So what would happen if you take three of the most iconic fighting cultures in history; Knights, Vikings and Samurai, and throw them all together in the same world? Would they make friends, would they fight for supremacy, who would win such an encounter? Well thanks to Ubisoft, these questions can finally be answered as the long wait for their first attempt at a fighting game is now over as For Honor looks to settle the argument once and for all. But has Ubisoft made a game worthy of these epic historical fighters?
Being honest, I had a tough time in the pre-release Beta’s that For Honor had in the month leading to the full release. During the closed Beta I was able to get a handle on a couple of fighters and the very different combat system that focuses more on weapon and melee fighting but was very different to get to grips with. I found the Open Beta a little more problematic and proved frustrating when trying to learn new fighters and truthfully, there was plenty of raging and saltiness going on. But finally getting my hands on the main game, I was able to take a pause and adapt to For Honor in a way I had not expected, thanks to a very solid and enjoyable story mode and a great practice arena that allowed me to learn about characters before trying my luck online.
There are two main sides to For Honor in terms of game modes, you have the Player Vs Player or PvP modes and you have the solo story mode. Before I get into the rather complicated PvP features, I will first take a look at the story mode and explain why I found it to be a surprising yet rewarded aspect to For Honor I had not expected. The Story mode tells the history that leads to what is at the core of For Honor, the Faction War. Made up of three campaigns, each one takes the player through events for each of the factions; Knights, Vikings and Samurai which are comprised of six chapters.
The prologue explains that all three factions existed in the land of Ashfield. A huge natural catastrophe hits the land and soon the three factions are fighting over resources and territory. But soon the factions retreat to their respective corners of the land and a relative peace as the fighting ceases. Soon a new faction begins to rise up, led by the dangerous and War hungry Apollyon who feels that the original factions have become weak and only through war will they regain their former glory. Why Apollyon is so bloodthirsty and so focused on starting a new war will be revealed as the story moves from faction to faction.
The story mode is really a great little extra tutorial into how some of the fighters play in each faction. Starting with the Knights and the Warden, as you play through each chapter for that faction, the game will teach some basic moves for the fighters showcased to lay a foundation for when a player takes them into the PvP later on. Whilst not all fighters are featured in the story to control, you will come across more of the roster in battle, giving the player a chance to observe how they fight which may encourage the player to select that fighter to try out. The story itself is well told, with breathtaking locations and environments that the factions reside in. It provides a great look into the history of For Honor and explains just why these sides are at war. Completing each chapter will bring rewards in cosmetic items that can be used to customise the fighters and player profile as well as collectibles in each chapter to find, different difficulty levels to encourage repeat play and nice Observables to find which will have Apollyon narrating a fact about the faction featured. The story mode was a nice surprise for me, I had not expected it to have such a great story and it succeeds setting the world and the tone for what the Faction War means. It is definitely worth investing some time in, not just for the rewards but also in practicing with the fighters it uses. Being a part of the world thanks to the story gave even more gravitas to taking these factions and fighters online, in a true fight to the death in PvP.
I do feel I have to say that despite being a fan of and experienced in fighting games, I found For Honor to be the hardest yet to get to grips with. Ubisoft have developed and introduced a totally new melee fighting system where understand and learning how to use a fighting style and weapon choice will be key to victory, This is not a fighting game for button mashers, nor is this really a game where you memorise a ten button combo chain and simply punch it against every opponent. For Honor requires players to learn how their chosen fighter moves, attacks and defends but also to then learn about all the fighters to know how they might counter and attack right back. Studying certain match-ups will be crucial to getting the most out of this game and it’s PvP.
