I’ve gotta be honest here, my first hands at E3 in 2016 didn’t leave me overcome with joy. A medieval game where combat relies heavily on getting your stance right and timing your attacks just didn’t suit my gameplay style well. In fact during that hands on time and much to the dismay of the developer watching my pathetic skills I actually stopped playing and told him I thought it was too hard for this so called gaming journalist, the poor guy was probably wondering how I could even give myself such a title. After pumping plenty of hours into the final release though that initial experience with the demo vs my experience with the finished product is worlds apart. For honor rewards time spent learning the intricacies of the game and given time turns into a refreshing third person action combat game.
The story mode in For Honor is pretty decent but is basically a large scale tutorial. There are three stories to work your way through, one for each class of combatant you will find in the game, Knight, Viking & Samurai. They aren’t particularly long to work get through and whilst you can enter the multiplayer arena without needing to complete the story it is a good way to get a light introduction to each class and familiarise yourself with their unique styles against an AI that is relatively easy to defeat save for a few bosses that will offer more of a challenge which is basically a way of confirming the skills you have come to learn. I wasn’t expecting much out of this story but came away pleasantly surprised, it isn’t going to blow your mind but by the same token it isn’t terrible either. Really it’s just a good old fashioned tale of those bloody Knights looking to cause chaos among the land and the warriors that fight back against them.
It isn’t essential that you complete the Story before proceeding to Multiplayer but I’d highly recommend it in order to set yourself up for success when you enter online play. You can learn on the fly but taking that time to familiarise yourself with the uniqueness of the control scheme in a more structured and predictable environment just makes the transition from single player to multiplayer easier.
What makes For Honor challenging is that the gameplay is not like many games you are likely to have played. The enemies you face can be broken down into two categories, Soldiers and the class Champions (that title isn’t quite right but I think it fits the medieval theme well). Soldiers are your basic cannon fodder style AI, there are lots of them and all you have to do is push your attack buttons and they will die with a single hit. They have little purpose other than to pad out the environments and get easy kills. You can’t block or make any real use of your moves. Taking on the Champions however is a different story altogether, be it human controlled or AI controlled these are the enemies you’ll face that require full use of your skillset. Blocking, dodging, countering, pushing and of course attacking are all required. Whether you’re on combat attack or defense your stance is the most important part of the fight and it takes some getting used to. Fighting in medieval times was vastly different to today, you can’t just swing wildy and hope to succeed. If you do try that method (and trust me I’ve tried it plenty of times) you will die quickly and become incredibly frustrated. When you engage you can see your opponents stance so make sure you are replicating that stance if you want to successfully block or counter. Similarly if you want to attack then you need to get yourself into a stance that your opponent isn’t in so that you can get through their defenses. It takes some practice and the encounters are at a slower pace than what you’d usually find in a game but it creates an intimacy to the battle. A real battle of wills and strangely enough is quite beautiful to watch and be a part of. Be warned though you need to be very purposeful when going between stances, by that I mean make sure you move the analogue stick across to the other stance in a straight movement as opposed to rolling it around the outside. I found if I tried the later it often kept me in my old stance.
Keep those main points in mind and you will handle yourself very well in Single Player and adequately in Multiplayer. Multiplayer is for the most part a fantastic experience of close combat that is the ultimate test of skill. Most modes you’re familiar with from other games are here but given the medieval spin. You start by choosing whether you want to fight for the Knights, Vikings or Samurai. Don’t worry though this just sets which faction you are a part of and regardless of which you choose you’ll be able to choose to play as any of the classes. It is a little bizarre but does mean that you aren’t locked in to a class of fighter that doesn’t end up matching your style but still lets your victories and defeats go to that faction. This faction system is what makes multiplayer great, it doesn’t matter whether you are in deathmatch, domination, a duel or any mode for that matter, every victory and defeat matters. That’s right people EVERY match matters and is part of a bigger game. The faction war going on across the multiplayer world means that success will give you War Assets that you can deploy across the map. Every day the map is changing as the factions fight for dominance. You’ll need to defend land you’ve captured and attack for new control on the map. At the end of a 10 week cycle the “season” ends and the rewards will be handed out based on how well your faction did. The system then resets, everyone goes back even Steven and it starts all over again. I find myself invested in every battle I want to win because I want my faction to win and that is what keeps me coming back.
For all the great things For Honor has to offer there are a couple of let downs particularly in Multplayer. The first being it can take an age to find a match, Matchmaking starts by looking for games in your region and similiar skill level and then works its way out until it finds a game. Even playing match type that says it has very high activity I’ve waited over 3 minutes to get a game and even them had times where I am kicked out and have to start again. Once in a game that is where things get interesting, teamwork is a must so if you get paired with players that run off and do their own thing prepare to die a lot even if your skills are excellent. You’ll find yourself taking on multiple player controlled enemies and 2 or 3 on one is VERY hard to win. Finally the able to knock players out of their stance is all too easy and appears to be the most overpowered skill in the game. I’ve come up against players who use that move almost exclusively and it is incredibly effective, no matter how much you block you’ll be knocked out of your stance and become easy prey. That to me takes the fun and beauty out of the fight.
For Honor is a bold game from Ubisoft. By going medieval gameplay is quite unique and takes some getting used to. The system is simple enough so that everyone can have fun yet has plenty of depth to allow players to advance their skills and apply more complex movesets. The Faction system working with war assets is a fantastic way to keep players interested even in the more tedious multiplayer rounds (and you will get them) where you are utterly destroyed. For a game that slows down combat and forces players out of the tradtional third person combat comfort zone, For Honor does remarkably well.