Game Review: For Honor (Xbox One)

For Honor is a game that for all its intentions, is comprised of some really great, and some really poor design choices, however; most of its shortcomings often fade from memory after a few successful kills on the battlefield. There is just something innately satisfying when you perform one of the game’s many executions on another player, a feat that at times that can be rather difficult to pull off due to often being outnumbered or the inability to pull off a split-second block or parry. For Honor is a game that can be very frustrating one second and bone-crunchingly brilliant the next.

For Honor follows a fairly typical video game concept offering a story campaign and a few multiplayer modes; the latter of which is where you’ll spend the majority of your time. While the campaign is enjoyable and lasts around 8-10 hours, it feels like a glorified tutorial that is meant to show you the in’s and out’s of combat, its classes, and other factors needed to prep you further for multiplayer. I never felt like I was training myself in Call of Duty during its campaigns to train me for multiplayer, but at times in For Honor, that is exactly how it felt. It is also worth mentioning that the entire campaign can be played in co-op as well, which is incredibly more fun having someone at your side and watching your back.

During the campaign, you’ll play with a variety of classes from three different factions; Knights, Vikings, and Samurai. When the game was first announced, I had already made up my mind that the Samurai were going to be my favorite, boy was I wrong. After completing the campaign and watching the bland and lacking ending, I had to say that the Viking campaign was easily my favorite, followed by the Knights and then finally the Samurai. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy the Samurai campaign because it is rather good, it was the combat for the Orochi that I just couldn’t get into.

During the Beta, I played almost exclusively the Orochi and thought I had a handle on things, combat felt ok, hits felt fine, and the speed of the character was pretty slick. Maybe it was playing as the other classes throughout each of the campaigns that changed my mind, but I just wasn’t having as much fun with the Samurai. Often my attacks wouldn’t make contact, I’d throw a character back to swing my katana immediately and hit nothing but air, often setting up myself to be hit. Bosses and sub-bosses would inflict combo’s that I just couldn’t defend against, and in many areas of the map, I would be cornered with no escape from those assaults. Sure, It could be my own gaming shortcomings that didn’t allow me to enjoy the Samurai, and that may be partially true, but I didn’t find that frustration with any of the other classes, so it’s hard to say. All I know is, the Orochi didn’t give me the same experience I had in the beta and I’m puzzled as to why.

Each of the factions play host to a 3-hour campaign that will cycle through a few, but not all, of the classes each faction offers. I got rather attached to a few of the characters and enjoyed my time being entertained by these short story narratives. The premise here is simple, a warlord named Apollyon is intent on starting a war between the three factions, and does so in a variety of ways. During each of the campaigns, and even more so in the Samurai campaign, she pits leaders within each faction against each other. These attacks on each of the factions are to set in motion events that will see each faction act like “wolves” and fight each other for survival and force the sheep, those looking for peace, to be slaughtered.

You’ll select your fighter from a cast of 12 warriors, with each faction having four to choose from. These range from the well-balanced Vanguard, the slow but brutal Heavy, the fast and deadly Assassin, and finally the Hybrid, who is a long range fighter, often with a shield. While the campaign will force you down a path of trying a few of these warriors, several of them must be unlocked and are for use only in multiplayer. I found I had a better time with the game using the Vanguard classes, as I tend to not really enjoy the Heavy characters, and my lack of skill with the game made it hard to enjoy the Assassin characters as I would die far too quickly. The Raider, who is the Viking’s Vanguard, is hands down my favorite and one I plan on sticking with exclusively.

While For Honor could come across as a multiplayer arena version of a Dynasty Warriors type game, its combat is more on par with that of a fighting game than your typical hack and slash title. You’ll press and hold the left trigger on the controller to enter into your combat stance. This will allow you to move the right stick to your defensive stance. You can block left, right and above. This will counter an attack from those same directions. You can also use the right stick in combination with the right bumper and right trigger to then attack, again, in those same directions. Now, you could just bash down the attack buttons, but trust me, that doesn’t work nearly as much as you would want it to. For Honor requires you to take full advantage of this system if you don’t want to end up a bloody mess on the ground waiting for a revive from another teammate, and that’s providing you just didn’t have your head taken off.

While this system can sound a bit simple, it is anything but. You may only have access to a light or heavy attack, but there are so many other ways to have an advantage on the battlefield and it only goes to show how robust and deep this combat system can get. Each fighter has a wealth of different combo’s to pull off that can cause some major damage when they connect. The Raider, for example, has a devastating unblockable attack that has claimed many a victim in my hours and hours of multiplayer. You can counter most attacks, dodge out of the way, or stun your opponent to expose them in a crucial moment of vulnerability. You can grab onto your foe to throw them off a cliff, down a pit, or into spike walls or sections of the map that are on fire. You can also get the drop on opponents from attacking from up high, usually resulting in an instant kill. Lastly, there is Revenge mode, where you’ll have a sudden burst of strength and health to attempt to put the odds back in your favor, oh and your attacks while in this mode cannot be interrupted.

Currently, at launch, For Honor doesn’t have a vast selection of multiplayer modes, but what is here can easily keep you busy for dozens of hours. You have Duel, where you and another player face each other in a one on one battle, taking the more intimate approach to the game’s combat system. There’s Brawl, a two on two battle that is settled through a best of five series, so pick your teammate wisely. Deathmatch consists of two modes; Elimination and Skirmish. Elimination is a four on four fight that, like Brawl, is a best of five series. Skirmish, while also four on four, has you earn points to prevent the other team from respawning.

