“'For Honor's dueling is focused and fun, but the best stuff is overshadowed by many smaller problems.”
- Intense sword fights
- Lots of variety in characters and weapons
- Campaign gives you a little taste of everything
- “Faction War” metagame pushes you to play in new ways
- Technical and connectivity issues can ruin intense fights
- Team duels weaken core dueling mechanics
- Overwhelming number of mechanics to learn
For Honor wants to capture the magic of a very specific moment from Medieval action movies. The hero and the villain see each other across the battlefield. They cut their way through unnamed soldiers, until they reach each other and engage in an incredible, climactic clash of swords and skill.
Sometimes, under very specific circumstances, For Honor truly captures that moment. It puts players through into a situation where everything comes down to your skill versus your opponents. Even in defeat, you feel the rush of having fought hard through an incredible moment.
There’s a fun, smart idea humming away at the heart of For Honor, and you sometimes get a really good look at it.
Other times, you simply get hacked to death, and are left wondering what you could have done to avoid the guard break that sent you flying, or why your well-timed dodge wasn’t timed quite well enough. Or maybe you’re just fighting someone and it’s going well, until two of his buddies appear behind you to slice your head off before you can even react.
There’s a fun, smart idea humming away at the heart of For Honor, and you sometimes get a really good look at it. It’s a pitched battle between two stalwart foes, where only reaction times, careful focus, and clever play determine the victor. But often, that great idea is buried under a mountain of other stuff. The game has many, many layers of mechanics, and while they can add some layers to the strategy of battle, mostly they serve to get in the way of For Honor’s simpler, purer soul.
For Honor is a sword-fighting game. There are three factions — Knights, Vikings and Samurai — each with a different set of characters, and all those characters play a little differently from one another.
The core of the game is dueling, which revolves around paying attention to minute movements and “stance” of your opponent. On consoles, the right thumbstick lets you choose one of three guard stances: left, right and high. Your stance determines the angle of your attacks, as well as the angle of the attacks you’re prepared to block: If both your stance and your opponents are high, you’ll clash swords instead of striking a hit.
So duels come down to watching how your opponent moves, waiting for openings, and trying to fake them out into defending the wrong side so you go can make your move. There are also simple combos to remember, so if you find a break in the enemy’s defenses, you can get a few more hits in before you’re blocked.
The simplicity of studying, focusing, and faking out your opponent is not, unfortunately, the bulk of the For Honor experience. In addition to fast, weak attacks and slow, heavy attacks, the various special attacks employed by some or all of For Honor’s fighters include: parrying, deflecting, guard breaks, throws, stuns, unblockable moves, zone attacks, dashing attacks, neutral stance attacks, and dodges. There are likely more we’re forgetting.
The whole package feels like it’s got some good ideas to build from, but suffers from some bloat.
Nearly all of the attacks can be countered if you know how. In other words, you need to learn every attack and how counter it. With 12 characters, each of whom is different, you not only need to recognize what the various user interface icons mean in battle, but also the animations for each set of characters. Parrying a blow from a Samurai Orochi swordsman is wholly different from parrying an ax-wielding Viking Raider, and if you don’t get the timing right, you’re dead.
Now, let’s add feats — which are unlockable perks that change how your character plays, as well as consumable items like throwing knives or smoke bombs. There are tons of feats, and each character has different ones. Sometimes they buff allies, or debuff enemies, or just give you a little extra oomph.
For Honor isn’t great at teaching you how these more advanced skills work. Even if you play through the extended campaign that walks you through much of it, the amount of information you have to hold in your head to be an effective player feels unwieldy. You will, at times, come away from a fight thinking, “Wow, that was cheap,” or “I’m not sure why my block was ineffective.” The simple pleasure of being quick on the draw or clever in a fight is often washed away by the tidal wave of stuff.
While simple 1-on-1 fights feel weighed down, the game comes to life in its more frantic 4-on-4 multiplayer modes. There are a wealth of options for multiplayer battles, ranging from straight-up dueling among teams of various sizes, to larger battles with cannon-fodder minion soldiers for players to chew through.
Facing off against, and teaming up with, other players elevates the core concept of For Honor considerably. The game does a nice job of finding ways to make being a huge warrior exciting. In its best moments, players face down their opponent, then sprint off to the aid of a teammate in trouble, or deftly hold off a tag-team until help arrives. Each mode gets at that heroic feel of battle For Honor trades on in its own way, whether it’s a single-combat duel or a territory grabbing “dominion” match.
Bringing more players into the mix breaks down some of what makes For Honor work, though. Most duels, especially in dominion games, end when a third warrior interrupts the fight and slashes you to ribbons (or when you do the same to someone else). When locked in a duel, the camera sits tight at your back, taking away a lot of battlefield awareness: It does its best to make you viable in a fight with multiple opponents by offering some simple block options for baddies you’re not currently focused on, but most uneven fights will end with the disadvantaged player caught chasing a loose player, or desperately trying — and failing — to disengage from a losing battle.
The amount of stuff you have to hold in your head to be an effective player is unwieldy.
For Honor’s various modes change up the dynamic, though, so it’s possible to find a situation more suited to what the aspects of the game that work for you. It’s frustrating to see both the best and worst in a game when you throw other players into the mix, but you can always switch out fighting other players for AI-controlled enemies with a human team at your back to get some of the multiplayer experience.
The multiplayer is further hamstrung by the fact that, even a few days after launch, For Honor has its fair share of connectivity issues. Its peer-to-peer connection system does its best to fight lag, but bad connections and dropped players can often mar games. For an experience that is so dependent on perfect timing, any connection issues lend a lot to the frustration factor.
A base to build on
At the very least, For Honor excels at giving players a lot to do. It packs a single-player campaign that basically functions as a lengthy tutorial, filled with big battles and chances to try out its various characters. It carries a fairly nonsensical story of perpetual war, but it’s an opportunity to fight through a lot of varied situations.
All of the multiplayer modes are encompassed by the “Faction War,” a platform-wide metagame that splits the community into three sides — Knights, Viking, Samurai — and turns each’s player’s overall success into fuel for battles over “territory,” and a loot progression system that lets you refine your characters with equipment that shifts stats up and down to reflect your individual play style.
On the whole, For Honor has a good foundation, but suffers from some bloat. There are altogether too many ideas at play and too much to keep in mind when the game would benefit from putting two players on equal footing and letting them test themselves against one another. With so much going on, For Honor has trouble holding onto the essential intensity that makes it so intriguing.
The gameplay tweaks and balancing that will surely take place in For Honor after launch will likely help it become a more engaging multiplayer game, especially when and if developers address some of the game’s larger issues, such as making it easier for players to switch targets, and disengage from losing fights. For now, though, For Honor has a few kinks it needs to work out to consistently capture the feeling it strives to invoke in every duel.
Is there a better alternative?
For Honor has the, ahem, honor of being just about the only game out there that’s really attempting what it does. The upcoming fight-slash-adventure title Absolver may offer something similar when it launches later this year, but we don’t know for sure. If you’re willing to put up with its idiosyncrasies, For Honor offers something unique.
How long does it last?
Multiplayer is the real draw for For Honor, and that’s built to keep players busy forever. The ability to challenge other players or AI “bots” further expands the offering. The single-player campaign will keep most players busy for six or eight hours, and is replayable on harder difficulties for better gear.
Should you buy it?
If you like games with a high skill cap, or want a competitive game that breaks the mold of shooters and online battle arenas, For Honor is worth a shot. It does succeed on in its core promise of brutal third-person sword fighting. Just be warned — this is the kind of game that can make you want to throw your controller through your TV.
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