For Honor — Ubisoft’s forthcoming action, hack-and-slash, multiplatform title — puts you in the armor of ancient, legendary warriors: Knights, Samurai, and Vikings. With several multiplayer betas between its original announcement nearly two years ago and its release in February — and me never getting into a single beta until the final one, thanks to a code provided by a fellow staff member — I’ve gotten the chance to get much needed hands-on experience with the game and its lauded “Art of Battle,” as pitched by the game’s director, Jason VandenBerghe. As the one in charge of the review, and with its imminent release, I want to briefly talk about what it does right and some of my concerns. So, let’s discuss honor in For Honor.
For The Unhonorable
First and foremost, let’s talk about what I like.
The “Art of Battle” is an interesting idea. To really understand the way this combat system feels you have to play it for yourself, but let me see if I can succinctly explain it. The left stick controls your character movement while the right stick controls your weapon’s position when in guard mode (the left bumper — L2 or LT). The right shoulder button (R1 or RB) is your light attack while the right bumper (R2 or RT) is your heavy attack. You can attack outside of guard mode, but you’ll wildly flail your weapon at the air unless you’re attacking grunts. When encountering a hero character — controlled by either AI or other players — it’s intended to use guard mode. In such encounters the position of your weapon (up, left, or right) determines where you’ll block and swing; thus, if your weapon is in the right position but your enemy attacks in the left position, you’ll get hit unless you move your weapon to the left position in time to block. (There’s an indicator on your enemy a la the Arkham series to alert you of the position of your enemy’s swing.) This battle system truly feels as if you’re one of the warriors, dueling against another equally skilled, equally bloodthirsty opponent. It is satisfying to do a combo attack, parry for a devastating counter, then execute the enemy upon landing a heavy blow. And though the “Art of Battle” takes a few tries to fully grasp — after dying again and again and again — you’ll quickly pick it up, which is impressive for such a complex and intricate battle system.
There were only nine playable heroes available during this final closed beta, three in each of the three factions. The Orochi — a Samurai assassin clad in light armor and wielding a katana — is primarily a fast and light death dealer, quickly dispatching enemies, and getting out of the throes of battle before being cut down due. The Orochi has their own playstyle, their own skills, moves, and abilities. By contrast, the Conquerer — decked out in heavy armor with a shield in one hand and a flail in the other — is towering and pseudo-impenetrable, capable of withstanding a barrage of attacks but easily overrun if engaged by enough quicker enemies. As you might expect, what you learned while playing the Orochi does not transfer to the Conquerer and vice versa. These idiosyncrasies allow you to determine which hero fits your playstyle the best. For Honor can be seen as a game of rock-paper-scissors, so it’s fun to see who picks which hero and how they counter each other. (If you know me then you know I played the Orochi exclusively, occasionally picking up the Kensei here and there.)
Lastly, the maps and modes are fun and challenging. There were only three modes with a handful of maps available during this final closed beta. Duel (both in 1v1 and 2v2) is a blast, albeit disappointing if paired with someone who’s still learning the ropes of the game. Nevertheless, Duel is the true test of temperament, aptitude, and patience. Bouts are best three out of five and are visceral, tense moments of clashing metal with a hunger to see the other’s blood splattered across the field. Dominion, on the other hand, is a capture-the-point, 4v4 battle across a sprawling battleground. There are three points that must be captured and the objective is for one of the two teams to reach 1000 points in order to enter Breaking. The Breaking team wins when they kill all of the members of the opposing team. These battles can be five or 20 minutes, depending on the skill and understanding of the players on your team. Each map is varied, with different capture points, high grounds, tight areas, and open sections, all of which change up how duels play out.
And, of course, we hit the other end of the spectrum. Let’s talk about what I’m concerned about.
