For Honor is an Endearing and Surprisingly Deep Brawler

Can the new IP hold its own?

for honor review
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For Honor
Available on: Xbox One, PS4, PC
Release Date: February 14th 2017
Price: $59.99/£49.99
Reviewed on: Xbox One

 

I’ll be honest, I wasn’t entirely sold on For Honor. Even though it did look pretty intriguing when it was revealed, it didn’t stand out as anoooo, I need to keep an eye on this” type title. That being said, after spending some considerable time with the game, I am happy to admit that I was very wrong for dismissing the game.

The thing that struck me about For Honor, even since it was announced back in 2015, was the sheer concept. After a natural catastrophe occurs, wiping out the stability of the world, three major forces rise. They fight and defend their lands to survive. The three factions are ‘The Legion’ (Knights), The Chosen (Samurai) and The Warborn (Vikings). The key conflict in For Honor comes from the warlord Apollyon. She believes that the Knights, Samurai and Vikings are weak. She wants to weed out the weak, leaving only the strong. To do this, she is attempting create a never-ending war, leaving only the strong to rule over the remaining weak.

This perpetual war is the setting for the game in both the single player and the multiplayer. You are a piece of the continuing war, in spite of the single player campaign.

Story

There are three major campaigns in For Honor , one for each faction. The recommended order is Knights, Vikings, Samurai, though I believe you can do it in whichever order you’d prefer. Each campaign has six missions within it, giving you  a total of 18 levels. The story begins with you as a knight, defending a keep as the Blackstone Legion bear down on it. Led by Holden Cross, one of Apollyon’s lieutenants, the keep is under siege and you must fight off the invading soldiers. By the end of this first level, you are recruited into the Blackstone Legion for defeating their champion. Such is the plight of a nameless, faceless protagonist.

for honor review

Before long, you are essentially playing as the enemy, ransacking neighboring strongholds and villages in order to increase the Blackstone’s reach. Though this is not entirely willingly, as you, playing as the Warden primarily, are trying to get some answers. At the same time, he is fighting with himself about the acts he is committing. Before long, he deserts the Blackstone Legion as he does not approve with how Apollyon is treating people.

Meanwhile, over with the vikings, there is civil war. Vikings fight among themselves for the remaining resources Apollyon has left for them. All looks lost for the vikings until the appearance of legendary fighter, the Raider, who appears and starts to unite the warring vikings. Taking on rebellious rivals, the Raider and ever-growing army of ‘Warborn’ fighters continue to succeed and grow. From strength to strength, they take back a stronghold from the Blackstone Legion and move to a stronghold held across the sea. Inhabited by samurai, the stronghold is a well defended, but bountiful, take that the Warborn fight their way through and succeed.

Flip over to the samurai campaign and we begin with the Emperor’s champion, the Orochi. He is being imprisoned at the start of the campaign, therefore unable to fight off the Warborn. Despite the conflict among the samurai, they band together to take on their common enemy, the Vikings. During this campaign they learn of Apollyon’s grand chessboard and rally to take the Blackstone Legion out as well. On their quest to storm the Blackstone fortress they come across the Warden who had fled the Blackstone. After dueling they realize that they are both working to fight Apollyon. They join forces against the Blackstone fortress. After successfully and narrowly defeating Apollyon, the hope for peace is dashed as the baser loathing of each faction turn on each other, despite the pleas of their leaders.

Meeting seven years later, peace envoys for each faction meet to tell their story of what has happened. Deciding on peace, despite its potential futility, the representatives set out to try, knowing they will most likely perish. Apollyon succeeded in her plan, war has continued, despite her death.

I liked how the campaign intersected and it made you appreciate each three’s struggles. The subtle messages that were portrayed in the opening and ending cutscenes of the single player were particularly poignant. When two were looking likely to work together, or agree to peace, a third or external stressor appeared, putting the others defenses back up. They were so close to peace.

