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Review: For Honor

by on February 18, 2017
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Over the past two years, between a hostile takedown by Vivendi and numerous other industry stories, I saw French publisher and development house Ubisoft continue to take risks and launch new IPs. After the recent Steep (which I said in my review needed a bit more of finishing touch), it is now the turn for For Honor to emerge, in a weird genre between a fighting game and MOBA mechanics, where three mighty Middle-Age warrior tribes fight an eternal war. Weird? Maybe, but it works.

First, let me start by saying that MOBA are not really my thing, and while I had fun with MMOs back in days (mostly World of Warcraft and Guild Wars), DOTA 2 or League of Legends are games that didn’t get the patience – or time for that matter – to fully get into it to a point that I know stats and traits of over 100 different characters.  Even with my short phase of playing both DOTA 2 and League of Legends, I had enough to understand the core concept of a MOBA, which is basically supporting a bunch of creeps that are your canon-fodder while you gain experience and be strong enough with your team to take over the enemy base. For Honor in this case is neither a MOBA nor an MMO, and feels more a fighting game that anything else, which was shocking for me as being in my top three most played gaming genre.

The MOBA and fantasy part of the game comes with its lore, arena fight mechanics as well as its character designs and choices (which can be also compared with the Omega Force’s titles). For Honor’s story is grounded by a fictional and eternal fight between Knights, Vikings, and Samurais, even though in real-life history, these “factions” never fought, but they do now because of some sort of world-changing cataclysm. Anyway the story is quite strange, and you discover slowly that there’s a mastermind behind this whole clash between factions, but what’s important to know is that the script of this game is not really what will get it awards. Nevertheless, there’s a “story” mode that tells the tale of three mighty Knight, Viking, and Samurai warriors, that will attempt to explain the mystic scenario of this game, while basically act as a long tutorial of each character class in each faction. Because of the AI enemy not being optimal in this story mode, I would advise to play this campaign with a friend that just grabbed the game as yourself, and play coop trough these 18 missions that need around 10-15 hours to finish depending on the difficulty levels, alongside the chance to find collectibles and other actions that will help you in customizing your gaming experience.

As you advance throughout the story, you’ll gain gold coins based on some criteria, and once you reach the 500 count, you’ll be able to start buying your very own new warrior class on top of the three starting one for each faction. Like the same strategy as Rainbow Six Siege’s operatives unlocking mechanics, Ubisoft Montreal decided to follow the same pattern and give you the chance as a player to unlock new characters the more you play the game (12 in total, 4 per faction). This logic also applies to the season pass owners, which will only get a seven-day head start to unlock the new characters, but if you wallet is heavy, you can also buy yourself the same coins with real-life currency and “speed” things up or unlock cosmetic upgrades to make each character unique in their own way.

In any case, let’s talk about each character class, shall we? First to be introduced in the story mode, are the Knight’s Vanguard, being the most versatile, easier to handle and do not have complex attack combos. However, don’t see them as the beginner class as they can become effective once you learn the depth of their technique, and their Viking counterpart can be tricky to handle with its two-handed ax, followed by the Samurai’s version with a long reach Katana. The second category includes the assassins (fitting for a Ubisoft game), which are weaker in terms of armor, more difficult to handle as they agile dual-handed warriors, except for the Samurai’ Orochi. Finally, the Heavy class of the game are like any tank in RPG: a beast of a warrior in terms of defense, and hit hard at the expense of slow movements. Finally, the hybrids are combinations of these three previously mentioned classes, with my personal one being the Viking’s Valkyrie armed which can harass swiftly like an Assassin, has Disabler abilities of the Samurai Heavy, and a long reach attack thanks to its lance (like the Samurai Vanguard).

With all this to take in consideration, and the depth of each faction’s differences even within each classes, comes the importance of training, and lots of it. The heart of the gameplay resides in a smart and simple to understand guard position (or stance), which is done to control which part of your body you want to attack and defend. So on screen, you’ll see this small chest overlay, with an arrow that is oriented up, left or right which respectively means that you are about to attack/defend your upper body, left or right side. While this seems simple by base, you discover a deeper and richer attack and defend mechanic, with a parry function that needs to be timed at the exact moment, counter attack combos, guardbreaks, and finally the map/arena itself plays a big part in the combat. You see, each arena has its own amount of obstacles, traps and cliffs which can become a viable solution to get rid of enemies, by using these environments to your advantage. There’s a fire in the middle of the field? No problem, harass your opponent until he’s forced to back into the pit and see its health fall dramatically.  present in each arena make it a viable solution when it comes to getting rid of an enemy who is unconcerned. When it comes to singleplayer, all these actions are perfectly responsive on the controller, but watch out when you play online, as a strict NAT will make you fall into the same misery of every fighting game: not being able to hit that perfect milliseconds life-saving parry because of lag. Technically speaking it’s worth mentioning that there’s difference between all platforms, with both base consoles running the game at a locked 1080p and 30 frames per second, while the PlayStation 4 Pro can reach 1440p and 30 frames per second, and PC can go as high 4K resolution but locked to roughly 40 fps (in comparison up to 90 fps with 1080p).

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Considering the fact that its main multiplayer mode sets up large battle scenes with dozens of soldiers duking it out, For Honor runs the risk of making your system stutter and lag as it tries to render all the carnage. However, I’m pleased to report that the game manages to pull off its epic stabfests with nary a stutter. Optimization is top-notch here, even with fires raging and explosions popping up. I set the dial to Ultra at 1080 and ran the game’s benchmark tool, which put my fps between 70 and 90. In real combat scenarios, I was able to hit 100 without Vsync, and with Vsync I managed a smooth 60. There were some minor stutters while turning quickly, but other than that the experience was noticeably hitch-free. In terms of controls, I will firmly recommend a controller. The reason for this is that the game’s super-intuitive and fun blocking mechanic is bound to the mouse on PC.

