For Honor’s rough edges hide a diamond worth polishing

For Honor is everything Brendan says it is in his review – an often broken and bruising game that assaults your senses with indicators and split second decisions, as well as assaulting your sanity with frequent network issues and inexplicable matchmaking bugs. It’s also my favourite game so far this year, thanks to a deliciously layered combat system that draws you in piece by piece while you learn, adapt and try to master the simple yet versatile brawling. Let me explain to you why it’s great and why it urgently needs fixing.

For Honor is a collection of influences shaped into something that feels new. It takes a tense Dark Souls duel, fuses it to the factional conflict and gruesome melee of the raucous Chivalry: Medieval Warfare and most importantly and most interestingly, adds a touch of the traditional fighting game into the mix. While most fighting games require a level of manual dexterity beyond what I can hope to achieve with my unwieldy spider hands, For Honor is a game about simple inputs, precision timing and getting inside the head of your enemy.

Perhaps my favourite thing in For Honor is that it’s a game you can feel yourself getting better at, simply through play. You’ll start out by learning the fundamentals, such as directional blocking and attacks as well as simple combinations and guard-breaks – grappling moves that can be used to punish your opponent with strong attacks, or to toss them towards the plentiful environmental hazards. Next you’ll go deeper into the skills and abilities of your warrior of choice, as you learn what makes your class stand out – whether that’s the Viking berserker with his or her wildly flailing axes, as you tame them into a brutal symphony of unending aggression, or the measured defence of the Samurai Nobushi with her deadly bleed attacks and terrifying kick chains.

Eventually you’ll start to be able to counter your opponent’s guard block or grab attempts, recognizing the tight timing window you need to turn the tables, as you embarrass the halberd wielding Lawbringer knight, overcoming his unhealthy obsession with chucking you off a cliff. The better you get at the game and the deeper your knowledge, the more mind-games come into play. Nothing you or your enemy does is infallible, almost everything can be countered and you’ll start to recognize patterns of play, working out how to turn a foe’s bad habits into an advantage.

Take the Kensai for instance, your basic sword saint Samurai with a terrifying moustached mask, a giant katana and the ability to chain into overhead attacks that are unblockable. The only way to counter such attacks is to dodge away or to parry them by aiming your own heavy attack at a precise moment, leaving the Samurai momentarily staggered. Most decent players will pull off the parry with relative ease, leaving the Kensai in trouble. A slightly more advanced Kensai will use their attack as a feint, pushing you into committing your parry, before attacking you instead from the side. It’s a strong, simple maneuver, but if you’ve played against a few Kensai then you’ll expect it and will therefore enter into a battle of wits with the opponent. Maybe they won’t cancel the move because they expect you to anticipate the feint. Maybe they’ll cancel it twice just to play with you. Perhaps you’ll time a dodge to the side and launch into your own offensive.

Those split second decisions, the crunching sound design of the game, the second-guessing and counter-attacking options can turn every duel into a heart pounding moment of unbearable tension as you attempt to out-think and outfight your foe. The cathartic release as you guess correctly, land that final hit and launch into a gruesome execution becomes the satisfying signal to go and grab a coffee, smoke a cigarette or just wait until your heart stops pounding.

Fighting games such as Street Fighter can certainly offer the same thrills, but unless you are truly excellent at them, technical execution of the various moves and combinations is a significant roadblock. For Honor by comparison has a more limited toolset of moves and abilities that lend each contest a focus more on timing, inventive strategy and mind-games rather than being able to bend your fingers into convoluted shapes.

It’s pleasing to see that the system is versatile enough to allow for a variety of different styles already. It’s perfectly reasonable to launch into every fight using your most basic moves, to probe and test your foe’s defences, before taking a step back to consider your options and plan your next attack. Conversely, some players and classes favour reactive play, using solid defence to pick apart their opponent with counters, biding their time before unleashing an arsenal of charges, headbutts, grabs and stabs. Others yet will ignore the community’s attempts at imposing basic honour rules on duels, in favour of Brendan’s strategy of using the environment to forgo the intricate dance of combat. I myself am not averse to putting a pesky Peacekeeper (a dual-wielding speed-merchant) ‘in the bin’.

There are of course issues with For Honor, including some that even go beyond Brendan’s concerns. Specifically, it has one of the worst implementations of loot or gear I’ve ever seen in a game. As you level your character across the various modes, you unlock shiny new armour and weapon pieces that follow a pleasing visual progression from a basic soldier to something a little more unique. That’s all well and good, but unfortunately gear also has attached statistics that can boost your chosen warrior’s attack and defense, as well as altering the game’s revenge mechanic.

Revenge mode was introduced late in development, the idea being that if you get into a 1vs2 (or more) situation and are able to stay alive, you’ll eventually get an activatable mode that gives you a health shield, extra damage and interruptible attacks, allowing you to turn the tables on your assailants. Unfortunately, with good gear revenge mode becomes available almost constantly, often even triggering in fair 1v1 situations, giving warriors the ability to kill their foe in one or two hits while they’re shielded from taking damage. Because matchmaking doesn’t take gear into account, you end up far too often with teams draped in finery, pitted against people wearing shoddy jerkins, holding pointy sticks. If you’re looking to test out a new class, you need to be prepared to face off against impossible odds in pretty much every match.

Gear and the fact that matchmaking seemingly doesn’t take it into account almost entirely wrecks the carefully created ecosystem of For Honor’s combat. It feels entirely untested and rewards players who either spend real money to pile up loot (you buy gear with the game’s in-game currency, which can either be earned through play, or bought with real money), or stick exclusively with one character. It has forced some players into retreating to the 2v2 and Duel modes where gear is disabled. Gear would be absolutely fine if it simply offered cosmetic changes, but right now it’s deeply unbalanced, overly powerful and makes matches with or against high level opponents simply less enjoyable than those without.

