Review: ‘For Honor’ player battles take centerstage

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Image: ubisoft

A samurai stands with her katana drawn, cautiously stepping backwards as an axe-wielding viking barrels toward her.

The viking’s axe swings in a deadly downward arc, but the samurai meets it with her own weapon, parrying the attack and following up with a flurry of quick cuts. She charges into the viking, briefly opening up his guard and punishing his slow reflexes with a powerful blow.

Nearing death, the viking rolls to the side to run, but the samurai, eyes locked on her foe, launches a knife at him. The viking topples and the samurai runs off to find the next fight.

For Honor is a hack-and-slash style fighting game featuring samurai, vikings and knights where it’s all about the fights — the thrill of going up against an opponent and carving your own combative path to outwit and outmaneuver them with a series of attacks, blocks, dodges and punishes.

The combat system shines in the online multiplayer where player vs. player battles take centerstage, whether with 1v1, 2v2 or 4v4 fights, point-based 4v4 skirmishes or the most complex mode, dominion, a 4v4 battle with three control zones that earn teams points when captured and held.

Image: ubisoft

Fighters battle for control over a zone in a dominion match.

Two-and-a-half weeks after the game’s release, it’s clear that For Honor’s combat system, specifically in multiplayer, is its strongest pull. It’s strong enough for a while, but once the combat has been mastered and there are no more gear upgrades to be found, there’s nothing left to do but keep doing the same thing over and over or move on.

The Art of Battle

For Honor’s melee combat system — dubbed the Art of Battle — is the game’s bread and butter. It’s unique, viscerally engaging and complex enough to let you inject your own personality into your fighter of choice.

Like other hack-and-slash games, you can go on the offensive with quicker light attacks or slower strong attacks, or open up your opponent with a guard break. And, of course, everything can be countered.

What makes the Art of Battles unique is the directional system. You can attack and block in three different directions — up, left and right — mapped to the right analog stick on consoles and mouse movement on PC. When defending, you get to see which direction your opponent is attacking, so you aren’t completely in the dark.

The mechanics can take a few hours to really get the hang of, but once you figure it out it feels like a natural extension of yourself. You feel every movement in your body, almost like in a racing game when you feel compelled to tilt your body as you turn your vehicle around sharp corners.

Adding that additional directional layer to For Honor changes it from a standard hack-and-slash game to a hybrid hack-and-slash/fighting game and makes fights feel incredibly personal.

When you parry an attack, land a strong strike or finish off your opponent with a killing blow, you know it was your wits and skills that bested your opponent. When you get killed, though, you have no one to blame but yourself (unless you’re outnumbered), which can make the game equally tense.

Fighting is further customized by the 12 heroes you can play as, each with varying attack, defense and speed stats. None of the heroes are necessarily overpowered or better than the others — their differences are more in allowing players to choose a hero that best fits their fighting style.

Loot drops allow you to increase certain stats at the cost of reducing others, but the effects are minimal at lower levels and far too advantageous, as seen when high-level characters decked out in heroic gear are matched up against low-level players.

Art in action

As great as the combat feels, there’s one feeling missing: satisfaction.

Because you have to be so in-tune and focused on fights, defeating opponents feels like more of a relief than anything, like completing a difficult test at school or finishing your taxes. The feeling is good, but the game’s focus on reactions and its lack of devastating combos or special attacks makes fights very incremental and victory feel less satisfying.

Although the Art of Battle is robust for a hack-and-slash game, it’s pretty limited as far as fighting games go. Outside of following parries and guard breaks with a quick attack or two while your opponent is dazed, there isn’t much variation in offensive tactics.

The 1v1 meta that has developed is narrow: land a guard break or parry and then punish your opponent with an attack. This still requires skill and a whole lot of attention, but there’s a clear cap on how far individual skill and strategy can take you.

While For Honor’s multiplayer can hold the interest of players who fall in love with the controls, it won’t keep everyone. The lack of variation makes the combat feel dry after a while and cuts down on the game’s potential for becoming a popular esport.

Outside the battles

Everything in For Honor takes a backseat to the online multiplayer.

The single player story mode is little more than an (extremely) extended tutorial, which is completely fine for what it is. For Honor fulfills a childhood fantasy of putting three completely distinct and near-mythical factions — samurai, vikings and knights — on the same battlefield, but the explanation behind it is shallow.

For new players, the single player mode is mostly just a safe way to get a handle on the game’s unique controls. The characters and story are easily forgettable — though it’s worthwhile enough for the aesthetic unlockables you get for completing each faction’s portion of the story.

Image: ubisoft

A speedy peacemaker stands over a fallen enemy.

Adjacent to the multiplayer is the ongoing faction war, in which the three factions attempt to gain territories to seemingly no benefit. After matches, you get to deploy "war assets" into territories to either defend or acquire them. The war is split into rounds and seasons, and whichever faction ends up with the most territory wins and gets a piece of gear, which isn’t worth the amount of time spent waiting for the map to go through its animated update every time you start the game.

Despite the clear and understandable focus on online multiplayer, For Honor has its share of problems maintaining online connections.

Network issues

Two-and-a-half weeks after For Honor’s release, people are still experiencing network issues on all platforms.

On PlayStation 4, I have been booted from roughly one in every five matches despite having a strong internet connection. After receiving an error message, I’m sent to the lobby and have to wait a minute or longer to find a new match, which is incredibly frustrating.

In my experiences, this issue has only occurred in 4v4 game modes, often right when they start.

Sometimes matches are paused and interrupted when the game needs to reconnect to players, which typically happens when a player leaves the match or someone experiences a network hiccup. This is due to the game’s reliance on peer-to-peer connections rather than hosting matches on dedicated servers and could be fixed by changing over to dedicated servers. The pauses are detrimental to 1v1 fights and can happen multiple times in a single match.

For Honor fights on

When there are no connection issues, For Honor stands as the most inventive hack-and-slash game in years. The game’s simplicity and narrow focus is its biggest strength and stripping away some of the extraneous features like the faction war and even stat-changing gear would make it even better.

Locking onto a single opponent and dueling to the death in For Honor is a completely unique and enjoyable experience. The mechanics feel great and beg to be returned to again and again.

The pull doesn’t last forever, though, as fight after fight begins to feel like Groundhog Day — parry, attack, back away, get hit, guard break, attack, repeat. The mechanics never stop feeling good but the game is so limited and the skill-cap so low that you stop improving quickly. At a point, there’s no more room to grow, and no good reason to keep playing for hours on end.

This article was sourced from http://news6radar.com