Ubisoft’s medieval fantasy action fighting game pitting some of the most iconic soldiers in history against each other doesn’t make too much sense, but that’s part of the charm. The three different factions, representing knights, samurai, and Vikings, are uniquely different, yet balanced enough to allow players to play any of the factions and not feel shortchanged. Not quite a pure multiplayer focused action game, For Honor combines fighting game mechanics that give every action a realistic weight, ensuring that players will feel each punishing blow that will lead their faction to victory.
Although For Honor is primarily a multiplayer game requiring a constant online connection to play, it does include a lengthy single-player narrative that tries to make sense from the almost comical premise. Acting as a pseudo-tutorial, the campaign is divided up into three main chapters, one for each faction, all of which can be completed solo or cooperatively with another player online. Peace has fallen over the lands, angering the bloodthirsty warlord Apollyon, as she attempts to instigate a never ending war between the factions. With multiple difficulty settings, it is a good idea to play through some or all of the campaign before venturing online, as you’ll not only learn the basic game mechanics but some of the more advanced elements, such as character feats. The core gameplay mimics the multiplayer, and even the characters use the same models.
The combat mechanics in For Honor are designed around one on one battles, blending fighting game mechanics with a hack-and-slash action game. I should say that although the gameplay is best suited for combat against a single opponent, you’ll consistently have to deal with multiple foes simultaneously. Each of the game’s twelve characters are separated into unique class types that determine their movement ability and weapon types. With a flick of the right stick, you can adjust the position of your weapon from side to side or directly above your head. This is used for not only defending against incoming attacks but also defining where your strikes will land. The more advanced mechanics adds parries to leave your opponent in a vulnerable state, feints to out think your foe and guard breaks to throw them into nearby pits, spikes or other parts of the environment.
For Honor is not a game for button mashers, even though I know many people do play traditional fighting games that way. With a rechargeable stamina meter, swinging for the fences over and over will leave your character gasping for air. Regardless of which multiplayer mode you chose to partake, encounters have a certain amount of tension. Feeling like a Hollywood blockbuster movie, engagements usually begin with both characters circling, feeling each other out. Everyone can see where you are currently aiming and it starts a mind game of sort, as you try to goad your opponent into making a mistake. Of course, when a third or fourth character comes within proximity, things become quite more complicated.
Duels test your wits against a single opponent, while Brawls are a team battle, with both modes removing the AI minions. Dominion is the game’s control point mode, where teams of four battle over three different points on a map, with AI minions, are always fighting against one another over the middle control point. Being outnumbered in a fight will be a common occurrence in this game mode, making it even harder to block attacks. However, to counter against being outnumbered, all players have a revenge meter that will fill up when you book and take damage. Upon activation, nearby enemies will be knocked to the ground, giving you a chance to fight against both or run for safety.
At first, I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about choosing a main character to learn, and I would easily make a choice between any of the characters on a per game basis. With that said, each character has a unique moveset of combos, unblockable attacks, and other special abilities. As you play, you’ll level up each individual character, earning new unlockables and better gear. Every piece of equipment, from your armor to the various points of your weapon can be improved. Not only that, but the game offers deep appearance options, ensuring your Warden won’t look the same as another player. Outside of earning gear after completing matches, you can purchase crates with in-game currency. Daily missions, called "orders," allow you to gain a decent amount each time you play, but you also gain a small amount with every match. Some of the most expensive items are simply cosmetic, such as new taunts, executions or armor designs.
If you must have flaming wings coming from your knights back or have Japanese cherry blossom petals surround your character, you can purchase steel (the currency) with real-life money. Since it is strictly optional and doesn’t affect gameplay, I have no issues with these type of items for sale. However, you can unlock all of a character's feats through micro-transactions, and that does raise an eyebrow in the “pay-to-win” category.
All of the game’s multiplayer modes feeds into the overall faction based metagame. The regional map is split between the three factions, showing the current status across all platforms. When you game first boots, you must choose a faction to represent, although you are free to use any character regardless of your faction. For example, I love playing the Valkyrie, a Viking, but I represent The Chosen, the samurai faction. As you play, you’ll earn war assets based on how well you perform. These can be distributed to ongoing battles on the map. As the timer counts down every six hours, it will refresh, shifting controlled territories between the three factions. At the end of a season, which lasts ten weeks, a winner will be declared. As we are still in the first season, I am curious to see what type or ornament rewards Ubisoft will be rewarding the winner faction.
Regardless of the platform, the game runs fairly smoothly, but as all online matches are based on a peer-to-peer setup, you’ll occasionally come across matches with additional latency. Thankfully you don’t have to wait for long for matches, as AI controlled bots will do battle against each other, allowing you to take their place, or they will take over for players that disconnect. Say what you want about the competitive nature of player vs. player, but the bots in the game are not easily defeated. If you don’t wish to face other players online, you can set your preference to only fight against bots, allowing you to team up with other players but never have to worry about actually fighting another player.
Although I never considered myself a competitive fighting game enthusiast, I found both the combat mechanics and the flow of engagement in For Honor refreshing. Individual matches don’t overstay their welcome, and it’s a hard game to put down due to the faction metagame. Seeing your faction losing a territory is a strong incentive to place additional war assets, requiring you to play one more match. Not to mention the game has additional legs with a rewarding loot system and customization options.
Note: The For Honor review is based on a retail PlayStation 4 copy of the game.