So instead of just flicking the right analog in the direction you wanna block, you flick your wrist to move the mouse. It’s uncomfortable and less precise, and I barely managed a few rounds with it. Stick to controller with this one, people. All in all, the game does a great job on PC and I had no trouble even when I scaled it up to 1440. Great optimization job all around.

Now as mentioned above, each “hero” will have its own advantage depending on the faction, meaning simply that my Knight Vanguard will not play the same as your Samurai version.  For example, the Viking Heavy called Warlords is equipped with a heavy shield and Gladius (Ancient Roman primary sword), which allows him to deflect blows easily and counter at close range. The list of combo styles are roughly no more than 8 or 9 variants, but the game is not lacking in depth as mastering each attack timing will require hours of actual AI or real-life opponent before it becomes a reflex.

For Honor as a game is played in confined arenas, which replicate what a medieval battle looks like without turning into an open-world game. This restriction is logical, as it helps makes the environment look stunning, whether it is the European style forest of the Knights to the exotic maps of the Samurai, passing by the snowy peaks of the Vikings. Yet the real prowess of the game lies in its engine and how it handles animations, with a realism that obviously reinforce the sheer power of some attacks, and how visually painful a hit can be. You just wait until you get to do your first assassination, you’ll just want to see more of that, like some sort of medieval Mortal Kombat style Fatalities.

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The game also has a great and effective UI and HUD, which pair visually in a great way with all actions done. For example, when you are in guard mode (a sort of lock-on aiming), the edges of the screen darken to better concentrate your attention on the locked enemy. Or my favorite is something called Revenge mode, which activates when you attack chain combos, or get damaged to near-death, and gives you this short couple of second invulnerable moment, and flashes with bright fire orange colors on screen. All these visual output are clearly Inspired by fighting games and the effect spectacle that follows great combos and super attacks.

But like most things in life, For Honor is not perfect, and has sadly the typical flaws of a newly launched internet-required game. First of all Matchmaking seems to be illogical for me, and getting paired with players of quite different skill levels, which explains the fact that the eSports/Ranked mode of the multiplayer is not launching until late April (in 2 month basically). It could be normal as matchmaking algorithms usually take time to identify a bunch of newly created accounts, but at the same time a technical beta, closed beta and open beta seemed to have not helped prevent server issues. In my case I managed to switch from a Strict to an Open NAT connection, but even that didn’t help with random disconnections from a multiplayer game.

Nevertheless, these launch issues will probably be fixed soon with a patch no doubt (as Ubisoft proved it with constant support on Rainbow Six Siege and The Division), but the biggest issue I believe is how niche this game is. You see, the campaign can be played alone or in coop, which offers several levels of difficulty thus could expand the lifespan of the game, but it’s the multiplayer modes and the number of variety that will truly make the game a long-term investment for players. Sadly due to this rare mix between a fighting game and MOBA style multiplayer modes, the complexity of it might not get the amount of players to truly make this a competitive or eSports hit, but who knows, it could become what Wargaming did with World of Tanks in Europe. In any case, its originality of gameplay features might arise curiosity in players, which will find everything you need of a game that is multiplayer firstly and a traditional singleplayer campaign game second. There’s 9 characters to unlock, a ranking system, “loot boxes” that contain equipment that boost your stats, or just cosmetic changes like a majestic mountain of golden spikes on top of helmet. To top thing off, there’s a sort of constant online Faction War (similar to the Mortal Kombat X system), which has you fight for one specific Faction, and all your feats during your multiplayer game will contribute War Assets to that banner. What this affects is the what territory each faction occupies on the For Honor world, which dictates which map you’ll be playing on as a defender in multiplayer, and which one when you’ll be the attacker.

One last thing to close this review, which is always a topic dear to me in videogames: the soundtrack. Sadly this is the thing that felt very unoriginal and bland, and even if some tunes are quite majestic, they don’t really ooze power and the fantastic theme that is a war between three iconic warrior factions of our history.

For Honor was reviewed using an Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC downloadable code of the game provided by Ubisoft Middle East. The PC version was tested by Mazen Abdallah on a PC running Windows 10, with an 8GB NVIDIA Geforce GTX 1070 fitted on a 4th Generation Intel i7 4790 3.6Ghz CPU and topped with 16GB of RAM, while the console versions were tested by Nazih Fares and Luciano Rahal. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.

What we liked

• Original game concept
• Simple fighting game, yet complex at the same
• Visually stunning
• A lot to unlock and do
• Variety of maps and settings

What is not fun

• Generic soundtrack
• Could be too niche for its owned good
• Typical launch bug and server issues

Editor Rating
 
Concept
9.5

 
Graphics
9.2

 
Sound
7.5

 
Playability
8.6

 
Entertainment
8.4

 
Replay Value
9.0

Final Score
8.7


Our final verdict
 

Ubisoft’s For Honor is an enjoyable, visually stunning and gritty experience that might be a bit too original for its own good. Being such a niche genre might push away your normal players, and the singleplayer part might not be enough for someone to cough up $60. Nevertheless, with the right community management, a steady flow of updates, balancing and a ranked mode coming, it could become something great, like what happened with Rainbow Six Siege, 6 month after its launch. Who knows? But for now, give this title a chance as it’s a good one.

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