For Honor

EDGE - - GAMES -

PC, PS4, Xbox One

For Honor doesn’t feel like a Ubisoft game. It doesn’t try to do ev­ery­thing; it doesn’t pack an open world with col­lectibles; it isn’t try­ing to be for ev­ery­body. Ubisoft’s free-roam­ing me­dieval com­bat sim­u­la­tor has the depth of a fight­ing game, build­ing a com­plex sys­tem of feints, par­ries, stance switches and grabs out of a few sim­ple build­ing blocks. In one-on-one du­els, the purest ex­pres­sion of For

Honor, play fol­lows a set pat­tern. First, you as­sess your op­po­nent, since each of the game’s 12 char­ac­ters ap­proaches com­bat dif­fer­ently. The nag­i­nata-wield­ing sa­mu­rai Nobushi uses kicks and back­steps to keep her dis­tance while needling you from long range. The axe­bear­ing vik­ing Berserker thrives in close, where her fast, mul­ti­di­rec­tional at­tacks are hard­est to re­li­ably guard against. The lum­ber­ing knight Law­bringer, mean­while, wields a poleaxe, a long-range threat that can be chained into po­tent throws at close range, but his slow swings make him vul­ner­a­ble to par­ries.

Af­ter your op­po­nent comes the bat­tle­field it­self. A du­elling field may sim­ply be a square court­yard en­closed on all sides, but it might equally be a bell tower with a sheer drop on one side, or a rope bridge, or the bank of a river of lava. This is vi­tal. En­closed en­vi­ron­ments re­strict move­ment and pro­hibit swing­ing strikes, while en­vi­ron­men­tal haz­ards place im­por­tance on guard-break coun­ters. Fail to re­pel a guard break and you open your­self up to a throw, at which point you’re at the mercy of your op­po­nent – and specif­i­cally, their sense of hon­our. Will they fight to the death, or sim­ply throw you to yours?

Af­ter these con­sid­er­a­tions comes the drama of the com­bat sys­tem it­self. Each char­ac­ter has ac­cess to three di­rec­tional stances (left, right, and up) as well as light and heavy at­tacks, a guard break, an area-clear­ing zone at­tack, and par­ries that are achieved by launch­ing a heavy at­tack into an in­com­ing blow dur­ing a nar­row win­dow of time. Yet in each case these sim­ple el­e­ments com­bine in dif­fer­ent ways: their tim­ing win­dows, their reach, the moves they combo with. Un­der­stand­ing the game at this level is the re­ward and the re­quire­ment of high-level play, where For Honor be­comes a dance of feints and foot­work with no el­e­ment of luck. Losses are crush­ing, but the prom­ise of a win will keep the com­pet­i­tive player run­ning back for more.

A duel is the sim­plest ex­pres­sion of For Honor, but this same logic ex­tends to two-on-two brawls, where each player starts fac­ing a mem­ber of the op­pos­ing team. Po­lite (but un­en­forced) con­ven­tion dic­tates that you let one of these du­els fin­ish be­fore pil­ing in, ef­fec­tively grant­ing each player a ‘sec­ond’ should they fail. The four-on-four Elim­i­na­tion mode is looser, with strat­egy re­volv­ing around how each team ap­proaches those ini­tial pair­ings. If you can kill your op­po­site num­ber quickly, you are free to run off and help some­body else – but you can run away im­me­di­ately, if you like, and at­tempt to over­power a dif­fer­ent op­po­nent be­fore your jilted spar­ring part­ner catches up.

Power-ups pro­vide an in­cen­tive to con­trol cer­tain ar­eas of the map, while in these team modes how you de­feat some­body mat­ters more than it does in a duel. Fin­ish­ing off an op­po­nent’s health­bar with a heavy strike al­lows you to per­form an ex­e­cu­tion, the ben­e­fits of which ex­tend far be­yond the drama of the kill it­self. Ex­e­cuted play­ers can’t be re­vived by their team-mates; this cre­ates a net­work of soft and hard win con­di­tions within an al­ready com­plex fight­ing sys­tem, within a strate­gi­cally broad team-ac­tion game.

The two other modes, Do­min­ion and Skir­mish, are looser still: the for­mer re­volves around cap­ture points and the lat­ter is es­sen­tially team death­match. You can respawn af­ter death, and both dial down the im­por­tance of one-on-one fight­ing nous in favour of strate­gic play and fight­ing as a group. For Honor doesn’t show its best side in this con­text, but it also pro­vides a much less pun­ish­ing en­try point for new play­ers. The down­side is Skir­mish shares a match­mak­ing queue with Elim­i­na­tion while be­ing a very dif­fer­ent, ar­guably weaker mode.

For Honor’s sin­gle­player cam­paign threads a course through the knight, vik­ing and sa­mu­rai fac­tions to tell the story of a decade-span­ning war. Seen as the story mode in a fight­ing game, its scope is de­cent enough, but as a stand­alone ac­tion game, it’s a lit­tle thin. There’s not much to do be­sides fight, and the rep­e­ti­tion is only redeemed by the strength of the com­bat sys­tem. At its best, it of­fers mo­ments of real spec­ta­cle. At its worst, it has you hunt­ing the same few en­e­mies over used and re-used sin­gle­player ver­sions of mul­ti­player maps. Over the course of the cam­paign you’re in­tro­duced to nine out of 12 char­ac­ters, how­ever, and as such it’s a wel­come way to start to get to grips with For Honor’s com­plex­ity. Be­yond that, Ubisoft Montreal pro­vides ex­ten­sive cus­tom-match op­tions and com­mend­ably ef­fec­tive AI, both of which help when you be­gin to take the game more se­ri­ously and want to drill spe­cific tech­niques.

For Honor’s weak­nesses are chiefly in its UI and the sys­tems that sur­round the core game. In-game and out, the in­ter­face is far busier than it needs to be, though you’ll learn to fo­cus on the key el­e­ments. A metagame that tracks points earned by play­ers aligned to each fac­tion on a war map is dis­tract­ing, and un­nec­es­sary: with­out ranked play, the no­tion of a ‘sea­son’ of mul­ti­player is rather empty. Char­ac­ter cus­tomi­sa­tion op­tions are wel­come, but stat-al­ter­ing gear doesn’t con­trib­ute much and ties into a mi­cro­trans­ac­tion sys­tem that comes off as grasp­ing given the cost of a full-price game and a sea­son pass. It’s fea­ture-creep, in short, bloat or­bit­ing an ex­cel­lent core. In that re­gard, at least, For Honor is a Ubisoft game.

Fail to re­pel a guard break and you open your­self up to a throw, at which point you’re at the mercy of your op­po­nent

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