Despite Technical Problems, “For Honor” Provides Solid Gameplay

Avi Vogel, Columnist

A hundred or so blue-and-white-clad medieval knights storm a castle gate, streaming toward a pack of samurai in red armor; as the two armies meet in the center of the combat field, a hectic battle breaks out and swords fly in all directions. This was the spectacle audiences witnessed on screen during the 2015 demo of For Honor.

For Honor is the most recent big-budget game to come out of publisher Ubisoft’s Montreal studio, most famous for developing the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry series. It’s best described as a tactical melee-fighting game, in which you choose to play a hero from one of three different factions based on ancient warriors: The Legion, The Chosen and The Warborn, loosely representing European knights, samurai and Vikings, respectively.

Each faction has four distinct classes that fall into categories that most people familiar with video games will likely recognize. I found myself gravitating toward a character based more on parrying and counterattacking, but players can also choose units geared toward slower, high-powered attacks or units that fall somewhere in between. These drastic differences in play styles make it easy for anyone to find a character that best suits their skills and style.

The feature that makes this game truly unique, however, is the combat system. Combat is structured using an augmented rock-paper-scissors style mechanic, something that I haven’t seen in any other game. Players can assume one of three different stances, dictating the direction of your attack and block. For example, if the direction of your block matches the direction of the enemy’s attack, you block it. If your stance doesn’t match, then you get hit and open yourself up to combos.

Each character has a different fighting style. Some characters can dodge and transition into powerful follow-up attacks, and others can turn themselves into defensive tanks by blocking all directions. Throws, bleed damage and various other elements lead to a nuanced system that extends well beyond its three-move core. Each fight is slow and takes skill; button mashing will only lead to your downfall. The game itself presents a stunning amount of depth and truly has one of the most entertaining combat systems I have seen in a long time.

The game is split into two distinct modes — single player and multiplayer. Given that the multiplayer mode received far more attention in previews and betas, I expected the single player mode to be tacked on and uninspired. That isn’t the case at all. The mode itself is rather extensive, clocking in at around five to nine hours long, and the storytelling is leagues better than I expected. Although the characters are usually flat and one-dimensional, I enjoyed seeing how their factions interacted with the others throughout the campaign. At one moment you might be on top of an active battering ram in intense combat, only to be riding on a horse shortly after, slashing at enemies as they try to follow you. Although I haven’t finished the single player mode yet, the two-thirds I’ve played so far have kept me intrigued, and I plan on seeing the campaign through.

Despite the quality of this mode, it’s not the game’s main selling point — multiplayer is where the game is richest. For Honor’s multiplayer mode presents several match types, ranging from one-on-one duels to four-on-four objective-based modes. Though the four-player cap on team matches may seem small to players, it suits this game perfectly. Duels are intense, with you circling your enemy and playing a game of psychological warfare to determine who will move first, and dominion, the four-on-four objective mode, has you mowing down small units to capture objectives and hold them against the opponents. These battles are often hectic, as the rock-paper-scissors system works best in a one-on-one battle. This can lead to intense battles where you’re left trapped by various attacks that are impossible to defend against.

Still, the game’s solid mechanics and fun modes are plagued by some annoying features. Customizable pieces for your fighters require in-game currency to unlock, and all the characters aren’t available at the start; they have to be bought with in-game currency too. I didn’t have a huge problem with this, as I like learning to play a single hero at a time and spend time mastering the game before working with new characters, but other players may feel differently. While this feature doesn’t render aspects of the game permanently unavailable, the fact that it is there at all is baffling.

The game’s servers are a major problem. I’ve played several matches where the flow gets completely interrupted because of a server problem. Sometimes this isn’t an issue, but more often than not I have found myself mid-combat with that server lag being the difference between me landing a strike and the opponent blocking it. In extreme cases, I was simply removed from matches. So far, I’ve been booted out of approximately 5 to 10 percent of my games, and although that seems small, it’s significant for a game that focuses almost entirely on online play. Also, since you have to be connected online to even open the game, that means sometimes you will be booted out of the single player campaign and have to completely restart the level you were on at the time.

Server issues notwithstanding, For Honor is a unique game, and despite my gripes with the server lag, in-game currency and bland, confusing user interface, For Honor stands tall with an incredible central combat system.