Firstly, my experience was marred by technical issues both in terms of glitches and unstable connectivity. There were moments when my character wouldn’t load into a match or the ground would suddenly disappear, prompting me to fall to an unceremonious death. Additionally, there were a plethora of times when I couldn’t connect to a match or was booted from matches because of connection issues. While this is a beta and connection issues are to be expected, Ubisoft has had multiple betas that should’ve given them the time to iron out their connection problems. Furthermore, glitches in a beta seem a bit strange, especially with the amount of time this game has been in development. With the game coming out so soon, I’m concerned about For Honor‘s technical prowess re: glitches and matchmaking connection. Let’s not have another Assassin’s Creed Unity, Ubisoft.
Secondly, Ubisoft should’ve titled it For Unhonor: no one is honorable in this game, particularly when playing Dominion and 2v2 Duel. Perhaps that is expected, but when another player and I establish a 1v1, someone else had to be a dickhead and ruin the duel. (I guess that’s what Duel is for, huh?) Getting ganged up on is exasperating as sprinting away is too cumbersome because of the methodical roll your character does. Sure, you can enter Revenge, which makes your attacks unblockable and increases your defense, but even that doesn’t save you from the onslaught of attacks coming your way. You may live to tell the tale of a 1v2, but a 1v3 (or worse, a 1v4) spells immediate doom. I hope Ubisoft either makes escaping easier or reworks the quick chat feature to give it more priority when calling for help.
Finally, this isn’t so much a concern as a general complaint, but some heroes are totally broken with some players incessantly spamming heavy attacks. Whenever someone picks the Raider, you can expect a charge or a barrage of heavy attacks. When someone picks the Conquerer, you can expect a flurry of heavy attacks. When someone picks the Nobushi, you can expect an onrush of stabs and pokes. During Dominion, it isn’t about the temperament, aptitude, and patience I aforementioned, no. Dominion is about attack, attack, attack, and attack some more. It’s all about overwhelming your opponent with enough attacks so you can chop their head off — rinse and repeat. To add insult to injury, most players I encountered didn’t give a damn about the objective of Dominion, favoring K/D over completing the objective.
For Honor feels impressive. The combat is rock-paper-scissors personified and it plays out exceptionally well. “The Art of Battle” is a complex system that takes a bit of real-time practice to understand; there are a few mechanisms, moves, and button combinations in place that will test the mettle of players. In a way, For Honor feels like a fighting game akin to Street Fighter or Tekken. Sure, players can button mash to victory, but there also seems to be a meta level of play, where skilled players that go up against each other put on an extravagant show. Unfortunately, as with fighting games, the mechanics of For Honor are a bit cumbersome because of the multiple components necessary to engage in battle. As aforementioned, familiarity with “The Art of Battle” comes quickly enough, but there are some that may never truly master the combat of For Honor. Because of this pseudo-steep learning curve, it’ll be interesting to see how Ubisoft handles players’ skill levels, and how much of an influence gear and hero customization will affect matchmaking. This is where my greatest concern lies: how will Ubisoft regulate player skill level so those who are exceptionally skilled go against others who are exceptionally skilled, and those who are still learning go up against others who are still learning. We don’t want something like Marvel vs. Capcom 3 (or Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, depending on which one you played), where Capcom didn’t do a good enough job at separating the pros from the amateurs. This separation is important for everyone — those who have and have not played For Honor — as someone incessantly getting wrecked in this game could conclude with frustration, putting the game down, and never returning. Let’s pray Ubisoft pays attention to statistics during the game’s life. Furthermore, with a little over a week left before the game launches and a myriad of technical issues and tweaks to address, I hope Ubisoft tackles these matters to put out as technically sound of a game as possible. Nevertheless, I did enjoy my time with For Honor, and I look forward to sharpening my blade again and decapitating more enemies unlucky enough to cross my path. (Or getting decapitated myself. We’ll see what happens on the battlefield.)
Ubisoft has planned one final, open beta for For Honor from Feb. 9-12. For Honor raids PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One on Feb. 14, just in time for Valentine’s Day.