Gameplay

Of course, a good fighter needs to have a strong and robust combat system. Given that For Honor is all about the combat, this needed to be strong or the game would just fail in its premise. Thankfully, For Honor’s combat is deep and engaging. It isn’t a hack and slash, you can’t go in and mash the buttons and hope to succeed.

for honor review

One of the best things about the combat system is that it takes patience. Regardless of the character you are playing as, you have the skills and ability to beat your opponent. There is a lot of psychology to each encounter. How patient can you be? Do you want to be on the attack or the defense? It is a game that rewards a level of reservation but also bravery. That’s not to say there aren’t some cheap tactics though.

Combat is centralized around the right analogue stick. You focus onto a target with the left trigger and the right stick dictates where your guard is. It can be in one of three locations; left, right or above. If your opponent’s guard matches your guard you have created your defense. If they attack in the same location that you are guarding, it will deflect the attack. Conversely, an attack at an unguarded location will result in damage. You are also able to parry attacks if they are at the same location. Timing is key here and when the indicator flashes red you must heavy attack (right trigger) to parry. This leaves your opponent temporarily open for attack.

You can light attack (right bumper) as well as the heavy attack. You can also ‘shove’ an opponent (X). If you are successful in break their guard this way you can then perform the move again to ‘grab’ an enemy. Here’s where some cheap tactics come in as a successful grab can result in a throw (off a cliff, ledge, into some lava). You also need to be wary of your stamina, attack and some defense moves (usually with a shield) drains your stamina. When the bar runs out you can still attack and block but you are much slower and it is recommended you guard and back up whilst allowing it to regenerate after a few seconds.

The combat works really well and I realized very quickly that I was having less success by trying to ‘rush’ an opponent. It is advised that you study the move list that is available and learn the different combos you can perform. Thankfully, there aren’t loads of combos so it never felt like you were overwhelmed. The moves are important. Mashing my attacks was resulting in me, generally, taking more damage.

Especially on the higher difficulties. I originally began on ‘realistic’ for the campaign. After making it through the first few missions I felt like I would get a better impression of the mechanics of the game on a lower difficulty. Realistic removes the HUD, meaning that attack prompts and guard locations are missing from your screen. You needed to figure it out for yourself. It also meant that any death meant the level had to be restarted from the beginning, rather than a checkpoint.  I switched to ‘hard’ and carried on. Increasing your difficulty provided you with more experience for your character, enabling you to unlock extras.

These extras included ‘feats’, special abilities that you could use to turn the tide of battle, or just survive. I found it odd that these abilities were still available in the ‘realistic’ difficulty. These abilities include increased damage, health regeneration (for you and allies) or passive abilities that improved certain attributes (such as stamina). You can also unlock a whole range of emblem pieces and steel. Steel is the game’s currency. You can use it to unlock more emblem items, customization options and new weapons and armor in multiplayer. You can also use the steel to unlock extra classes in the multiplayer.

What I really like about For Honor is the depth and variety in the different fighters. Each faction has four different classes of fighter. There are Vanguard, Heavy, Assassin and Hybrid. During the single player campaign you will get to dabble with some of these as you progress. Though you will largely play the main characters. In the multiplayer, there is a similar set up to Rainbow Six: Siege, there are a number of characters that can be unlocked using the in-game currency.

for honor review

Each fighter has their own attributes; speed, attack strength, defense ability, for example. They also have their own weapons, which also carry their own attributes. Heavy weapons, for instance, have a longer attack time but do more damage. I like that each character is different, it would have been very easy to skin four classes three different ways and leave it at that. So kudos to Ubisoft to creating 12 unique fighters in For Honor. I still get terrified whenever I encounter the Samurai heavy, his attack time is so slow I am always incorrectly estimating my parry and ending up with a face full of spiky club. But this is one of those times when I need to make sure I am being patient and taking my time.

There is an additional ability that is available in both single player and multiplayer. When you have taken too much damage (but not died) or have dealt enough damage you will be able to activate your ‘revenge’ ability. Essentially like a basic limit break, you get a health boost and a stamina boost, your attacks will also be stronger and sometimes be unblockable.

