“For Honor” is Ubisoft’s next surprising push into the competetive online scene – a scene so often dominated by first person shooters and little else.
After watching Rainbow Six Seige (review here), itself yet another FPS, evolve into something genuinely unique and enjoyable over the last year and a half, I was eager to see what Ubisoft could bring to a different genre entirely. Trading guns for axes, swords and katana, For Honor pits staple warriors from the past against each other in a battle royale, resulting in a punchy, and suprisingly cohesive, title.
Vikings, Samurai and Knights. These are your choices as you make your way into For Honor’s multiplayer lobbies. It’s a great selection that I hope we’ll see expanded on as the year goes on, but for now there’s plenty here to get to grips with. Each clan has a few different classes of fighters – I personally loved the Viking’s Berserker class, a whirlwind of twin axes and effective dodges. Once you’ve suited up, you can make your way into a one on on battle – terrifying, by the way – two on two or a proper four vs four ‘domination’ match, where you vie for objectives as well as the blood of your enemies.
The combat is weighty and visceral; swinging a heavy axe through the air felt legitametly cumbersome, but powerful. Stance shifting is the most important mechanic to get to grips with, but its simple enough for anyone to pick up almost instantly. You can shift your weapon to the left, right and overhead, and your placement determines what side you’ll attack from – and also block. If an enemy swings at you from above, as long as you’re in the corresponding stance (or switch to it quick enough, which is incredibly satisfying when executed correctly) you’ll block, and can perhaps initiate a counter attack.
Whilst this works well on paper, I often found the results to be a strange stalemate. If I was blocking high and attacked back, the enemy would, of course, block my own assault because of their own corresponding stance. There’s not enough delay between an enemy’s attacks to switch your stance and get in a counter attack that will hopefully stop their combo from connecting, and whenever I tried this I found myself at the pointy end of a weapon, and pretty soon after that, a humiliating defeat. Now, it’s entirely possible there are wrinkles and mechanics to help turn fights in your favour that I simply haven’t picked up on, but I was on a pretty hot losing streak whenever I duelled with another player.
Aside from a couple of victories I’ve put entirely down to luck, my one on one matches never went my way. My overthinking got me killed time and time again – even the bots that pick up if a player drops out kicked my ass repeatedly, which definitely makes me think I’m doing something wrong, but I’m not sure there’s quite enough depth for me to play how I want to. Instead, I think I need to simplify my approach and swing mercilessly at my opponent.
The beta is a little rough around the edges, and missing some vital ingredients I believe the full package is going to offer, but as a show of Ubisoft’s vision, its a compelling experience. After a few standard tutorial missions to get you used to For Honor’s unique brand of combat, a video plays explaining how seasonal play is going to work. It was at this point I really sat up and paid attention.
For Honor is going to boast a pretty robust single player mode, but it’s in the deep multiplayer suite Ubisoft have outlined here that the game will ensure it stays in player’s systems for a long time to come. You can ally with any of the game’s three factions and essentially pledge all future victories to them. As your group wins more and more matches on a global scale, the battlefields you enter will be adorned in appropriate décor to show your team has started claiming territory. Admittedly the one screenshot showing a side by side comparison of the way a battlefield will look depending on who’s controlling the state was ridiculously shallow (a single Viking monument on a wall was replaced by a leering Yokai mask from the Samurai’s vanity chest) but I think we’ll see the differences on a much larger scale in the game proper.
What’s strange is that you can ally with a faction but you don’t neccesarily have to play as them. This is great for people who don’t want to be boxed in by a choice they make early on, and can mess around with all classes whenever they want, but it makes the Faction Wars meta game entirely inconsequential.
In similar games that have employed this overarching war – the first I can think of is Mortal Kombat X – players will simply join the winning team so they can reap the rewards at the end of the season (in this case, special gear and extra experience). If player’s aren’t locked in to fighting as their chosen clan, there’s no reason not to do this, and it’s a vicious circle that usually sees one faction dominating the others by a landslide, and that’s not fun for anyone – even the winners.
If Ubisoft instead made the faction wars only pertain to a special ‘ranked mode’ of online play, and locked players into their chosen faction (thereby adding some much needed weight to the otherwise abitrary decision), this could help mix things up and see a fairer spread of power. But as it stands, I can’t help but see at least the first few seasons going to waste.
Overall I’ve had a blast with my time in For Honor, despite some concerns I’ve mentioned above. It’s a beautiful and weighty experience, and promises to provide a meaty alternative to people who want to throw down online but don’t really care for first person shooters. There’s a hell of an interesting meta game that could be tweaked to perfection, and some intersting mechanics that only time will tell if they succeed or not.
Regardless, I’m going to head back out there and claim a couple of extra skulls for my clan. See you on the battlefield.
We received a few XB1 codes for the closed beta of For Honor. The closed beta runs until January 29th. If you fancy a code, just follow us on our Twitter account (xGamerKnightsx) and retweet our Closed Beta Impressions Beta!