FOR HONOR

Samey swords­man can’t help but slash and burn

XBox: The Official Magazine (US) - - CON­TENTS - Dave Meik­le­ham

Ev­ery other videogame take note: this is how you do sword fight­ing… and spear fight­ing… and spiked club fight­ing. Ubisoft Mon­treal’s me­dieval stab-‘em-up has some of the best blade-on-blade com­bat on Xbox One. Crunch­ing, tac­ti­cal, and deeply im­pact­ful, few other games sell the sen­sa­tion of close-quar­ters du­els quite like this. It’s just a pity that in most other de­part­ments Ubi’s slasher is fairly nar­row-minded.

Do­ing one thing very well can be com­mend­able. Re­mem­ber Rockstar’s

TableTen­nis? It proved that games with tun­nel vi­sion can work bril­liantly when ex­e­cuted to per­fec­tion. Yet while said ex­e­cu­tion in ForHonor is mostly up to task, the blades of a stel­lar com­bat sys­tem are swiftly dulled by rep­e­ti­tion.

To its credit, this lo-fi beat-‘emup hy­brid is noth­ing if not fo­cused. It feels like a throw­back to a sim­pler time, as if some­one cooked up a 3D

Street­sOfRage, then chucked it into a blender with a dusty DVD of King­dom

OfHeaven. Whether you jump into the mea­sured mur­der over­spilling from the on­line du­els and death­matches, or its un­apolo­get­i­cally one-note cam­paign, one thing above all is guar­an­teed: su­per-sat­is­fy­ing sword skir­mishes.

Art at­tack

The key to the com­bat’s suc­cess lies in its un­abashed sim­plic­ity. Coined ‘The Art Of Bat­tle’ by Ubisoft *ugh*,

ForHonor is un­fussy yet tac­tile. It strips the ac­tion down to stream­lined stick con­trols, where ev­ery strike and parry can be dished out with a deft flick and a swift jab of RB for a light strike, or RT for a bruis­ing heavy at­tack.

ForHonor’s stick-based de­fen­sive sys­tem is its crown­ing glory. In ac­tion, de­flect­ing an on­line or AI op­po­nent’s strikes plays out a bit like EA’s Fight

Night… if you re­placed Roy Jones JR coun­ter­ing a hay­maker with a sur­gi­cal jab for two dudes in ar­mor slap­ping each other’s mighty me­dieval blades away. There’s al­most a rock-pa­per­scis­sors pu­rity to com­bat. If a foe at­tacks from the left, you flick your stick to the left to guard against the blow. There are three dif­fer­ent stances in du­els (left, above and right), and as long as you suc­cess­fully match the di­rec­tions of your en­emy’s as­saults, you take min­i­mal dam­age.

Vis­ually, For Honor’s fights are wisely un­clut­tered. On-screen cues flash up dur­ing strikes, and it’s easy to read where your foe’s next at­tack is com­ing from. Quite whether you can re­act in time to stop that Berserker’s axe from re­liev­ing your war­rior’s head from their shoul­ders is an­other mat­ter en­tirely. While du­els en­cour­age care­ful de­fense and an air of cau­tion, the dozens of on­line scraps we par­take in re­veal it’s the bold sword fighter, the one who fa­vors brave at­tack­ing flour­ishes, that of­ten emerges the vic­tor.

To spice up th­ese bat­tles, Ubi sep­a­rates fight­ers into dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories. For Honor’s 12 start­ing he­roes span bal­anced Van­guards, hard-hit­ting heav­ies, ag­ile, coun­ter­at­tack­ing as­sas­sins, as well as the some­what de­vi­ous Hy­brid class, which ex­cels at shrug­ging off its en­e­mies’ at­tacks with ef­fec­tive par­ries and long-range coun­ters.

Speed kills

In the­ory, each class should have an equal chance on the bat­tle­fields, which play out across a range of snow-cov­ered ram­parts and muddy court­yards. In prac­tise, speed is king. Whether you choose a war­rior from the Knights, Vik­ings, or Sa­mu­rai, as­sas­sins and Hy­brids al­ways seem to have an ad­van­tage. When you have a Knight Peace­keeper thrash­ing away with a re­lent­less stream of swipes from her twin dag­gers, the light­ning­fast flur­ries can be in­fu­ri­at­ing to de­fend against. True, at­tacks can be par­ried—match the direction of your foe’s blow, then im­me­di­ately hit a heavy at­tack at the right in­ter­val— but good luck with that when the per­son across from you is throw­ing six strikes a sec­ond your way.

Com­plain­ing about as­sas­sins isn’t a case of sour grapes, ei­ther. Keep your ‘git gud’ com­ments to your­self, for we’re not the wronged party here. Quite the con­trary: we of­ten ben­e­fit from th­ese slightly cheap, overly rapid as­saults. We lose count of the num­ber of oc­ca­sions we thrash wildly with the right stick, our crude en­thu­si­asm for dis­em­bow­elling op­po­nents of­ten pre­vail­ing against even the most guarded de­fence. Don’t spread this around, but we’re what’s wrong with

For Honor’s early on­line com­mu­nity. The bal­anc­ing is­sues don’t stop there. Cer­tain maps spawn you atop pre­car­i­ous cliff­side bridges, es­pe­cially in 2v2 bat­tles. It’s here the game’s stag­ger­ing charges re­ally come to the cheaty fore. Time that shoul­der tackle cor­rectly, and you can knock your en­emy off the edge to their gore­s­plat­tered doom. Some stages have so many of th­ese deadly choke­points, the best strat­egy is of­ten to run around like a head­less chicken un­til you’re safely away from the edges. Cowardly? You bet. But if it keeps you from cheaply plum­met­ing to an early death, then needs must.