The basic combat is what you will encounter for the most part, occasionally there will be some unique scenarios. There is one level where you must fight a heavy viking whilst traversing ice on a frozen lake. The ice, cracking below you, only gives you a short time before it falls away. If you fall in it’s an instant death, the cold presumably overcoming you. I would have liked to see a few more scenarios like that, but I appreciate that it may have become gimmicky if there were a lot of set pieces like that.

Multiplayer

Providing you play online, the largest part of your time will be spent in the multiplayer of For Honor. Thankfully, there is a lot to keep you playing. The multiplayer of For Honor is an excellent set up that keeps you coming back for more.

There are three main areas of combat:

  • Deathmatch – there are two playlists here. Skirmish is  where teams fight to score 1000 points and then eliminate the remaining ‘heroes’. Points are scored by killing soldiers (AI controlled ‘minions’) and heroes (other players). Elimination is your standard fight you face off in pockets of 1v1 battles around a map, the team with remaining heroes at the end of a round wins.
  • Dominion – currently my favorite mode, essentially it is conquest from Battlefield. There are three control points on the map that teams must control to earn points. When 1000 points have been reached the team that can defeat the all of the heroes at once (they can be revived) are the winners.
  • Duel and brawl’ – the ‘classic’ brawl mode. Take on your opponent in a 1v1 face off.

Having played a fair bit of multiplayer I can say I have really enjoyed it. Each hero that you play as are individually leveled up, giving you access to increased attributes, equipment and feats. Making your character more formidable the more you play with them. This adds slight nuances to your characters making them even more unique. The more you put in, the more you’ll get out.

for honor review

In between matches you will also be able to ‘deploy war forces’. Over the course of ‘seasons’ you will be able to attack and defend territories across a global map. If you succeed in having the most territories at the end of a season you will receive ‘salvage chests’ with new items and treasures. These chests can also be purchased with steel.

My major criticisms with For Honor are in the multiplayer. A quick concern about the stability of the matchmaking and the matches themselves as I understand they have now patched the multiplayer. There were a lot of dropped connections or issues with connecting to a game. One of the most glaring problems was when a player left a match (for whatever reason it might be), it would sometimes end the game but most of the time it would resynchronize. Fine in theory, but it is incredibly jarring and you could end up on the wrong end of a spear if it isn’t in your favor.

for honor review

Other issues I had encountered with the multiplayer were long wait times to get into a game. The game auto-fills empty spaces with bot heroes to build up your teams, which is great. At least you can always get a game, in theory. The game seems temperamental when it wants to do this, as I would be sitting in a lobby with several people, but not eight people and at the end of the countdown to find a game it would just not even try to load a match as there weren’t enough players! But then in your next game you’ll be in a team full of bots against one player and another team of bots.

On top of that is the skill mix. There is a search setting that allows the game to search for people within your skill mix and it is defaulted to ‘strict’ presumably meaning that if you’re just getting started, you will only face similar levels. Another great thing in theory, except for when it can’t find a game it changes the parameters automatically and allows basically anyone to be in your game. I remember staring down a prestiged, high level player with my low-level Vanguard a number of times. Suffice it to say, it did not end well. Times like that were less enjoyable and frustrating.

Another quibble would be with the loading times. At times you would sit wondering whether the game had crashed as you waited for a match to load. This is after quite a long time spent waiting to get into games or waiting for the next match to begin. When you get into a match, however, it is really fun, unless you get overwhelmed with the number of people you have to fight. 1v1 is doable, but as soon as there’s a second player attacking you it doesn’t feel like you are able to manage and you can be quickly overwhelmed.

This is perhaps a bigger issue of the game, you switch targets using left trigger but that isn’t intuitive or natural and I found myself accidentally switching targets, unnecessarily. It is possible to block attacks from multiple enemies (hold your guard in the direction that the enemy is) though you do have to factor in your patience. I found myself panicking on occasion as I didn’t feel like I was successfully dodging attacks as when blocking it can seem like you’re getting hit. Especially if the battle is heated and there are several enemies.

Though this is a minor concern and I feel I can get better at this with extended play.

