Available On: PC, PS4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Released: February 14, 2017
I am perfectly aware that I do not put out reviews in the most timely manner. I don’t get advance copies of games, I don’t have a ton of free time and this isn’t my actual job. But For Honor is a game I’ve been meaning to review for a while, and I think there’s value in looking at an online multiplayer-centric game a significant ways down the line to take a look at how it’s faring, both in terms of developer support and the general health of the community.
For Honor made my “Best of 2017” list for a reason. It’s an expertly designed multiplayer action game with deep, unique gameplay, lots of content and a solid campaign to boot. So let’s take a look.
First off, is anyone still playing this game an entire year later? Yes! Quite a lot of people in fact. Despite reports that For Honor has lost a lot of players over the last year, I never had to wait more than thirty seconds to get into a game. This does come with the caveat that certain modes just aren’t as popular as others, but that’s par for the course in pretty much any online multiplayer game you’d care to name and even the “Low Activity” modes took less than a minute to connect me to a game.
Publishers do seem to be slowly cluing in to the idea that a games quality shouldn’t be judged by whether or not it outsold the latest Call of Duty game and For Honor has garnered a sizable, dedicated fanbase over the past year who fell in love with it’s brutal, highly technical and rewarding combat system.
Gameplay wise, For Honor could perhaps best be described as Dynasty Warriors by way of Dark Souls and combines intense, highly technical combat with a focus on battlefield management and territory control.
The developers did an excellent job of streamlining complex mechanics into a relatively easy to understand set of controls. Not that it’s exactly simple, but the developers try where they can to simplify what could easily have been a Microsoft Flight Simulator-esque amount of commands into a fairly intuitive layout. Once you’ve locked on to an enemy, holding the right stick up, left or right will change your fighter’s stance to face that direction, causing you to attack and block in that direction. That stance system is the cornerstone of For Honor’s unique gameplay around which the otherwise fairly normal fighting game mechanics are built.
The controls are far from perfect though, it seems a little too easy to get stun-locked to death sometimes and I really wish that navigating the communication panes was a smoother experience. When I’m desperately trying to herd the spastic suicide machines that make up my team towards a single objective, I could really do without the tasteful fade-in of the communication panes that lead to me punch the air because my controls haven’t yet switched over to communicating just because I’m holding down the communication button.
In a way, For Honor is a little like Super Smash Bros in that it’s controls have similar inputs that do wildly different things for each fighter. Pressing the Guard Break button while pulling back with the Lawbringer will stun opponents and throw them over his shoulder, but will cause the Valkyrie to fall back into a full guard and block attacks from all directions. Since multiplayer battles are limited to four on four, you won’t see all of For Honor’s twelve characters (eighteen with all the DLC) in a single match, which keeps things fresh since you’ll be fighting with and against an ever-changing assortment of fighters.
The best advice I could give to a new player would be to pick one character and get good with them before branching out to other interesting fighters; and to be mentally prepared to get completely stomped in your first few games as you learn what you’re doing.
Another good way to avoid getting annihilated right off the bat is to try the campaign first, as it affords you the chance to practice with nearly all of the games warriors against streams of A.I. opponents in a diverse series of environments.
But who cares about the campaign in a game like this right? Me. This guy. I’m the one who has to make it all the way through the single player campaign of a game before I can bring myself to dive into the multiplayer.
I think I speak for a lot of gamers when I say I’m surprised that For Honor even has a campaign considering the lack of one in most recent multiplayer focused games, much less that the campaign is actually surprisingly competent, even if much of what makes it compelling is owed to it’s unique combat system.
Though you play as a multitude of different warriors throughout the campaign, the overarching story follows Apollyon, a warlord of nearly supernatural fighting skill, as she attempts to incite war between and within the three primary factions in the world. Though you never actually play as Apollyon directly, you do interact with her several times and her presence is felt throughout the entire campaign.
It’s here that For Honor actually comes dangerously close to telling an interesting story, because Apollyon’s motivation isn’t revenge or world domination, but an attempt to strengthen humanity in a brutal, unforgiving world. Villains doing bad things for fundamentally good reasons can make for some of the most interesting stories ever told, but For Honor never explores Apollyon’s character beyond her basic motivations, leaving her little more than a Saturday morning cartoon villain.
The fact that I started mentally referring to Apollyon as “Polly” probably didn’t do the story any favors, but it also would have been nice if any of the characters took their bloody helmets off once in a while so the story seemed like more than unusually articulate ten year olds bashing action figures together.
Despite the throwaway story, the campaign is actually exceedingly competent from a gameplay standpoint, with properly structured, linear levels for players to fight through. The ability to play through the campaign in online co-op is also a nice touch. While most levels aren’t very long, several pit you against multiple enemies at once and can be pretty difficult to make it through in one piece. If anything, I actually died less after I switched to hard mode since I was forced to start taking the enemy seriously.