In spite of th­ese grat­ing tac­tics, there’s a re­fresh­ing fo­cus to For

Honor’s mul­ti­player modes. Aside from the rather clus­tered Do­min­ion—where two teams of four square off over con­trol points, all the while flanked by dozens of AI cronies—the ac­tion nor­mally show­cases stripped-down fights. One-on-one Du­els and two vs two Brawls of­fer the purest ex­pres­sion on blade bat­tles, and the lat­ter can

throw up fas­ci­nat­ing back-and-forth tagteam ter­ror, as play­ers try to iso­late each other from their part­ners, be­fore strik­ing when they have a nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage.

What of the cam­paign, though? While it’s ad­mirable Ubi has in­cluded a sin­gle-player com­po­nent in the first place—take note, Star Wars

Bat­tle­front— the ex­e­cu­tion is per­func­tory to say the least. Over 18 su­per-samey lev­els, you slice and dice Knights, Vik­ings, and Sa­mu­rai, as you take con­trol of each fac­tion for six mis­sions. Trust us, the ac­tion drags so much at times, it feels like 60.

Save for the odd, slightly forced chase se­quence on horse­back, or sec­tions where you scale a cas­tle wall dur­ing a Viking in­va­sion of a Sa­mu­rai strong­hold, the ac­tion is un­be­liev­ably one-note. We get try­ing to prep play­ers for on­line war­fare, but all you do in sin­gle-player is stab and block… then rinse and re­peat roughly 17,000 times. That, and mount a tur­ret. Be­cause of course there’s a sec­tion where you mount a tur­ret.

Apol­lyon Now

The plot, of what lit­tle is of­fered, is nat­u­rally, ut­ter bob­bins. There’s an ex­tra-mean Knight called Apol­lyon— think a fe­male ver­sion of Monty

Python’s Black Knight mixed with a morally grey Darth Vader—who thinks war is mankind’s “nat­u­ral state”, and

“There’s al­most a sort of rock-pa­per-scis­sors pu­rity to the game’s sim­ple bat­tle sys­tem”

a bunch of cutscenes with lots of limb-sev­er­ing, yet lit­tle worth­while com­ment on con­flict. Said cin­e­mat­ics boast sharp fight chore­og­ra­phy, and look lovely ren­dered in the game’s en­gine, but make no mis­take: the cam­paign is a glo­ri­fied tu­to­rial.

There’s also a slightly in­sid­i­ous on­line model at work through­out. The chief cul­prit? You need a con­stant on­line con­nec­tion to play. Yup, even in sin­gle-player. It’s a strange de­ci­sion given that there’s very lit­tle no­tice­able need to be con­nected at all.

Per­son­al­is­ing your hero is also more of a grind than it should be. True, you can tweak and up­grade weapons with the Steel cur­rency awarded af­ter matches, but it’s shared out in piti­ful quan­ti­ties. This is where Ubisoft en­cour­ages you to spend real money. Does Madam/Sir want to splurge on ar­mor packs? Why of course. That’ll be $9.99 for 11,000 Steel. To put that into con­text, most emotes cost be­tween 3,000-5,000. Granted, th­ese are cos­metic changes that don’t al­ter game­play, yet for such a mul­ti­player-fo­cused ti­tle where cus­tomi­sa­tion is im­por­tant to cer­tain play­ers, the pric­ing model seems stingy.

Re­gard­less of whether you cough up for the $39.99 sea­son pass or DLC, Ubisoft clearly wants to es­tab­lish a com­mu­nity that’s in it for the long haul. As such, there’s a Des­tiny- style daily and weekly events sys­tem (called Or­ders), de­signed to keep you mo­ti­vated. Cer­tain tasks dish out XP and Steel for, say, re­viv­ing five al­lies in skir­mish death matches, while oth­ers ask you to fin­ish a match of Do­min­ion dy­ing less than five times. In a game of such nar­row scope, any added in­cen­tive for con­tin­ued play is ap­pre­ci­ated.

For Honor of­ten feels like a bare­bones pack­age, one that ex­hausts through rep­e­ti­tion. Its bat­tle sys­tem can pro­vide thrilling sword fights that cut deep at their best, yet bal­anc­ing is­sues and cheap tac­tics ul­ti­mately blunt this war­rior’s blade.

Above

2v2 on­line Brawls can show the game at its most tensely tac­ti­cal.

right

Cam­paign bat­tles can of­fer up quite the spec­ta­cle, with dozens of on­screen troops. top right

Don’t get at­tached to any of the char­ac­ters. Most of them lose their heads.

left

Char­ac­ter mod­els don’t just look good: they’re easy to read, too.

above

Apol­lyon is the one in the black ar­mor. She ab­so­lutely adores war.

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