Ubisoft have undoubtedly mastered the art of open-world gameplay. They’ve given us Watch_Dogs, Far Cry and in a few weeks we’ll be graced with the highly anticipated Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Every now and again though, Ubi pull it out of the bag to create something a little different. Maybe a racing game or the odd puzzler usually, but with For Honor, they have gone off the scale. Mish-mashing brutal yet thoughtful melee combat with the now-standard slew of multiplayer modes, For Honor feels like nothing else I’ve ever played. Not in terms of actual gameplay but in its execution. A methodical dance of steel-on-steel as you nervously attempt to outwit your opponent, be it human or AI, for the win and also bragging rights.
Every match in For Honor feels meaningful. Whether you take on the opposition in a one-to-one slug-fest in Duel or go all-out war in capture-the-zones alike mode Dominion, your defeat or victory feels as though it matters. The slew of game modes is sadly limited, being nothing more than variations of the two, but the meatiness of the action and thought process that goes along with every fight makes it less of a disappointment than it should be. Then there is Brawl, which is nothing more than two teams of two or three and Elimination is just that; no respawns. Having little in terms of content does nothing to drag For Honor down. Its simple-yet-smart combat has every sword swipe or axe swing making you feel as though it’s you that’s on the end of it. Ubisoft have got it spot on here, whether you’re a Viking, Samurai or Knight, every time you go toe-to-toe with another player or a surprisingly capable AI bot, it becomes a battle of wits. Do you get in a few swings and pull off one of your heroes’ combos finally finishing it off with a cranium-crunching execution, or do you play it smart and hang back, anticipating your foe’s next move, hoping he or she slips up and creates a vital opening to exploit? You might even use your guard breaking move to smash through their raised defence. Every fight makes you consider these options and you’ll either win or lose.
The most popular game mode is Dominion which plays exactly like Call of Duty’s Domination or Battlefield’s Conquest modes. Your team must capture the points, but one of the points, mainly situated in the middle of the map, is occupied by AI grunt types that constantly fight to control it, and it’s down to you and your team to take them out to take control. It’s a fantastic feature, one that makes the match feel more like a war. The grunts do attack you and can harm you, but they act more like a distraction for you to get some cheap shots on unsuspecting opponents (hehe!).
Locking on to your opponent makes your chosen hero embrace a guarding stance which is one of three; to the left, right or overhead. Blocking is simply shifting your stance towards the same direction to guard automatically or quickly pressing the correct direction, and by timing it right it allows you to parry, creating a small opening to turn the tide. All twelve heroes of the three factions play differently. The standard Knight Warden with his or her sword swiping combos is different to the swift Orochi of the Samurai armed with a short sword and a flurry of quick strikes. Experimentation is advised to identify your perfect play-style, and it’s the diversity of your band of warriors that makes For Honor so special. Then there are ‘Feats’ which are match earned perks and abilities once you have enough Renown (similar to experience that is awarded for successful kills or zone captures) gained throughout the match. These abilities can range from buffs and debuffs, such as raising attack or defence temporarily, shooting projectiles or activating devastating area-of-effect attacks. Ubisoft have masterfully balanced For Honor matches so that never once did I feel out-matched. Getting ganged up on is a frequent occurrence, though, and once the odds stack up against you, your last thread of survival is an ability called ‘Revenge’ mode. This second-chance move grants you infinite stamina (as every move depletes it) and makes your attacks more powerful. It also knocks nearby enemies over to give you a bit of breathing space; like I said, they have masterfully balanced it out.
Ubi seemed to have listened to the strifes that came with Star Wars: Battlefront and gave For Honor a single-player story; its ambitious, but it’s nothing special. You play as heroes from the three factions in a few chapters concentrating mainly on taking over castles, driving away attacking factions and battling boss types. There are objectives in each chapter, such as driving the enemy back so your forces can advance whilst smashing pots, but there are no memorable set-pieces or smart dialogue with catchy one-liners or even shining personalities. Whilst the cutscenes are entertaining to watch, mainly featuring overacting motion capture and naff dialogue, the entire story is ultimately forgettable. We can forgive the developers for it, though, because For Honor is a cracking multiplayer game.
Unfortunately, nothing earned in single-player such as your heroe’s level or any weapons or armor you unlock carry over to multiplayer, but it’s extremely fun finding weapon parts and new armor pieces to kit out your heroes with, and the constant rewards make it worth the grind. They all have their own attributes too. My Viking Raider was soon kitted out in a badass skull helmet with cool spikes down the centre, and my axe was soon a decorated instrument of death that would make even the mighty Odin proud. Thankfully, unwanted items can be salvaged to make scrap which, in turn, can be spent to upgrade worn items or transmogrify them to look exactly like another item. The customisation options are impressive for primarily a multiplayer game.
For Honor is a gorgeous looking game with its top notch visuals, richly detailed graphics and stellar animations that make you feel the weight of every swing. The expertly designed maps like the River Fort with its traps and pitfalls is a clear-cut highlight with lanes separating from openings to create pathways of death. The way the Viking Raider swings his two-handed axe from left to right as he sprints feels as heavy as axes would be, it’s authentic and ultra-realistic and something that Ubisoft got spot on.
Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Release Date: 14th February 2017