Remember when you were a kid and would argue over who would win in a fight between Batman and Superman or cowboys and ninjas?  Ubisoft’s latest game asks you a similar question: knights, vikings, or samurai?  For Honor was on my most anticipated list for 2017 and after almost 20 hours of play, the hype was real.  It’s a simple to learn, hard to master fighting game with some downright brutal combat.

Shield uppercuts are a good way to end a fight.
Shield uppercuts are a good way to end a fight.

  • TL;DR: Swords, axes, and katanas clash in a game of blocking, feinting, combos, and outsmarting your opponent.
  • Platforms: PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One
  • Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
  • Time Played: 19:15
  • What I Played: Campaign on normal, loads of multiplayer mainly in duel and elimination

For Honor is, at its core, a fighting game.  Fights play out in a 3D space rather than on a 2D plane.  Once locked onto an opponent, you can hold your weapon to the left, the right, or overhead.  This position doubles as where your light and heavy attacks come from as well as where you are blocking.  A triangular reticle overlaid on you and your opponent shows where each warrior is guarding.  This basic mechanic is a really cool mixup to the standard light/medium/heavy low/mid/high strike system found in most fighting games.

There are a few “advanced” techniques as well.  You can roll to dodge an attack at the right time and parry by heavy attacking in the same direction as an incoming attack at the right time.  If your opponent is hunkering down and blocking, you can break their guard with a shove that can be followed up with a combo or a throw that will send them flying backwards, possibly off a ledge.  Another important system is revenge mode.  Each block or sustained hit increases your revenge meter.  Once full, you can activate revenge mode to raise your attack and defense for a short time and possibly help you win a 2v1 that you’re on the wrong side of.

Battles in For Honor are a constant back and forth of attacking, blocking, countering, and anticipating.  Each of the dozen heroes has their own moves, strengths, and weaknesses that are all important to know.  Practice makes perfect and For Honor requires a good amount of time before you feel like you aren’t getting dominated in every match.  Thankfully, the AI opponents are actually quite challenging.  For Honor is also a game where losing a fight almost always feels like it was your fault.  I hardly ever feel cheated by the game, a certain hero, or another player’s strategy.

Bloody and tired, the Nobushi can take on all challengers
The Nobushi’s strategy is to keep foes at bay with her long spear.

Fights feel so good due to the little details.  Locking onto an opponent zooms the camera in from overhead to over the shoulder, giving duels a more cinematic feel.  Each swing and block has real weight to it, emitting a satisfying clang or crash while the fighters audibly grunt and struggle.  Slices and smashes are both heard and seen with sprays of blood.

I’m by no means an expert, but here are some of my best tips after playing for the better part of a week:

  • Each attack drains your stamina.  When you’re out of stamina, you can’t run away and can be easily thrown to the ground.  Don’t push the envelope too hard and know when to sit back.
  • Similarly, if your opponent is spamming attacks, be content with blocking for a bit.  Once they are out of stamina, you can punish them.
  • The timing on parrying is a bit finicky but can save you.  Unblockable attacks, highlighted with an orange icon, can still be parried.
  • Most heroes will have their attacks interrupted if you attack in the middle of an animation.  A light poke attack can stop a crushing blow if you react in time.
  • Ring outs are your friend!  No matter who is winning a fight, falling over a ledge means death.  If you see open space over your opponent’s head, shove them for the easy win.  Keep your head up about them doing the same to you, though.  Honestly, ring outs are my favorite part of the game.

There are 12 heroes to enter battle with across the viking, knight, and samurai factions.  While your chosen faction doesn’t limit your hero selection, For Honor doesn’t do a great job of explaining that you can play as any of the 12 heroes at any time.  Spending the 500 steel (in-game currency) to “recruit” a hero unlocks customization options for that hero, not the ability to use them.  Each hero plays very differently and there aren’t any palette swaps or clones.  Heroes all come with a move list as well as basic and advanced tutorial videos which are super helpful.  Seriously, the included videos are crucial.  I highly recommend watching them.

My favorite hero is easily the Warlord.  I was destined to be drawn to the big tank viking.  He’s a slow and defensive minded hero that excels in counters.  His sword is very short ranged but he hits like a truck.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Nobushi is an agile spear user that keeps her opponents at a distance.  Some of her attacks inflict a bleeding damage-over-time effect that also increases damage done.  While the Warlord is all about blocking, parrying, and brute strength, the Nobushi pokes, dodges, and kicks opponents to death.  She can also dodge in place by guarding down instead of up/left/right which sets up her counter game.  If you’re looking for a middle of the road hero, the basic Warden is a good starter.  Wardens are standard knights with decent armor, slightly above average speed, and a two-handed sword.  You can see one in action near my dead body above.

