There's No Honor On The Battlefield.
Reviewed on PS4
Knights, Samurai, and Vikings would have never met. Though existing in approximately the same period, because of boring geographical considerations, these three legendary warriors never had the opportunity to cross blades. Still, that didn’t prevent adolescent minds from pondering the age-old question: Who would win in a battle, Knights, Samurai, or Vikings? This debate pervaded middle school and elementary school history classes, intensified during recess and lunch periods, and exacerbated after school when every youngster acquired a stick to zealously impersonate their favorite faction. (Perhaps this is my own projection of what my formative years looked like, but I’d like to think every child had a similar upbringing.) Ubisoft must have been contemplating this infuriating and intoxicating question as well: For Honor seeks to find the answer, even if there’s no definitive answer and the answer you walk away with may disappoint or excite you.
For Honor, in essence, functions as a glorified response to Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six Siege, Ubisoft’s similarly team-based, multiplayer-focused, persistent-online-connection-required title. The two certainly share DNA, so if you’re at all familiar with Siege, For Honor will seem like a repackage of the nearly two-year-old formula. However, while the two may seem alike, For Honor does enough to distinguish itself and build upon Siege‘s foundation.
For Honor puts Knights, Samurai, and Vikings in a battle arena, rings the bell, and watches the three combatants go at it. In each of the three factions, there are four classes: balanced, heavy, assassin, and hybrid. Each class is distinct, unique, offering a bit of personality in their weapon choice, attire, and move set. The Orochi — the Samurai’s assassin class, and my personal favorite — operates drastically different from The Peacekeeper — the Knights’ assassin class, and my most loathed. This means no single playstyle is transferrable, requiring you to practice with and understand each class, its weapon, move set, and selectable feats. This creates a rock-paper-scissors mentality, as each class has its own counter class; if you understand the classes, you’ll be better equipped when facing them on the battlefield.
As described in the beta impressions, For Honor feels like a fighting game akin to Street Fighter or Tekken. The “Art of Battle” is a compelling idea that takes some practice and fervent dedication to fully grasp. While a relatively simple concept on the surface, once properly understood, For Honor‘s combat opens up to reveal a much deeper, more strategic fighting system. Making use of dodges, parries, unblockable moves, throws, the revenge meter, and deflects all leads to a robust and wholly rewarding system not seen in fighting games. (Think of Street Fighter or Tekken smashed into 1997’s Bushido Blade.) Conversely, one wrong step — or exhausting all of your stamina — will certainly lead to your head being lobbed off, your body left sprawled and trampled upon. All of this is to say that combat feels smooth, balanced, and satisfying, whether you’re performing an execution or getting executed.
Because it’s a team-based, multiplayer-focused title, there are game modes in For Honor. Unfortunately, neither are all of the modes created equal nor are they all engaging. Take Dominion, the weakest mode of the three (technically five) available options. Dominion is a four-versus-four, capture the objective mode where the objective is to, you guessed it, capture the objectives. The first team to reach 1000 points enters “Breaking,” in which the “Breaking” team must eliminate the other team — preferably by way of execution to prevent revives — in order to win. For one reason or another, most players treat Dominion like a Call of Duty match, favoring K/D over the objectives; while kills do net points, capturing the objectives nets more points and gets a team closer to “Breaking.” Death Match (in 1v1 or 2v2) is where For Honor shines: it allows the combat to expand into a sort of dance between the combatants, each spacing the other, testing each other, playing mind games to figure who will make the first move.
Skirmish and Elimination are each a 4v4 play on Dominion: Skirmish is exactly like Dominion, sans the capture points, and Elimination is Death Match with more players. These two modes (along with Dominion) present the lack of honor in For Honor, as it’s very likely you’ll find yourself in a 1v2, a 1v3, or worse, a 1v4. It’s Death Match that brings the best out of both For Honor and its players.
Regrettably, For Honor‘s poor matchmaking and net code soils the play experience, as you’ll find yourself either incessantly disconnected from matches because of the unimpressive peer-to-peer connection Ubisoft chose to implement, or paired up against nigh-insurmountably high-level players. Leveling up and loot do make an appearance, but neither really matter unless you’re into aesthetics or playing Dominion, which highlights just how unmatched players can feel when battling a damn-near maxed out player. Hopefully, Ubisoft has plans to address how players are matched, but currently, it’s best to avoid Dominion altogether if you’re just starting out.
The narrative is, by far, the vapidest part of the entire package. While commendable for Ubisoft to include a lengthy campaign in what amounts to a purely online experience, what is presented is trite, insipid, and nonsensical at worst, and hardly passable at best. During the three chapters, you assume various “characters” in the three factions. (“Character” is used loosely here as they are neither fully fleshed out, three-dimensional people nor are they even compelling.) After a perpetual state of war, the Knights, Samurai, and Vikings finally find peace.
In an absurd series of events, Apollyon, the game’s antagonist, hurls the three factions into the throes of a reinstated warring period because… She is war, and that’s it. Nothing exciting happens, nothing noteworthy or worthwhile happens, and the final battle with the titular Apollyon herself is unsatisfying as, after finally cutting her down and watching her bellow out ignorant nonsense, the game just spontaneously and unceremoniously ends. This is unfortunate because the campaign could’ve been so much more, but it is reduced to an approximate eight-to-ten-hour tutorial.
And that’s a summation of the entirety of For Honor: it could be so much more, but it’s ultimately held back by itself. The battlefield is sprinkled with myriad weapons to choose from but for some inexplicable reason, Ubisoft chose the dullest blade of the bunch to cultivate, to nurture, to tend to. This, inevitably, leads to frequent missteps in both the action and cut of the blade. However, though its blade may be dull, For Honor is still worthy of taking to the battlefield. Just know that you will be cut down.