The power of video games is how they take the things that we want to do, the things we imagine doing when we’re a kid playing in the yard, and turns them into as close to reality as possible. We’ve seen this throughout the last few decades with games that let us be spies, super soldiers, sports stars, or pretty much anything else that we could imagine. Yet through all these years there have been few games that nail the joy of becoming a warrior like For Honor does. Pitting the mightiest of histories soldiers against each other, the game is a multiplayer focused experience that genuinely makes you feel like a giant warrior of the past. It’s a perfect example of the power of video games, and it’s one of the most visceral games you will ever play.
Describing For Honor is like listing off a bunch of your favorite things. The game is a mixture of so many cool gaming and general fiction elements that it ends up feeling very much like a greatest hits album of your childhood. Mixing the large battlefields of military games like Dynasty Warriors, with fighting mechanics similar to 3D titles like Tekken or Soul Calibur, and the biggest historical warriors of all time, the game ends up as one of the best action titles of the last few years.
The key to this is the “Art of Battle” system, which has players squaring off against each other. Locking on by pulling the left trigger, then using the analog stick to decide which way to hold your sword, players have to always watch their enemy to determine which way their attack may come, while also deciding where to send their sword flying, in order to get past their enemy’s strong defenses. This system works wonderfully when facing off against another human, but the AI also plays a big role.
For Honor is one of the best multiplayer action titles in years
For Honor is heavily focused on the multiplayer components, but it has a surprisingly strong single player campaign. The story is kind of a confusing mess, presenting you with a world that saw some sort of calamity a thousand years ago. This caused the globe to become embroiled in conflict for that thousand years, with peace only becoming a reality in the last few years. The three groups in these conflicts are the ones you choose from in multiplayer: knights, vikings, and samurai. Why they’re in the same region? Who knows.
What we do know is that a new warlord named Apollyon is trying to bring back the wars that just now ended. You play as alternating characters, with a specific chapter for each faction. You’ll work for and against Apollyon, trying to figure out what is happening in this world, and maybe how to avoid plunging the globe back into endless combat.
The campaign is deeper than I and many others might have anticipated, but it’s still not an amazing experience all by itself. It serves as a great intro to the game, its characters, and the fighting mechanics that you’ll need to understand from top to bottom. It goes a bit beyond this, especially thanks to the excellent cutscenes and voice work, but if you’re buying For Honor just to play the campaign, you’ll likely want to wait for a sale of some kind. Multiplayer is the focus, and it’s here where you’ll get the real value.
And multiplayer is where For Honor really sings. The game was obviously made for this, and the bulk of its feature set is dedicated to players facing off against other players. Throughout the game’s many demo periods, players were able to try out a variety of different game modes. These all offer something unique, and provide a nice set of different experiences, which is good considering how fine tuned and simple the core gameplay is. There’s even an overarching conflict between the three factions called The Faction War. By playing multiplayer matches you earn war assets that you can contribute to the battle. It’s mostly just quick option choices, but it gives players incentive to get on every day.
In the actual matches, For Honor seems to work just as well whether you’re fighting a single enemy, or working as a team. Duel allows you to challenge a single other player to a best of five match, which you can up to two versus two, if you wanna bring a friend along. There’s also four versus four modes ranging from deathmatch, to elimination, and finally Dominion, which has teams capturing points on the map.
This last mode will likely be a favorite, as it allows teams to not get swarmed by enemies, just because of a single unfortunate death. It’s also a ridiculously tense experience, if the teams are even close to evenly matched. Getting to a thousand points take a long time and a lot of effort, and unless the other team has totally failed, they’ll be right there with you, inching closer to victory. Once a team hits a thousand points, the game doesn’t just end. Instead the other team has a chance to rally, but none of them can respawn until they claw their way back from defeat. This takes an already adrenaline fueled experience and turns it into a frantic fight for survival, or a methodical slaughter of your foes.
Each match of For Honor feels fresh and exciting, while still offering a somewhat balanced experience. Each faction plays similarly enough to the other that you won’t likely see too much favoritism, but within the factions are different types of fighters that might not balance as well. These essentially break down to an all-around fighter, a heavy, a fast mover, and a hybrid. It’s tough to say this early on, with players still learning how everything works, but don’t be surprised if Ubisoft has to jump in with some balance tweaks to the four main types of fighters.
With balance being in check, the main reason to choose between these different warriors is their looks, which can be customized with an extensive unlock system. Actually, the unlock system in For Honor is a bit too big and cumbersome for my tastes, unlocking cosmetic items as well as power ups that seem to just be minor variations of things you might already have, or ones that just aren’t useful enough to even try. Still, it’s nice that you can not only customize your look, but also your abilities, both passive and active, even if these might cause some balance trouble in the long run.
I bring up balance mostly because it does feel, so far like it is working exceptionally well. Each fight that I’ve had in my many hours spread across alphas, betas, and the final game has either felt like the better player won, or the lesser player got lucky and pulled off some risky maneuver, such as pushing their enemy off a ledge, rather than fight them to the death. For Honor is a competitive game, but its network will need to hold for that to work as expected, and with Ubisoft opting for player-to-player connections, that could be a problem as well. Dedicated servers would have been better, and caused less connection drops mid-game, as well as NAT and other connection issues. This likely won’t impact the majority of players, but if you’re hardcore about your competition, keep it in mind and be ready for some possible host advantage.
That’s all nitpicky stuff though, unless it’s already a deal breaker for you. For Honor is a glorious action experience in almost every way. The gameplay is particularly solid, but the visuals are also stellar, offering one of the best looking games available. This is more than just geometry, design, and texture quality though, as every character’s animation is fluid and precise, allowing for the quick reactions necessary for combat.
Sound design is solid as well, though some noises, particularly character’s screams, can get grating after the hundredth time you hear them. The only time I actually raged about anything it was simply because the game held my hand too much. For some reason you’ll keep getting introduced and reintroduced to gameplay mechanics via tutorials or pop-up messages. It can get old, but it’s such a small price to pay to keep playing this wonderful game.
For Honor is one of the best multiplayer action titles in years. It’s focus on brutal, almost slow paced combat is unique, while still feeling wholly familiar in the annuls of pop culture. The game puts you right into the shoes of history’s greatest warriors, then pits you against each other in fantastic ways. The single player campaign isn’t worth much more than a single playthrough, and the unlock system is a bit much, but players will find themselves jumping into multiplayer matches over and over again just to experience the adrenaline rush offered by the frenetic, but controlled combat.