The control system or ‘Art of Battle’ is deceptive in its simplicity. When entering an encounter, you lock on to the opponent with the left trigger. Then by using the Right stick, you can match the stance of the opponent in order to offer blocking from attacks or to direct your own attacks. Using the right stick to move stance from left, right or overhead adds an extra layer of thought to the fighting and getting used to matching what your opponent has selected is just as important as knowing what attacks to use. There are two attack options in a light attack with RB and heavy attack with Right Trigger. Each fighter will have their own move set that uses a combination of these attacks and depending on the fighting style and weapon of the fighter,
The first choice for a player is of course deciding which fighter they pick. Each faction has four fighters and each fighter falls into a particular class and all play rather differently to each other even if in the same class. The Vanguard class of each faction offer a more all round fighter to take into a duel and make a great starting point for each of the factions. I would recommend spending some time with these fighters as doing so will give a good fundamental ground base to build on when moving to the next classes of fighter. The Heavies class have a larger health pool and have strong defences but they are slower in attack though will deal more damage. The Assassins are faster fighters with high damage attacks. This is the class I came to use more often in particular the Peacekeeper of the Knights and Berserker of the Vikings. The Hybrid class has fighters that are a combination of two other classes and use a long range weapon; these can prove to be the most unpredictable of the fighters to battle and to fight with.
PvP has a variety of game modes from 1v1 and 2v2 Brawling Duels to team based 4v4 elimination matches and Dominion, a large battle area where capturing zones scores and the team with highest score will win. I found matchmaking to be fast on all the modes but duelling was the most popular game mode. The skill level of the community on Xbox One so far has been average to high, no doubt thanks to the practice players managed to get in both Betas before release. XP is earned whether you win or lose with the chance to earn gear and resources to upgrade your fighter’s load-out. You also can earn resources to help in the For Honor Meta game “Faction War”. After each match online players collect War Assets which can be deployed on the world’s battlefield where each Faction is doing battle. A player will choose which Faction they wish to fight for but will able to use any and all fighters regardless of that choice. War Assets can be deployed to boost the attack or defense of a section of the map and after a period of time the world will then decide which faction won that territory based on the winning amount of War Assets deployed by players with rewards handed out to participating players.
There are great customization options for each fighter from picking attribute boosting gear to the appearance of a fighter with colour schemes and emblems. You really benefit from everything you do whether you win or lose so persistence does pay off. Should a player rage quit or disconnect the game will replace them with an AI bot and if during matchmaking another player cannot be found for you then an AI Bot will battle you. AI Bots can provide a good challenge as well, which is why I would recommend using one in the practice arena to learn a character before taking them into PvP which will prove to be really beneficial.
For Honor is a refreshing take on the traditional fighting genre and offers a really satisfying experience once you get to grips with it. Sadly though I can already see that this could be a rather niche fighting game just because of the skill level required to get the most out of it. The variety in the roster does cater for a lot of player tastes but just from speaking with people during my streaming of the PvP side to For Honor, there is a preconception of it being very difficult to learn and play. This is definitely a fighting game where players will need to invest time in learning how all the fighters play, even if you do not necessarily play as each fighter. Finding one that suits your play style will help a lot as will trying out the different modes, and the practice arena is a superb way of trying out moves and combos when starting with a new fighter.
The story mode is fun and the world that For Honor creates for itself is stunning both visually and has a terrific atmospheric soundtrack, I love the war drums playing during some duel matches. Epic battles can be had with some really surprising match up of fighters. Yes it can take some time to get a handle on the control scheme but once you do, For Honor offers a very rewarding and satisfying fighting experience unlike anything I have played in recent years. Ubisoft took its time in crafting this game and going forward, the addition of new fighters and levels with DLC will bring even more challenge to an already deep fighting game.
I will offer this final piece of advice for those not yet convinced to pick this up. The best way to approach For Honor is to follow this simple rule, learn to lose and learn from losing. This game will make even the most calm and peaceful player rage at times, but in losing you can adapt your own fighting style and become better. That is the most rewarding aspect to For Honor. You might lose a whole bunch of match ups as you learn a character but that one match when it all comes together, all that frustration will be worth it.
For Honor really has captured the art of weapon fighting, and each of the factions are so fantastically realised in this game that every battle can be something special if you have the patience and willingness to learn its ways.