Hack and slash your way through a gritty medieval battlefield.
PC Release: February 14, 2017
By Ian Coppock
It’ll come as a complete shock, but most geeks are drawn to the medieval period by the arms and armaments. What a plot twist, huh? Who’d have guessed that the notion of dudes killing each other with swords is more interesting than herding sheep or researching crop rotation. The politics can be interesting, to be fair, but how often are matters settled at the negotiating table instead of by the sword? Settling disputes with swords is what drives everyone from toddlers wearing cardboard armor to the choreographers on Game of Thrones. It’s also what drove the development of For Honor, Ubisoft’s new slashing epic and the subject of this evening’s review.
For Honor is a third-person medieval hack’n’slasher developed by Ubisoft’s Montreal studio, who developed such hits as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and such non-hits as Assassin’s Creed Unity. The game was widely anticipated following its first unveiling and represents new territory for Ubisoft. Indeed, the studio has committed the rarest of triple-A gaming stunts by being willing to both foray into a new genre and even develop a new IP! Who knew that experimentation with new stories and the willingness to take risks were still alive in the big-budget industry?
Anyway, For Honor is set in a fictional medieval world that puts the cultures of heroic knights, bloodthirsty Vikings, and vicious samurai in very close proximity with each other. What could possibly go wrong with that arrangement? Well, quite a bit. As the game’s prologue explains, the world of For Honor is torn apart by constant conflict. It’s kind of a given that three highly militaristic cultures placed across narrow seas from each other would break out into fisticuffs every so often, but that idea of ceaseless warfare is the central motif of For Honor. It certainly translates into more literal multiplayer action.
For Honor is a class-based game that focuses heavily on multiplayer battles. Each of the game’s three civilizations has its army broken up into four classes, varying from lightweight assassins like the Knights’ Peacekeeper to the Samurai’s ultra-heavy Shugoki infantry. Each class’s weapons and armor correspond roughly to a lightweight-heavyweight scale, though some warriors, like the Kensei, are somewhat specialized. The variety this system affords is somewhat hamstrung by most of the classes being functionally identical across multiple civilizations. The Vikings’ Raider and the Knights’ Lawbringer, for example, have roughly the same heavy-weapon gameplay.
For Honor‘s combat is doled out through the Art of Battle, a melee system that combines the Free-Flow combat system from the Batman: Arkham series with some of the free-hitting freedom in Chivalry: Medieval Warfare. Using their mouse, players can control the direction that their warrior defends attacks from, choosing either flank or above the head. Likewise, attackers use this tri-directional system to attack their opponent. It should go without saying, but if an attacker hits the same side their opponent is defending against, the strike is blocked. Attackers can pick between light or heavy swings and can employ some good ole button combos for unique and powerful attacks.
Though the Art of Battle is a neat little system that simplifies the complexities of sword fighting pretty well, the system is essentially a game of rock paper scissors. Hitting where the opponent is not facing and vice-versa gets stale alarmingly quickly. Even throwing in the game’s admittedly fluid dodge system does little to alleviate the tedium. It’s unfortunate, but For Honor‘s hedged combat system feels underwhelming after a few hours in the game. That’s a bit of a problem for a game that billed itself as a melee slasher.
As with many multiplayer games, players can advance themselves over a career of fighting in the field. Experience is gained from killing enemies and capturing objectives, and then spent on new duds, perks and items. For Honor‘s customization isn’t exactly a deal-un-breaker after its so-so combat, but it is impressively deep. Players can pick all sorts of clothing for their character and design their own insignia (about 90% of which are penises, but let’s be fair, that’s par for the course in the Internet age).
After kitting out their character with the appropriate weapons and phallic regalia, players can take to the battlefield in For Honor‘s persistent war zones. The game is set up as a series of battlefronts, where the three factions duke it out for control of the land. Ubisoft has instituted a season system for this setup, meaning that at the end of one season, the lines will be drawn to reflect how each faction did, and that will serve as the basis for the next season. It’s cool that each season leaves a permanent mark on subsequent matches.