A few light RPG elements augment your chosen hero in-game.  Each hero has four feats that unlock as you level up during matches.  Feats are only available in larger team games, so you won’t see them in 1v1 duels or 2v2 brawls.  Feats can be anything from raising sprint speed for a short time to auto reviving on death.  Gear allows you to modify a hero’s stats to fit better with how you like to play them.  Heroes have three pieces each of armor and weapon gear that can increase blocked damage, stamina regeneration, feat cooldown, etc.  Each piece of gear augments three stats by raising one and lowering the other two so it’s up to you to mold your hero however you want.  You can also upgrade the gear you’ve found with some steel and scrapped gear that you don’t want a la Destiny infusion.  Gear can be found after a match or bought with steel in random packs.  I’ve built my Warlord with high attack since I need to make his slow attacks count.  My Nobushi, on the other hand, has higher stamina regeneration so I can employ my Death By A Thousand Pokes strategy.

For Honor_20170220123252
A little equipment management in a fighting game works pretty well.

The fact that For Honor includes a single player campaign was a surprise to me.  Unfortunately, it’s less of the memorable and exciting variety and more of the tack on variety.  The Blackstone Legion, led by Apollyon in her all black armor, is sowing the seeds of war between the three factions.  Three chapters spread over about six hours leads you through each faction and has you playing as a few heroes from that faction.  The campaign has a StarCraft feel to it with a shifting focus between factions.  It feels like Ubisoft threw this campaign together after seeing multiplayer-only games like Evolve and Star Wars Battlefront get bashed.  The story is meh at best, the boss fights (because of course there are boss fights) are fights against stronger warriors that just have more life than normal, and 99% of the characters have their faces covered with helmets.  There is a fun Skyrim reference, but overall the campaign is forgettable.

Multiplayer is where For Honor makes its name.  All games across all modes contribute to the Faction War, a cross platform turf war metagame between the factions.  Choosing a faction doesn’t limit which heroes you can play as or which friends you can play with.  The world map is divided into three areas, one per faction, with each faction warring on two fronts.  You are awarded war assets after every match to deploy in these segmented zones to attack and defend each front.  It sounds good in theory, but I almost always forget to deploy my assets so they are evenly distributed for me.  The Faction War is broken up into six hour turns, two week rounds, and 10 week seasons.  Each completed turn moves the various fronts and updates the global score between factions.  Maps located in areas once owned by one faction that are now owned by another will undergo cosmetic changes like different banners and flags.  Players earn gear at the end of each round and season based on how their faction did.  Ubisoft promises that “the world will be forever changed by what happened in previous seasons of For Honor”.  I guess we’ll have to check back in late April to see what that means.

My viking brethren and I are being pushed back. For Valhalla!
My viking brethren and I are being pushed back. For Valhalla!

For Honor features five multiplayer modes in three categories, each category moving to a new front as the Faction War updates.  There’s no hero switching here like in Overwatch, so whoever you lock in is your warrior until the end.  Another important note is that friendly fire is on, so be careful where you swing your weapon.  I’ll start with dominion, a 4v4 battle with three control points.  Each held area earns your team points over time while capturing a point is worth +100 for your team and -100 for the enemy team.  Fodder minions spawn at the back of each team’s base and run towards the middle B point, pushing a front towards the enemy base.  Each minion/soldier is killed with a single strike and is worth a point.  The game isn’t over when a team hits 1000 points, though.  At that point, the enemy team is “breaking” which means they have to get the winning team under 1000 points to continue but cannot respawn.  So, a race begins – can the losing team capture a point to swing the score before they are wiped?  Dominion is, in a word, chaotic.  There are bodies and clanging steel everywhere.  Solo fights quickly become one sided, soldiers surround you, and everything goes to hell.  Dominion can be fun but isn’t the best way to showcase your skill, if you ask me.

That honor goes to 1v1 duels and 2v2 brawls.  Both modes are best of five rounds and remove feats and gear stats.  Duels are as simple as can be — you either kill your opponent or ring them out to win a round.  Brawls have a bit more strategy to them.  The honorable (heh) thing to do is to square off in a pair of 1v1s with the victor helping his friend in a 2v1.  Nothing says you can’t immediately jump on someone, though.  Rounding out multiplayer are 4v4 modes for skirmish and elimination.  Elimination is another best of five battle but revives and revenge play big roles.  It brings everything together in that you have to know where your teammates are and look out for incoming enemies.  Skirmish is like a light Dominion mode.  The first to 1000 and breaking rules apply along with the minion waves, but there are no points to capture.

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Weapons and armor can only carry you so far.  For Honor demands your skill.

For Honor is a unique game.  Underneath the cross platform Faction War and stat-altering gear, it’s a fighting game. The learning curve is pretty steep but if you play smart and stay aware of your surroundings, you can stand your ground.  After nearly 20 hours of play, I can attribute almost all of my lost battles to my own poor play.  There isn’t a ranking system or a ladder, but if the push to simply outplay someone is enough for you, there isn’t a much better test than two warriors locked in single combat.

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