For Honor Review – Killing Is My Business (PS4)
War is ultimately part of the nature of humanity. There are many causes as to why it occurs, be it greed or differing ideals, and it often brings out both the best and worst of mankind all at once. Combat being at the core of everyone is one of For Honor‘s main ideas, and it’s why samurai, knights, and vikings are all duking it out in Ubisoft’s latest major release.
Since For Honor is tied to fighting both mechanically and thematically, it’s only fitting that the game’s combat is its brightest area. Button mashing won’t get you far in the game, as defense and blocking is just as important as a solid attack. The game strikes a great balance in its action by allowing players to use the right analog stick to change their stance into three separate positions, which is essential for both deflecting and landing a mixture of light and heavy attacks. Every strike matters here, and Ubisoft Montreal have managed to create a satisfying combat loop where every kill feels earned.
Due to the amount of nuance that For Honor packs beneath its Deadliest Warrior-esque veneer, it’s essential that the game is able to communicate its complex mechanics to the player. Thankfully, the game does a great job of introducing both the basics of gameplay, and more advanced strategy, by having a solid tutorial and videos that can be viewed while viewing each of the game’s 12 characters. Much like a fighting game, each warrior has their own quirks to them, and learning the ins-and-outs of your enemy is just as important as knowing your own abilities on the battlefield.
For Honor‘s single-player story mode also serves as a rather lengthy tutorial, as it has players jumping around from class to class as they learn about this fantasy world that is seemingly only inhabited by warriors. The heavily tutorialization works both to the campaigns favor and disadvantage. It serves as a great way for the player to learn the ropes, but it also is held back by the fact that players will still be seeing help prompts for the roughly 10 hours the 18-mission story lasts.
Those looking for a meaningful story from the campaign will be pretty disappointed, as For Honor struggles to have much of a a message beyond “war is actually bad.” Despite the weak writing (and a groan-worthy ending), the game does succeed in providing some pretty awesome set-pieces and cutscenes. From using an elephant to destroy enemy machinery to chasing down a fleeing officer on horseback, there’s plenty of memorable moments that won’t be seen in the multiplayer gameplay. The single-player also allows players to use abilities more freely than in multiplayer, which meant that I could disable enemy blocking with a push of the d-pad. This basically made all but the final boss a breeze to defeat on normal (although there are two additional difficulties for players to check out).
While the high spots are certainly awesome to watch unfold, most of the campaign isn’t nearly as inspired. There’s a lot of repetitive battles as the campaign introduces concepts that are used in multiplayer, such as capturing points and helping soldiers storm a battlefield. Since most levels are also teaching the player how to play a particular class, For Honor struggles to build upon the mechanics it introduces. For example, a shield bash that is the key to using one character effectively may be completely absent the next chapter. This makes it nearly impossible to really get into a groove while playing the story. The campaign is certainly a solid effort, but it’s pretty unsatisfying seeing the credits roll after learning all of the mechanics.
Looking Down the Cross
The campaign might have left me wanting more, but it also did a fantastic job of getting me ready for the multiplayer. This is clearly where Ubisoft expects most players to spend the bulk of their time, and they’ve separated the action into five modes. The most straightforward ones are the game’s Duel (one-on-one) and Brawl (two-on-two) modes, which has players fighting to the death over five rounds. I found these modes to be the most fun, as they really boil down the game to its most basic qualities, and I find it thrilling to test my skills against an opponent. I preferred the Duel mode over brawl, as the latter tends to be a race to see who can get the first kill, as it then becomes a two-on-one battle. Seeing most matches devolve into a handicap match isn’t enjoyable, and it wasn’t even fun to win in that fashion.
One of the main issues with For Honor‘s combat that is only exposed in multiplayer, is that it’s designed around taking one enemy on at a time. When two or more officers surround a character, it’s basically game over. So a lot of the strategy becomes avoiding such situations, although they will inevitably happen during matches. It’s actually so easy to kill an officer that is already battling someone, that I didn’t even have to lock-on to them to kill them. I could just hammer on the heavy attack button, and all of the work that Ubisoft did to create a technical system came crashing down.
This issue pops up all over the game’s other modes, which are four-on-four contests. For Honor seems at odds with itself, as it wants players to be technical yet the simple strategy of overcrowding is the most effective. This really hurts the two deathmatch modes, Skirmish (which has teams battling to get to 1,000 points) and Elimination (round based game with no respawns), as they essentially come down to seeing what team can section off members and kill them the most times. Despite typically loving modes that kill players permanently after a single death, I didn’t like Elimination. This is due to the mode still allowing players to revive teammates, and it forces players to camp at the site of a player’s death if they don’t want them to be revived. It doesn’t help that revives happen very quickly, and it really hurts the meaning of a death. Frustratingly, both of these modes are on the same playlist, so I often had to play Elimination despite wanting to play Skirmish.
The final mode is Dominion, which I talked about extensively when I previewed the closed beta. It’s an enjoyable mode with a lot of AI-controlled grunts, and it revolves around capturing points on each map. While getting ganged up on is certainly an issue here, the UI also ends up negatively playing a factor. It can be very difficult to see which stance an enemy is in when there are dozens of soldiers fighting around you, and the screen becomes a mess if both teams are over 1,000 points and trying to end the game (as every character gets pictured on the sides). This means that the UI gets in the way at the most important moments of a match (take a look at this screen for an example).
On top of all of the modes, there’s also a persistent meta-game going on where players are able to take territories over for their faction of choice. The reason why players would want to compete in this is because they’ll get various gear and symbols that they can use to customize their character. Besides visual customization, players will also be able to buy stat-changing armor with in-game (or real) currency. This type of gear doesn’t have a huge impact on how a character plays, and it’s only available for the four-on-four modes (which leaves Duel and Brawl to be entirely skill-based). I don’t mind the gear system, as it at least gave me a good reason to play multiplayer matches, and I was able to make my warrior slightly more powerful by tweaking his stats to my liking.
The most disappointing part of For Honor has been how poor the matchmaking has been. I regularly found myself in matches where I would start off with computer-controlled teammates. Considering For Honor multiplayer matches are relatively small (it’s four players on each side), it’s rather ridiculous that the game couldn’t find three other humans for me to play with. Sometimes these bots would get replaced midway through a match, but oftentimes they stayed the entire time and put my side at a disadvantage. One particularly bad case had both teams have bots in Domination, the game’s main mode.
On top of becoming all too familiar with Ubisoft’s artificially controlled partners, I also found myself on the receiving end of a lot of matchmaking errors. This would often occur after a match had ended, and the game was supposed to carry players into another game. After voting on a map, and waiting for over a minute, I’d get a screen telling me there weren’t enough members in the session and it’d break the group apart instead of waiting for one more player to join. Simply getting into a match can feel like a hassle at times, and that ends up providing a really poor user experience.
Judging by how Ubisoft has handled support for past multiplayer games (like Rainbow Six Siege), I’m confident that some of For Honor‘s issues will get rectified down the line. Gameplay can be tweaked, matchmaking enhanced, and better modes can all be added over time. However, as the game stands right now it’s more of a proof of concept than a fully realized idea. There’s a great base to build upon mechanically, but it’s too rough around the edges to shine as bright as it should.
Review code for For Honor provided by publisher. Reviewed on PS4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy here.