Players can pick any of these battles to engage in. They can also pick whichever character they want even if that character’s civ isn’t represented in the coming battle, so players can still be a Samurai in a Knight-Viking match. For Honor gives players a wide range of modes, from a full-scale battle to the more intimate setting of a one-on-one duel. Each mode impacts the wider battlefront no matter the scale of conflict, which is a nice touch.
Although For Honor‘s duels and four-versus-four skirmishes are fun, Dominion mode is where the game really comes alive. This mode puts a squad of four players at the head of hundreds of NPC troops. If ever there was a game for fulfilling that fantasy of charging into battle at the head of an army, For Honor is it. In Dominion, players have to seize as much territory in a full-scale battlefield as possible, pushing back against enemy forces while also watching out for enemy players. For Honor‘s gameplay can get stale, but the scale and ferocity of these matches goes a long way toward prolonging that staleness.
All of the fun to be had in For Honor comes with one small caveat: overcoming the game’s numerous server issues. As of the first few days of launch, For Honor has an unfortunate tendency to somehow not find Ubisoft’s servers, leaving many players stranded without a match or being able to even access the game. For Honor is able to almost always hold at 60 fps and has an in-depth options menu to help players having performance issues, but the constant server errors are embarrassing coming from a major developer. Ubisoft has pledged fixes, and has learned its lesson on delaying those after Assassin’s Creed Unity, but players itching to buy this game immediately should be aware of this problem.
As previously mentioned, though, For Honor runs well when a server can be found. Expect a bit of a frame drop when the screen is packed with warriors, but For Honor can chug some of the biggest matches and still present everything at a great visual fidelity. It’s nice to see that Ubisoft is taking its PC ports seriously; sure, For Honor hasn’t been without some performance complaints, but this ain’t no Unity. It and other recent successful PC ports, like Watch Dogs 2, point to Ubisoft actually receiving and implementing feedback from customers. Ya done good, Ubisoft. Ya done good.
Anyway, to return to visual fidelity for a moment, For Honor also looks great. The environments are richly detailed with sharp textures and bright colors. Character animations are silky smooth (lag errors don’t count) and the battlefield environments are a sight to behold. Great flaming castles and Japanese swamp temples add that compelling element to For Honor that its gameplay fumbles a bit. From the color of characters’ armor to the breadth and depth of the environments, players won’t be hurting for things to look at in this game. For Honor‘s decent sound design also helps — the roar of a player’s army and the sickening crunch of blade against head are tremendously satisfying.
For Honor‘s multiplayer experience isn’t groundbreaking, but damn if it isn’t fun to crest a column of troops and jump in ax swinging. The game has another mode that was little marketed and no one really asked for: a painfully obligatory Story Mode that tries to add some lore and color to Ubisoft’s epic new world. Again, this was a mode that few For Honor players asked for, and one that Ubisoft developed with a comparable level of disinterest.
Story Mode is split into three short campaigns that each follow the game’s three civilizations. Players are given a cadre of shallow, forgettable characters that each correspond to that civ’s classes, rounded out with some painfully awkward dialogue and forced (really, really forced) attempts at humor. Basically, the three factions are manipulated into fighting each other by an evil warlord named Apollyon, who believes mankind is at its best when people are… always… fighting? That’s literally the plot’s driving force. For Honor‘s Story Mode isn’t the worst big-budget narrative ever penned, and its missions can be fun, but do not buy this game for its “story.”
Even though For Honor doesn’t reinvent the wheel or hit every note with its gameplay and as-yet-unfixed server errors, the game is still quite absorbing. It scratches that epic fantasy itch of leading an army into battle and killing everything in sight with a big sword. Despite its flaws, it largely succeeds in presenting the aforementioned motif of persistent combat. Hopefully Ubisoft rounds out its world with more lore to make it more compelling to fight for, but the Dominion matches are quite compelling on their own. Pick the game up and lead an army into battle. Maybe don’t draw a dick as the battle sigil though…
…Oh who am I kidding.
You can buy For Honor here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.