Ubisoft recently acknowledged that gear and revenge mode needs some tweaking in a Twitch livestream, but there is a worry that because it forms a source of income and because players have spent real money getting to the top of the pack, Ubisoft may be unwilling to ring the necessary changes. If Ubisoft want For Honor to live beyond flavour of the month or earn its place in competitive play, they need to consider a serious overhaul – the wonderful combat system deserves far better.

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18 Comments

  1. Cross says:

    This could be a word for word description of the initially borked, now brill Rainbow Six Siege. No coincidence it’s the same studio, either.

  2. Darthus says:

    Completely agree. For Honor is a very special game surrounded by a lot of incredibly annoying chaff that is almost designed to turn players off. I played in early betas and was incredibly excited for the potential of this game, but myself and friends have been pushed away since launch by exactly the issues described here. People who have spent a huge amount of time accumulating broken levels of gear are matched with players with none, which further drives away casual players, turning the game into a small insular community of people all with max revenge gear. My concern is that by the time (and if) they correct these issues, people will have already moved on. I hope that the team takes a long hard look at what went well and what didn’t and give it another go in an effort to revitalize the game, either by heavily advertising an expansion, or in For Honor 2. The potential for multiplayer experiences using this combat system beyond the simple deathmatch or capture the flag are staggering.

    • Christo4 says:

      Yeah i really think they should have made different modes, kinda like the old lotr games where you had to defend or attack holds, just make it with vikings, knights and samurais. And make the maps much bigger, for 10 players per team or more. Much more hectic and fun!

      • -Spooky- says:

        Minas Tirith – where one player defended the whole city against other 5-7 players. We reached the top only one time ..

  3. C.J.Geringer says:

    I would say the combat in for honor is a mix of dark souls, and mount and blade. Maybe with a dash of the combos in Severance:blade of darkness

    • -Spooky- says:

      M&B? Without the self controlled shield blocking? No.

    • Dagon_is_Dead says:

      the combat mostly reminds me of “pirates vikings and knights”. What with the directional attack/blocking and stun parries.

  4. perablenta says:

    P2P connection is what opens the game to many many problems, exploits and bad games. There is nothing that Ubisoft will do change this and it is what killed the game before it could even start.

  5. Christo4 says:

    To me for honor seems like a game that had a pretty inspired gameplay system, but then some people up top who wanted MOAR MONEY out of the game forced them to include a lot of useless stuff that just make the overall gameplay worse (and costs money and time which would have been better to be used on making the gameplay better instead like DEDICATED SERVERS)

  6. Christo4 says:

    I think they should make an honor system tbh. In a game called for honor, you’re not really rewarded for actually being honorable. So perhaps you could get awarded honor points for not ganging up on enemies, helping friends and well being honorable.

    • rymm says:

      there is extra points for beating people 1 v 1 in the 4 v 4 modes, i think its 10 extra points for what it calls a ‘honorable kill’. i only noticed because one of the daily orders was for a number of honorable kills.
      saying that, i’m in the camp of ‘if you want honour, play duels’

  7. vahnn says:

    If they removed all the stats that alter the accumulation of Revenge meter, turning every piece of gear into a choice of variance between two stats instead of three (attack/defense, throw distance/exhaustion recovery, etc), AND disable Revenge generation in 1v1 situations or any time you outnumber a single opponent, and have the effects of Revenge the same for everyone (or maybe variance based on class), then it really wouldn’t be so bad.

    But allowing someone to fill Revenge meter after they block or parry two of your his then demolish you is absolutely stupid and in no way fun.

    • Premium User Badge

      Fourvel says:

      As the article states, they can’t really change the way equipment works because some people spent a bunch of money to make their violence fantasy the best it can be. However, they could add a new mode, more of a competitive mode or maybe a ranked mode, that either gets rid of the stat differences all together or perhaps just gets rid of the revenge mode boosts. If they rolled it out as something new and special, kind of like Overwatch did, they might get away with it.

  8. fiendling says:

    For Honor is a good game that could have been exceptional. The Peer-to-peer network architecture is its biggest flaw by far.

    After the last patch I am plagued with disconnects, ironically much worse than before the patch. I don’t have these issues with any other online games including Ubisoft stable mates, Division and Rainbow 6 Siege.

    I have decided to shelve it for now, I will try it again in a few months to see if they’ve managed to resolve the networking issues.

    Fortunately, I have more than enough good games without networking issues to happily keep me busy for years.

  9. montorsi says:

    Bend your fingers in convoluted shapes? What the crap were you trying to do while playing Street Fighter?

    Anyway, good luck. It’s Ubisoft. I expect to read soon about the balance patches that disastrously address issues while breaking other things.

  10. DocRickShillstein says:

    DEUS VULT!

    • Slazer says:

      Our viking warriors won the last round, tell that to your god!

      Also, as a berserker main I see myself excluded from all these discussions about honourable fighting, I’ll be just sitting here eating breakfast out of the skulls of my dead enemies

  11. Menthalion says:

    Accelerating and decelerating swings is a central mechanic of both Chivalry and Mordhau to bypass block timing. No idea how anyone can consider that spammy.

    Chiv had a lot of unintended effects of it’s mechanics, like the infamous reverse overhead, which broke the whole equilibrium of combat. Dragging however was and will be central to the dynamic melee that makes these two games unique.