While I would suggest that anyone who gets easily frustrated by losing streaks should steer clear of any multiplayer-only game, that recommendation goes double with For Honor for two reasons.
First, I don’t think I’ve ever played a game in which success or failure hinged more on your ability to act as a team. While it’s sometimes possible to carry your team in games like Overwatch, combat in For Honor is a little more realistic, insofar as a greater number of warriors will beat a smaller number of warriors almost every time. The few times I made it out of an outnumbered fight alive, I did so by using the environment to my advantage and by maneuvering myself so that I was only engaging a single opponent at once; if for only for a couple of seconds at a time.
Running off for a second to capture an undefended point or chase down a wounded, fleeing enemy is one thing, but if you constantly run ahead of your team, not only will you get consistently hacked to bits, but you’ll quickly learn that one person may not be able to carry a team, but they can easily drag an entire team down.
Second, For Honor is entirely skill-based. The precise controls mean that lucky hits or unintentional attack combos are much more infrequent in For Honor than in other competitive games; even other fighting games. Since For Honor’s combat is so nuanced, new players should probably be prepared to get pounded into the dirt in their first few matches. But with defeat comes knowledge and it shouldn’t be too long before you’re learning to block and dodge attacks, learning when to run and when to fight, learning that “Unblockable” doesn’t mean “Uninterruptable” and perhaps most importantly, learning not to fight with your back to a pit whenever possible.
Unfortunately, For Honor is at the end of the day a Ubisoft game which means that it’s contractually obliged to include at least one feature that makes me shed manly, bacon-scented tears of frustration. In this case, the inclusion of microtransactions and loot boxes in a game they absolutely don’t belong in. That being said, For Honor has probably the least intrusive microtransactions I’ve yet seen in a AAA game. That doesn’t excuse their presence, but it’s worth noting that you’ll never be pressured into spending money, and you won’t see them unless you’re specifically seeking them out.
Everything you can get in a scavenger crate, For Honor’s loot box equivalent, you can also get from just playing the game, just slightly more of it. This significant difference separates For Honor in my eyes from Overwatch or Star Wars: Battlefront 2, because you’ll get a reward nearly every match. Smaller crates can be opened for in-game currency whenever you feel like rolling the dice on some new items, and any gear you don’t want can be broken down to upgrade gear that you do, so even items you don’t want can still be of use.
Finally and crucially, you can’t buy scavenger crates. The only way to get them is by participating in special event matches and the Faction War meta game between rounds, where players vie for control of a Risk-style map and get rewards at the end of each round based on how much territory they control.
You get enough Steel (For Honor’s in-game currency) by just playing the game that I never once felt like I was being railroaded into spending real money in the game, and you can even use Steel to unlock each of For Honors six DLC fighters. Yes, the cost of DLC fighters in Steel is astronomical, but I have to give the game a nod for it at least being an option.
Once again, none of this is meant to excuse the presence of microtransactions in For Honor, but rather to point out that anyone who avoided Star Wars Battlefront 2 because of its aggressive and game-breaking microtransactions shouldn’t worry about For Honor for the same reasons. A lot of recent multiplayer-only games use loot boxes as a disingenuous lure to keep players coming back to them when that effort could be better spent making the game good enough that people want to keep playing it, and that’s what For Honor does differently.
For Honor has seen an impressive amount of support from Ubisoft over the past year, adding new maps, games modes, gear and new fighters to the game with each season. Starting today with For Honor’s fifth season comes new gear, the ability to upgrade gear beyond it’s normal limits and a number of balance changes to several fighters. Best of all perhaps, is the addition of dedicated servers to For Honor. Having a random players system host the game is all well and good, but when xXDire_Wolf420Xx runs into my spear one too many times and rage quits, he seems to have a significant chance of taking the entire game with him. Even when that doesn’t happen, players leaving or being disconnected can lead to several interruptions in gameplay as For Honor shuffles through the remaining players, trying to find the best one to migrate the game to.
The one downside to this is that when Ubisoft eventually decides to shut down those dedicated servers, it’s game over, man. Online games without dedicated servers only require people playing them to run. I could boot up Quake 3 Arena right now and ID Software hasn’t thought about that game since the earth cooled, but anyone who wants to try out Motorstorm’s online multiplayer is out of luck.
If you do plan on picking up For Honor at this point, I might recommend waiting for the “Gold Edition” to go on sale and grabbing it then. The Gold Edition includes the game’s season pass (ie. all of the characters) as well as a few other small bonuses.
For Honor is probably the best multiplayer focused game since Titanfall 2. Are there things I wish it did better or differently? Sure, but nearly everything it does, it does right. So if you’re unsure about grabbing For Honor this far down the line, it’s not too late. For Honor still has plenty of life in it and only looks to be improving as time goes on.
Time To Complete: 15 Hours (Campaign)
Best Advice: Group Up, For God’s Sake, Please Group Up
Also Try: Overwatch, Titanfall 2, Deadliest Warrior: Legends, Infinity Blade 2