For a publisher often harangued for its similar feeling open world games and receding originality, Ubisoft has certainly taken a punt with For Honor. Dropped right in the centre of the first busy launch period of 2017, it’s a completely fresh take on the multiplayer action genre that will take many by surprise. At the same time there’s a sense of familiarity; Ubisoft Montreal has built a collage here, cherry picking a variety of elements across the gaming spectrum. The end result is far from perfect, but establishes a strong foundation for the developer to work upon.
Set in brutal fantasy world that romanticizes history’s greatest warriors, players are thrown headfirst into a three-way conflict. Knights, Vikings, and Samurai continually wage war in a never-ending battle for supremacy, where legacies are written in blood. With its fantastic imagery and designs, For Honor succeeds in immersing you in a world of constant strife and heroic fighters. There isn’t much depth to it, however, which can be seen as a double-edged sword. On one hand, players aren’t constantly wading through laborious exposition, yet there are those who love to sink their teeth into a game’s lore will be left wanting.
Story Mode is where most will begin their foray into what can be a surprisingly complex and punishing multiplayer game. With three chapters and eighteen missions, the campaign serves as an extended tutorial, allowing you to refine your combat skills before seeking out human opponents. It does a pretty good job of covering the basics though advanced tips and tricks are off the table.
While some missions are effectively arenas full of bots, there is the occasional set piece with cutscenes used to fill the gaps. The dialogue between characters is pretty awful, though Apollyon (warlord of the Blackstone Legion) passes as a decent narrator. With collectibles to find and skills to unlock, the campaign has an unexpected amount of replay value, but isn’t For Honor’s main focus. Most of your time will be spent online, testing your mettle against other warriors from around the world.
One-on-one combat is the game’s bread and butter, forming the backbone to which everything else latches onto. Imagine a fighting game like Tekken or Mortal Kombat, but with full three-dimensional movement. Though few will remember it, the original Bushido Blade is highly comparable, though there are also parallels with the Souls games and, more recently, Nioh.
When bearing down on an opponent, a three-sided icon will appear in the game’s UI, denoting their stance (either up, left, or right). If the active part of the icon is white then they are currently guarding in that direction, changing to red when they attack. Being able to react and outsmart your enemy is the very essence of combat. Through a combination of attacks, blocks, dodges, parries, and stuns, you’ll whittle down their health while expending stamina.
Each of the game’s twelve current heroes have their own particular quirks, adding an impressive amount of depth to this system. The Nobushi, for example, excels in evading her quarry while poking them with poisonous attacks. Meanwhile, heroes such as the Warlord and Conqueror, can create a shield wall, blocking all incoming attacks. Over time you’ll begin to learn their various combos and powers as you would with, say, Ken and Ryu from Street Fighter. The fighting game comparison is certainly justified.
Duels show For Honor at its purest. As soon as more players are thrown into the mix, things get a little messier. In situations where you are facing two or more warriors, the Revenge mechanic quickly comes into play. Repel them for long enough and you’ll be able to enter an empowered state, helping to level the playing field somewhat. It’s a smart mechanic on paper but does little to nullify the way you can outnumber enemies in For Honor’s larger eight-player matches. A group of four can easily roam the map, ambushing players one by one. The time it takes to respawn means that these hunting parties are often free to single out their opponents unchallenged. Getting kettled by the other team is akin to finding yourself in a human pinball machine, being bounced around until one of your attackers delivers the final blow.
At its worst, For Honor can be massively frustrating, though communication, teamwork, and a bit of luck can get you out of just any situation. It’s one of those games that can leave you seething after a crushing defeat or jubilant upon a hard-fought victory.
With four game modes at launch, only one of these is objective-based. Domination is your typical landgrab affair as two teams of four battle over three control points. Despite being the scrappiest way of playing For Honor, this will no doubt be the most popular as it allows you to get stuck in for an entire battle instead of sparring for a few rounds.
Experience earned from matches will unlock new cosmetics for each hero (they all level up independently). Loot can also be scavenged, equipped, and upgraded to yield small stat bonus such as throw distance and debuff duration. Overall, there’s a decent amount of customisation that Ubisoft has promised to expand upon in future.
Alongside eight additional warriors, the studio plans to release free maps while continuing to update For Honor’s Faction War. This cross-platform meta game allows players to distribute points won in battle, helping their chosen side in the constant battle over territory. Every six hours the world map continues to change as frontlines are pushed and certain landmarks change colour. It’s a fun distraction at first, but ultimately adds little of consequence until until Ubisoft rolls out one of its upcoming events.
For Honor joins Rainbow Six Siege, Overwatch, and Destiny, as a game that is destined to grow over time. Right now it offers a strong core experience, but will ultimately be defined by months of rebalancing and a steady flow of new content. Having such a long tail will make For Honor even more enticing further down the line as it continues to snowball. That said, it’s refreshing and addictive enough at present to lure in anyone looking for a multiplayer game that defies the norm.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4