the point-based Skirmish mode, where you can respawn until the opposing team reaches 1000 points (where points are awarded on a variety of factors, but killing human opponents always racks up the biggest points). Then there are the Duels, offering up 1v1 matchups and 2v2 Brawls, and which I personally recommend you start off with since they’re a great way to hone you skills. Finally, there is the 4v4 Dominion mode, which combines the point scoring of Skirmish with capturing zones like you’d see in a Domination mode for other games.
Although there are only a few maps, sections of each one are cordoned off depending on the mode you’re playing, and each map has multiple times of day available to offer some visual variety. The game is also graphically stunning as a whole; the detail of each character and the world around you is absolutely breathtaking, and makes you feel at times like you’re in a real medieval fantasy. For Honor’s customization is also something that should be lauded. While each character’s face is a given, you can change the sex of most characters (some are permanent female or male), earn ornaments, victory poses, and executions, and each character’s weapons and armor, piece by piece, can be changed out or given new paint and pattern schemes. It’s just enough personalization to make you stand out on the battlefield while making sure you still come across as your character class. Of course, it needs to be mentioned that a lot of items are locked away behind certain achievements or the game’s “steel” currency, but many of these can be bypassed by buying resources through microtransactions. This isn’t necessary, since you can easily grind for a lot of items, and most of them are cosmetic anyway, but that’s entirely up to you.
Despite the issues I’ve already laid out, when For Honor works, it works supremely well. When For Honor doesn’t work, though, it’s one of the most frustrating experiences I’ve had to date with an Ubisoft game. While the campaign was mostly issue-free, there have been tremendous connectability issues with the game since launch. In fact, part of the reason I’m so late with this review is that I tried to see if these issues would work themselves out or if we’d get a patch of some kind. Even as recent as last night, however, I was still seeing matches drop and disconnect on a regular basis—if I could even connect in the first place. As I stated at the start of the review, over the past week I’ve played and finished well over 100 matches—there was probably another 200 times, though, where the match would never connect or drop midway through.
If this weren’t bad enough, because For Honor doesn’t have dedicated servers, not only does the game suffer frequently from lag, but every time someone else drops, the entire game freezes up, as it often has to re-instance. Half the time, it is unable to, and boots the remaining players back to the multiplayer lobby. I don’t understand how, after launching so many games in a row with shoddy or broken netcode before this, Ubisoft has yet another game—one that is so multiplayer heavy in particular and has had so many betas—come out in this condition. It’s absolutely unforgivable to launch in such a sorry state, and Ubisoft should be embarrassed.
For Honor could’ve been one of the best games of this young calendar year; instead, it’s riddled with issues, particularly on the technical side, which hold it back. It might still bounce back and become the game it has the potential to be thanks to its solid gameplay core—but if you were looking for something to play right now, I’d tell you to take a wait-and-see approach with For Honor in hopes the bugs, in particular the connectivity ones, end up getting worked out.
|Publisher: Ubisoft • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 02.14.17|
An inventive premise and surprisingly deep combat system sits at the core of what could’ve been a great game—if so many technical issues didn’t surround it and detract so much from the whole of the experience.
|The Good||The inventive new combat system takes some getting used to, but rewards players who put the time in with it.|
|The Bad||A litany of technical issues and questionable decisions keeps it from reaching its fullest potential.|
|The Ugly||This is now a thing and I can’t stop watching it: For Honor—Call on Me|
|For Honor is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Ubisoft for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.|