One of my favorite games of all time is “Infinity Blade 3”. I really like 1 and 2, but I always felt like 3 was one of the first games to feel like it was blaring the lines between phone and console experiences. That game came out in 2013, and since then there’s been tons and tons of mobile clones, but that style of gameplay never made it to consoles. “For Honor” carries the torch and holds it triumphantly over its head.
“For Honor’s” fighting system is a lot like “Infinity Blade’s.” Once you lock on to an enemy, you have to change the direction of your stance to parry their attacks, and when you break their guard you take every little chance you get to whittle away at their health. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find a much more complex system at play here that will leave you holding your breath and squeezing your controller until it starts to creak under the force. It seems easy at first, but once you complete your first 1v1 duel, you’ll start to realize how deep the combat system actually goes.
There are 12 different heroes in “For Honor” split between the Viking, Samurai and Knight factions. Each of these factions is split between three classes, a Vanguard, a Heavy and an Assassin. The three classes are extremely varied, and the variations branch out even further between the factions thanks to different speeds, weapons and stances that the different factions rely on.
Instead of being able to switch heroes mid-match like you can in something like “Overwatch,” once you choose a hero in For Honor you’re stuck with it. At first I thought that was a weird choice, but once I started to think about it, it began to make sense. Instead of learning how to counter different heroes, “For Honor” forces you to master each one and commit their strengths and weaknesses to memory. It’s a great way to break someone like me out of my tendency to learn one hero and stick with that. Once I started to learn other heroes’ move sets, I started to do much better because I could start to predict what my opponent was going to do.
Even though you’ll probably be spending most of your time in “For Honor’s” Duel mode which pits you against an opponent in 1v1 or you and a friend against two others in 2v2, the other game modes included are mostly fun in their own right. The campaign is largely a throwaway affair, but its boss fights do a great job teaching you how to prepare for multiplayer.
In terms of its other modes, Dominion, Elimination and Skirmish, some work better than others. It’s extremely hard to hold your own against more than one opponent, but the developers smartly included a Revenge mechanic that puts you into a sort of overdrive mode that increases your health and stamina when the other team starts pummeling down on you.
My favorite of the three is Dominion. It tasks you with holding control points and slashing through minion characters all while keeping a sharp eye open for enemy players coming to behead you. Its 1,000 point score limit seems daunting at first, but the quick-paced nature of the action keeps matches short and interesting – most of them won’t last more than five or ten minutes. You also have unlock able skills that activate as you level up throughout the battle called Feats. They aren’t used in the duel mode for obvious reasons, but sending down a rain of arrows or shooting an enemy in the face with a cross bow adds a fun arcadey layer that the bigger modes definitely need.
Unfortunately, as solid as the core gameplay and content load is, there are some fairly major missteps holding “For Honor” back from being a shining example of a Western fighting game. First is the Peer to Peer netcode. Instead of having dedicated servers, “For Honor” relies on one player to be the host. It works fine in most cases, but other players have started taking advantage of lag switching and sometimes there’s a noticeable delay in when inputting commands which is hardly ideal in a game where even the smallest misstep can spell a loss.
The second most glaring issue is related to progression. “For Honor” has a similar structure to the ever popular “Rainbow 6: Siege.” Everything is unlock able with a currency called Silver, the 6 upcoming DLC characters included in the $40 season pass included, but unlike Siege, For Honor is intent on nickel and dining the player at every turn. The amount of Silver required to unlock a simple costume for one character, for example, would take about ten-to-fifteen hours to save up.
If you don’t want to spend the time saving that much Silver for a new costume when you haven’t even unlocked all of the available heroes,, you can conveniently spend it on an item that increases your experience and Silver gains for a set amount of time, but even then it still takes forever to level up. Luckily, my Amazon Prime membership gave me a ten-day booster through Twitch Prime, or I’d still be stuck with some low level heroes. Orders, goals that range from completing two Dominion matches to killing ten players Duel mode can help you level up and gain Silver faster, but having to rely on a mechanic that’s usually found in Free to Play games feels especially dirty in a $60 release.
It’s cool that you can buy the premium stuff without spending more money than the initial asking price of the game, but it’s hard not to laugh when you start to realize how long it’s going to take you to even even the most simple costumes for one character, let alone all of them.
Finally, the menus in “For Honor,” especially the PC version, are an absolute mess. Figuring out simple tasks like finding out your progress on your current Orders between matches oftentimes takes longer than you’ll find yourself sitting in the lobby waiting for the next match to start. Equipping new gear is equally as cumbersome, and as far as I can tell there’s no way to do so unless you’re at the main menu, something that makes literally no sense.
These issues thankfully aren’t enough to destroy the experience or even to stop “For Honor” from achieving greatness, but they do significantly stunt what would otherwise be a must-play new IP from a publisher that really seemed like it was turning around on its price gouging tactics in recent releases.
At the end of the day, I haven’t had as much fun in a multiplayer game as I’ve had in For Honor in a very long time. It’s awesome to see quantifiable differences in my win rate as I learn the moves that each of the games hero have to offer, and playing 2v2 with my best friend from home and screaming “No Honor!” into our headsets when someone throws a cheap shot like kicking us off a bridge will never get old. I just wish I could customize my heroes a bit more without feeling a so much pressure to spend more money on the game.