At first glance, you could be forgiven for thinking For Honor is a simple hack-and-slash game in a similar vein to Ryse: Son of Rome, but once you're behind the controller you'll quickly realise that there is so much more to be found in Ubisoft's new "Art of Battle" control system. Behind the action-adventure aesthetics lies a deep and complex combat system that feels unique.
The "Art of Battle" combat system in For Honor is the foundation upon which the game is built, and for that reason it has far more in common with traditional fighting games like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat than hack-and-slash games like Ryse or action-adventure games that its third-person, over the shoulder perspective and medieval setting may suggest.
When facing off against an enemy opponent, holding the left trigger puts you into "Guard Mode," where you can alter your stance between the right, left and top positions. To block incoming attacks, you must read which direction your opponent is using and then mirror their stance, and to inflict your own damage you will need to switch to one of the two directions that they aren’t currently protecting to land successfully using the available light and heavy attacks.
It sounds like straightforward stuff until you leave the tutorial and the enemies begin to fight back in earnest. Nothing will really prepare you for the multiplayer game modes where you'll quickly discover that underlying those basic principles there are stamina levels you'll need to keep an eye on, dodges, parries, guard breaks, counters, feints, combos, special attacks that can't be interrupted, environmental hazards, unlockable abilities called feats, and a roster of 12 different heroes you'll face who all use them in different ways and to varying degrees of effectiveness.
It can be brutal and unforgiving at first, but as your skills improve and you find a playable hero that complements your fighting style, you'll get that eureka moment where it all makes sense and you begin to feel comfortable in battle. You'll still find that your hero's head rolls around on the floor quite often, but encounters turn into a dance of timing, strategy, and skill rather than a one-sided slaughter that leaves you confused.
Making use of the combat system are 12 heroes which are equally divided between the three warring factions of Knights, Vikings, and Samurai. Each faction offers its own variation on four different classes of hero. A well-rounded Vanguard, a slower but hard hitter Heavy, an agile and fast Assassin, and a Hybrid that is a balance between the others and is fit with a long range weapon. There's a real distinction between each of the 12 available heroes thanks to the different skill sets, weapons and feats available which means that if one class didn't work for you with one faction, you might find that it does in a different one. Learning each of them is one of the highlights of For Honor's combat.
There is a wide range of customisation options available for each character, including some which allow you to change the sex of your warriors. New items will be awarded through progression, while some can be purchased using in-game currency called Steel. The real issue here is that Steel is awarded so sparsely for competing in matches. With some items costing 5,000, 10,000 and 15,000 Steel, being rewarded 20 for match means you’re either going to have to do a lot of grinding for that shiny new outfit you really want or spend real life money.
Before each match, you can choose from any of the available characters to fight with, although some are initially locked behind a paywall that will require in-game currency to unlock. Early on, each hero feels well balanced providing you can learn the nuances of their strong and weak points. That does begin to change as you progress, however, as in three of the available five multiplayer game mode gear stats come into play.
Each of the heroes has his or her own independent rank that will rise through use in games. At level 20 your reputation level will increase — think of it like prestige levels in Call of Duty — but unlike Activision's shooter, which resets all your weapons and requires you to unlock them again, For Honor rewards these characters with better levels of gear that directly affect attributes such as attack damage, defense and stamina costs. This coupled with a matchmaking system that at times unfairly puts all the higher-level characters on one team can make for some matches where the odds are stacked against the other team from the start. Higher stats don’t necessarily guarantee victory, of course, but it usually gives them an advantage that feels like it could easily be corrected during matchmaking.
The intricacies of For Honor's combat system really come to play in the Duel (1 v. 1) and Brawl (2 v. 2) game modes where gear stats aren't taken into account. It purely comes down to the skill of the fighter or duo to win the day. Each match is fought over five rounds, meaning that you get the opportunity to learn your opponents' tactics and devise a solution even if you lose the early lead.
Some of the finer points of For Honor's combat are lost in the 4 vs. 4 game modes of Dominion, Elimination and Skirmish where you can quite often be outnumbered with heavy attacks raining down on you from multiple directions. Fortunately, this is countered with Revenge mode — a meter that slowly fills each time you block an opponent's attack --and when triggered gives you an offensive and defensive buff that can be used to swing the battle back in your favour. It's not guaranteed to work, but when it does there is no better feeling than seeing two or more attackers lay dead on the ground while you are still standing to tell the tale.
The 4 vs. 4 modes also allow players to use unlockable skills called Feats which are assigned to the D-pad. Each character has four available and they feature abilities like Second Wind, which will recover some of your lost health, to being able to fire projectiles into a targeted area.
The whole multiplayer experience is wrapped in a metagame called the Faction War. As you start the game you'll be asked to pick one of the three factions to call your own. After each match, you'll be able to deploy War Assets onto a territorial map where an ongoing war is being fought. You can choose to defend your own territory or attack a neighbouring one. Every six hours the results are noted and the territories controlled are shuffled. It's an interesting concept, and although it might sound pointless you'll be granted in-game rewards if your faction does well over a two week round or 10 week season. The results of a season will alter the appearance of multiplayer maps as time progresses and helps to build the story of the game.
As good as the multiplayer is, For Honor does suffer from some connection issues which can range from mildly annoying to infuriating. I've been disconnected as I've loaded into games, been removed midway through games, had bots replace every other player and the odd occasion where lag has been so bad that opponents seem to teleport from place to place in front of me. The issues feel like they have improved slightly over the past week of playing, but they are still there, which is less than ideal for such a multiplayer focused game.
While For Honor is unashamedly a multiplayer focused game, it does include a four to six-hour single-player campaign that tells the history of the faction war and acts as a tutorial to many of the nuances of the game’s combat system. While it certainly doesn't feel like a "tacked-on" experience thanks to its cutscenes, setpieces and a large amount of additional dialogue, it does feel like a missed opportunity to tell a memorable tale about these historic factions. Instead, we're left with hollow and forgettable characters that will leave you thinking how good it could have been rather than enjoying it for what it is.
If you do enjoy the campaign, there is a separate rank that is earned as you progress which will provide you with some customisation unlocks for multiplayer, and with three varying difficulty levels and lots of collectibles to find, there is a reason to replay if you want to see and do everything available.
For Honor's achievement list isn't especially difficult, but it will take some dedication if you're looking for the completion. The campaign has achievements for finishing each faction's chapter, finding all the collectibles, and three based on difficulty. The majority of the achievements are awarded in the PvP multiplayer game modes which will require some skill and practice but shouldn't be a problem if you're playing the game on a regular basis. There are also achievements for taking part in the Faction War, which means you're going to have to keep coming back and playing the game to make sure you place assets in five different two week rounds, come back to see the results of a 10 week season in which you have participated, and also place assets on the map in 50 of the different six-hour long turns.
SummaryFor Honor's learning curve can be punishing at first, but if you're willing to stay the course and invest some time into understanding the nuances of its deep combat system, you will begin to appreciate how exciting and truly addictive the "Art of Battle" can be. There are issues with connectivity and a campaign that falls short of its potential, but they can be forgiven because what For Honor does get right is at once brutal, rewarding, and unlike anything else we've seen in games.
- Complex and rewarding combat
- Lots of progression and customisation
- A unique and addictive multiplayer experience
- Campaign falls short of its full potential
- Connectivity and matchmaking issues
EthicsThe reviewer spent approx. 44 hours playing through the game's campaign and learning about the "Art of Battle" in online multiplayer, earning 35 of the available 54 achievements. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for this review.
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