Graphics

For Honor is a delight to look at. The cutscenes in particular are gorgeous and the whole game is hugely detailed. It is a joy to watch the games cutscenes play out. As you explore the world you will come across different worlds and environments. Most of the levels are unique though a particular level comes up on three separate occasions which I found a little annoying. I understand that it will be to facilitate the story, but it felt a little cheap to re-use the same locale that many times.

for honor review

The fortresses are well designed and feel ‘traditional’, well-built and as you would expect. The villages feel like they are actually villages, rather than just one or two houses and the open plains are filled with wildlife and vegetation. Character models are excellent and are highly detailed. Each character can have a lot of customization, especially in the multiplayer and this is shown off well, bringing a great variety to looks of the warriors.

Even the low-level soldiers don’t feel half-assed. A lot of time and effort has been put into For Honor to ensure the game looks the part. Importantly the prompts for the combat mechanics are clear and never feel hard to follow. Collectibles in the game are relatively clear, though on occasion some of the ‘observation’ ones were not clear in the background that they were set.

You get a sense of the scale when you observe bigger battles and the game does not appear to be affected by a lot of action on the screen, which is of course welcome. Apollyon is indeed intimidating and her look of menace is emphasised by her armor and the fact that we never see her face. But, despite that, she never feels less human. This may be helped by the way that she narrates the campaigns and collectibles.

Sound

Apollyon is forever in your ear during the single player. She narrates the ‘brief’ between each level, painting a picture of what the factions status is. I particularly liked the way that all the ‘observable’ collectibles are done. By pressing left bumper when you see an ‘eye’ logo in the game world, you will activate a piece of lore of the world, but it is told by Apollyon, which is interesting. It extends the story and you get to see how she is constantly working to create this state of perpetual war. The other collectibles are smashable pots that hold useful items, usually steel.

The sound in the game is a mixed bag. The voice acting is done very well and they fit perfectly with the characters. Furthermore the music is dramatic and very fitting for the setting. I would note that some of the voice acting is hugely repetitive. If you are playing cautiously and patiently you will be inundated with the same voice lines from your enemies. In the boss battle at the end of the Viking campaign, this was particularly obvious.

for honor review

The weapons make satisfying and appropriate noises. There are some particularly satisfying sounds that come from a successful parry or block. I would give special note to the war cries that you will hear throughout the game. These are notably done very well and they were good to listen to just before a multiplayer match started.

Replay Value

There is plenty to keep you playing in For Honor. If you are a completionist, the achievements alone will keep you playing for a long time. As noted previously there are collectibles and there quite a large number of them. Given that many of them add to the lore of the game it is well worth seeking them out. None of them feel put in just to extend the game.

Further to that you may want to take on the challenge of completing the game on realistic once you have mastered the mechanics of the game. It will provide you with a great challenge that will really test your skills, but not at Dark Souls level.

After that, there is the multiplayer. With 12 individual heroes and several game modes there is as much there as you want to put in. Of course, those who do not play online will lose some of that replayability. Ubisoft are also planning to support For Honor’s multiplayer with a spate of free maps and modes for all players.

There is a season pass and owners of the season pass will get instant access to the six new heroes that will be added as well as six elite outfits. Though everyone will be able to purchase these characters and outfits using the in-game currency (Steel), in a similar vein to the Rainbow Six: Siege model of DLC. Though if it is anything like Siege you will need a mountain of Steel to be able to get them and maybe as well just buying them if you don’t have the time to earn all that currency.

I feel that there is a whole lot of content to enjoy in For Honor and the multiplayer has me going back for “just one more go” many a time.

Please see below for our overall score and summary of For Honor.

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Hey I’m Adam, I’m a writer and Team Leader for Real Game Media. I’ve been gaming 26 years, when my Dad simultaneously presented me with a ZX Spectrum 48k and SEGA Mega Drive. My hobbies include gaming, listening to and discovering music, going to gigs and festivals and watching awesome TV (24, Fringe, The Walking Dead etc.). Currently I play on Xbox One primarily, my PC can’t handle anything more than Theme Hospital, but I appreciate all games and gaming mediums, providing they’re fun!