The opinions of the gaming public are fickle and ever-shifting, but one thing that rarely changes is that there’s always a bad guy. In an industry where taking down the big bad and saving the world are popular recurring plots, it’s little surprise that there’s an ongoing search for a way to stymie the villains that are Ruining Gaming for Everyone. Precisely who that is can change from week to week; a couple years ago the moustache-twirling heel was Electronic Arts, a publisher so hated by such a vocal subset of the gaming population that they actually won Consumerist’s Worst Company in America award in 2012 and 2013.
Yes, they were considered worse than Bank of America, which was costing people their homes and livelihoods at a stunning rate at the time. Yes, it’s more than a little embarrassing that not only did gamers think EA was worse, but that they turned out in great enough numbers to say so that EA won that dubious honor.
Speaking of honor, I bring this up because we’re talking about For Honor, the latest AAA release from contemporary gaming’s favorite whipping boy Ubisoft. It’s a difficult game to discuss because so many opinions are tinged with the party line about Ubisoft Ruining Gaming for Everyone. Their crimes? Uh, they made uPlay, which is kind of like Steam but isn’t Steam so it’s bad. They also tend to produce open-world games that are fairly formulaic and iterative, which I guess is awful, and they incorporate microtransaction options in their games like pretty much everyone, including indie developers, does these days.
There’s your villain, folks: they make games that are similar to previous games that sold well, they offer the option of paying to get bonuses in their games, and they run a Steam-alike. I know it’ll be hard, but let’s see if we can talk about their latest game without spending too much time preoccupied with the sins of its father.
For Honor is basically a game about all the fantastic imaginary battles you waged as a kid: you’ve got Knights, Vikings and Samurai and they’re locked in an endless three-way war. This setting frames both the game’s surprisingly decent campaign, which can be played both solo and in co-op, and the various multiplayer modes. There’s also a map-based meta-game where players can choose to support one of the three sides, fighting to help their team gain ground and earn rewards.
Said three-way war is waged using a sort of proto-Souls-style combat system that serves as For Honor’s claim to fame. The basic gist is that characters can defend and attack from one of three directions; to successfully land a hit, you need to strike from a direction where your opponent isn’t defending. There’s plenty of nuance layered on top of this, of course, including a stamina bar that you need to manage, combo attacks and unblockable hits to mix up your offense and throws that can be used to punish unsuspecting foes and anyone who tries to turtle. It’s a fighting game, albeit one presented in an unusual manner, and the vastly simplified execution compared to most fighters makes For Honor an appealing prospect for new players.
There’s a varied cast of characters as you’d expect from a fighting game, each of which offers their own twist on For Honor’s unique gameplay along with some options that don’t adhere to how you might think their faction would work. The Knights have their share of heavily-armored badasses, for instance, but they also have the Peacekeeper, a fan favorite who excels in speedy strikes and stabs to the kidney. The Vikings are big ol’ muscular dudes with the exception of the Berserker, a lightly-armored lady with a deadly infinite combo that my group ended up referring to as “Beyblading” after the spinning top toys.
Finally, the Samurai tend to have more technical playstyle that rewards speed and precision, but they’ve also got the Shugoki, a hulking bruiser with super armor a unique life-stealing mechanic that encourages you to play aggressively. You can play any hero you choose regardless of your faction in the aforementioned meta-game, so you’re bound to find someone you enjoy.
As mentioned, For Honor has a campaign that’s shockingly well-realized. You follow heroes from each of the three factions as they battle against the warmongering Knight Apollyon; this plays out as a series of episodic battles featuring plenty of enemies to crush and areas to explore. It’s not Shakespeare or anything, but the voice acting and action are decent enough to keep your attention, plus you can play with a friend.
The real meat of the game lies in multiplayer, though. There are a few different modes that support varying numbers of players, ranging from a 4v4 point capture mode to 2v2 team battles to 1v1 duels, so no matter how many friends you’ve got or how antisocial you want to be, there’s a mode to suit your tastes. I found the most entertainment in the 2v2 battles, which have a surprising degree of depth; these are initially framed as a pair of one-on-one duels, but often turn into a big 4-man brawl when players realize that they can run off to help their teammate.
My group quickly decided that “For Honor” is an ironic title at best, since honor means little when it comes down to winning. Cheesy tactics are the order of the day! Some folks are upset about this, but I generally found it hilarious; why lock yourself in a duel to the death with a dangerous opponent when you can capitalize on their mistakes and throw them off a nearby cliff? Ganging up on opponents is also popular and seemingly encouraged, as while there’s a “Revenge” mechanic in play to help outnumbered players, it doesn’t mean much when you’ve got three giant Vikings smashing you with axes. If you’re willing to be flexible instead of expecting opponents to fight on your terms, you’re likely to have better luck.
One thing about multiplayer: I know I snarked about uPlay earlier, but it does need to be said that For Honor’s issues include some connectivity problems that can probably be traced back to Ubisoft’s Steam-like system. I never ran into any situations where I couldn’t play with anyone I chose to play with, but I DID encounter situations where creating the party I wanted to create involved some faffing about with who was inviting whom. This was more pronounced in the game’s beta, but the problem remains in For Honor’s release build.
I’ve also seen complaints about the game’s peer-to-peer connectivity ingame, including the usual gripes about host advantage and lag, but I found issues of this nature to be rare; at the very least I’d chalk the “host advantage” talk up to operator error, as I would in any competitive game where you’re playing with randoms (read: victims of the Dunning-Kruger effect).
Other than that, though, For Honor’s a pretty solid game all around. Even the presentation is top notch, as you might expect from a AAA title from the Big Bad Publisher of 2017; characters look and sound great and environments are a joy to run around in. As mentioned, the campaign is particularly well done for what it is, especially given this game’s explicit focus on multiplayer. It’s a pleasant experience all around.
That goes for the entire game, really: it’s well done and worth checking out. Dueling your friends is a good time, and if you can ignore the tantrums, you’ll probably have fun fighting against random players as well. The odd connectivity issue here and there doesn’t bring the game down too far; in my time with For Honor, around 90% of matches were flawless. Combine all this with some cooperative co-op campaigning and you end up with a package that’s worth your money. You’ll have to give it to the Big Bad of Gaming in 2017…but despite all that boycotting and hand-wringing, they seem to be doing just fine regardless.