Finally, there is Dominion, where the majority of the players you’ll encounter online are hanging out in. Dominion, like a few other modes, is a four on four battle that has you fight alongside dozens of AI controlled soldiers looking to claim and hold three different bases. When you earn enough points to end the round, you prevent the other team from respawning and once they are defeated, you win.

As you kill other players and the AI soldiers, you’ll earn renown, a level-up currency that makes the game act somewhat like an MOBA. Renown is level based and unlocks customizable abilities called Feats for you to unleash depending on the level of renown you currently sit at. These feats can assist in healing, making you sprint faster or throw fire bombs and unleash a barrage of arrows at your targets.

Completing multiplayer modes will earn you a variety of currencies. One of which is War Assets. These points can be used to take over territories on the map; attacking them or setting up defenses. Every six hours will see the map update to reflect all the War Assets spent on a certain territory. This territory control will then dictate which maps are played via the various modes in the game. To create a deeper more engaging experience, there are also Rounds and Seasons. Controlling these areas on the map will then lead to rewards based on how well your faction has held them for a certain period of time. Rounds last two weeks and Seasons consist of 10. There are five rounds per season and the game offers vast rewards for your accomplishments. It is also mentioned that results of a past season will still have effects felt in the game, but as the first season has yet to end, the full result of this is currently unknown.

For Honor is a gorgeous game with detailed character models and stunning environments. Each battlezone is painfully detailed and factors like time of day and weather will vary on which faction controls that zone on the world map. I’ve seen some maps covered in snow one day and bright and sunny the next. It’s a nice touch that goes a long way to allow the game feel fresh and new, even with recycled content. Each of the 12 combatants have an insane amount of detail to them that really sets them apart from other character models in the genre. Characters have a grittiness to them, with solid texturing that compliments not only the character but their armor as well. It’s not often that a game with a large cast of characters continues to impress me each time I see them up close. Animations are solid and don’t seem to jerk or stop suddenly when changing stances or rapidly trying to block various strikes.

Most classes in For Honor can be played either as a male or female avatar, with a few exceptions here and there. You can customize them to an almost insane degree with body paints, tattoos, and countless armor combinations. You can also create a crest, which is something nearly every PVP game seems to offer now. You will earn a few rewards after each battle; War Assets, Steel, and Gear. Gear is pretty straight forward and is comprised of weapons or armor. Weapons are composed of several individual pieces and each part can have different stats within. Some parts of a weapon may build up your Revenge meter faster where other upgrades like more stamina or health regen may suit your needs better, and these stats are also part of every single armor piece as well. You’ll unlock better gear at later levels that have drastically better stats when you upgrade them and should you be tired or not want a current gear item anymore, you can break it down into a salvage currency.

Lastly, is Steel, and this is a somewhat controversial topic. Steel is used to level up your gear, purchase new items and has a few other uses. The main reason behind this controversy is the fact you can buy Steel with real money. This can appear to give the game a slight pay to win approach since gear does have stats. I did find that despite the slightly better stats the gear could give you, I mean, it still is a random drop, I never once felt I was more powerful than anyone else with my ‘paid for’ items. I bought a 6.99 pack of Steel and got maybe one useful item out of it. I’m sure that once I unlock higher tier armor and weapons that this could be a factor, but as it stands, I don’t find For Honor to be ‘pay to win’. There is also a store that you can buy really cool looking gear and frankly, that gear is drastically overpriced. I would love to see For Honor dish out at least a little more Steel after battles, as you don’t currently receive a lot, or have double Steel weekends or other events that grant more currency or drops.

I mention in the opening that For Honor is a game split between some great design choices and some poor ones. I still believe that despite the story campaign being fairly enjoyable, more could have been done to make it feel less like an 8-hour tutorial and something that truly stands on its own. The issues I have with the game may feel like I am being picky, or petty, but they are still issues I have with the game. I wish the combat was more forgiving as my skill level doesn’t really stack up there against some players as games often were one-sided with the somewhat poor matchmaking. I joined a game where the other side had players all above level 15 where I was paired with a level 2 player and 2 AI bots; we got destroyed. I’ve had server issues constantly with games dropping left and right, and then I’ll have a few hours go by with no problems whatsoever. I’ve been killed while I had connection issues, as well as chunks of my health disappearing when there wasn’t anyone around me. I’ve had framerate problems during a few matches that dropped to what seemed like ten frames per second, often resulting in my death, again.

I could also sit here and complain about my issues with the combat system, but those are mostly my own gaming shortcomings and don’t really reflect the quality of combat because frankly, it’s a brilliant system that is as deep as you want it to be. It’s a very flexible system that I’m just a bit rubbish at, currently. I hope that with some balancing and maybe a slight revamp of the Revenge system that being outnumbered can at least be retooled with some chance at survival, because at it stands, it can be rather frustrating as it happens a lot. I also wish that there was actual destruction in the environment, like barrels and boxes; neither of these can be destroyed and can lead to you being boxed in, no pun intended.

For Honor is a game that expects me to be a better player than I already am. Despite how fun the game can be, I don’t see myself really sticking with it for more than a couple more weeks. The split second nature of combat and your ability to read an incoming strike is pivotal in your enjoyment here. The characters and environments are flat out gorgeous and should Ubisoft ever make an adventure game using this lore and engine, all I can say is wow, I’d be so up for it. For Honor is fast paced, clever and brutal, and you can have a great time bashing heads in, taking over bases and pulling off a devastating execution, you know, if you don’t suck that is.

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