At first glance, For Honor might seem like a Dynasty Warriors-esque hack-and-slash game. However, underneath this third-person action exterior hides a surprisingly complex tactical brawler that’s more akin to a fighting title.
For Honor is based around a combat system that Ubisoft dubs “The Art of Battle.” As in many other games, you can perform traditional light and heavy attacks, but the catch here is the way you’re able to defend yourself. Using the right analog stick, the player is able to position their character’s guard to the top, the left or the right, and any attacks that come from the highlighted direction will be blocked.
It’s like a more complex version of rock, paper, scissors, where you have to study your opponents movements and anticipate which of the three possible ways he’ll come at you. You can’t just button mash, either, as stamina can drain quickly, leaving you exhausted and slower-moving.
On top of this, fights include a slew of dodges, parries, counters, guardbreaks, combo chains, feints, recoveries, throws and environmental kills, among other elements. It’s particularly satisfying to shove an enemy off a ledge to a lower platform and then drop down on him with a heavy strike as you land.
Maps are well-designed, offering a variety of options for verticality and hosting many dangers, including pits, fires and spiked walls. Power-ups are carefully spread among them, too, resulting in bonuses like increased movement speed or more protection from attacks.
There are 12 classes available to play from, split between Knights, Samurai and Vikings. I was genuinely impressed with how balanced and different they all feel. Each faction has an Assassin (sacrifices power for speed and agility), a Heavy (hits harder but more slowly) a Vanguard (a more balanced offering of the two) and a Hybrid (uses long-ranged weapons). I gravitated towards the Hybrid Samurai Nobushi, which has a solid speed and range thanks to a trusty long spear which can cause bleeding damage. Knowledge of every class can make all the difference in surviving online.
Each class also has its own progression system, with skills and loadouts tied to specific warriors. Armour appearance, weapons, victory poses, emotes and executions are all customizable as well. However, Steel is required to purchase them, and it doesn’t come easily. Piecemeal amounts are given for playing through matches, meaning you’ll have to successfully complete daily Orders (missions tasking you to “Perform 15 Takedowns,” for example) for greater quantities. There are microtransactions to purchase them more easily, although this thankfully isn’t necessary as most are cosmetic and not gameplay-altering.
Just don’t expect the same level of excitement from the largely forgettable campaign. The characters, dialogue and plot are all rather bland, focusing on an uninteresting conflict between warring factions. There are a few somewhat engaging scripted moments spread throughout the otherwise boring campaign, like an on-rails horseback chase, but they don’t come often enough.
One positive aspect to the story is that you’ll be alternating between most of the game’s playable classes, depending on the mission. This gives you a great opportunity to better learn all of their nuances before heading online. And the boss encounters offer some challenging AI that will keep you on your toes, further testing your skills on the battlefield. At best, dabbling in single-player can serve as a solid primer for the multiplayer experience.
Unfortunately, once you do actually jump online, there aren’t many game modes to choose from. There’s the straightforward deathmatch-style Duel (1 vs. 1), Brawl (2 vs 2) and Skirmish (4 vs 4), as well as the self-explanatory Elimination (4v4). Dominion (4v4) is the most complex mode, requiring a team to reach 1000 points — which are obtained through capturing points on a map and defeating other players — to win the match.
But even then, it’s just an addition of uninspired objectives to try to shake things up a little bit. It would have been nice to see a greater and more original set of modes to compliment For Honor’s excellent core mechanics.
If you’re looking for a game that takes advantage of an historical setting for a fun campaign with an interesting narrative and cast of characters, you’re better off with the Assassin’s Creed series. The variety of game modes — or lack thereof — leaves much to be desired as well.
But in spite of all this, For Honor offers deeply satisfying skill-based combat that had me keep coming back to it. I’m really looking forward to seeing how Ubisoft continues to support the game and grow the game from here.
For Honor is available on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 and PC.