For Honor is a game that I wasn’t super excited for. After playing a bit of the multiple open and closed multiplayer betas, I still didn’t see what all the excitement was for. Maybe it’s my inherent preference for narrative experiences over online experiences, or maybe it just wasn’t my cup of tea. When I was assured that Ubisoft had included a proper story line that could be experienced by yourself or with a friend, I figured it was worth a shot. There’s been an excess of coverage about the multiplayer offerings due to the extensive beta testing. However, the campaign has been pretty absent in most marketing. I’m going to focus on the campaign in this review for those reasons. If you’re interested in the multiplayer, there’s a plethora of in-depth coverage all over the internet. Let’s see if the story line is deserving of the same amount of attention.
The story of For Honor is set against the backdrop of a very lengthy war. Multiple factions of skilled warriors fight each other, and among themselves. The game is broke up into three distinct chapters, with each of the three main factions getting their own chapter. During your time through the campaign, you’ll play as multiple characters and classes, presented across six levels in each chapter. You’ll play as Knights, a collection of mercenaries and warlords. Afterwards, you’ll fill the shoes of several Viking recruits and warriors. Finally, you’ll get to experience the swift and precise combat of the Samurai. I didn’t enjoy any one chapter over another, as the gameplay and main experience stays the same regardless of the faction you’re playing as.
With such a large expanse of land and lore, you’d expect for a pretty large scale story. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. The over arching story deals with a chaos hungry Knight Warlord named Apollyon. Throughout the experience, Apollyon turns out to be a villain of sorts. You start under her command, but soon learn that she’s more intent on causing an even bigger war than coming to terms of peace. She intentionally incites civil wars, starves her enemies to cause turmoil among themselves, and generally acts like a heartless monster. She’s a decent antagonist, but her motivations are muddled and confusing.
This extends to the rest of the narrative structure. I’m not sure exactly where the narrative gets lost in translation, I just know it does. Since you play as multiple characters across all the chapters, it’s sometimes difficult to know who is who at any given point. Characters are mostly forgettable, and any empathy of familiarity you have for them is diminished since you never get to see their faces. For the majority of the cut scenes, almost all of the characters remain helmeted. The voice acting isn’t distinct enough to tell characters apart based on sound alone, so it wasn’t uncommon for me to get confused along the way.
It’s also important to note that the cut scenes and the overall narrative are not designed for cooperative play. While you can play the entire game with an online friend (which I did for this review), the game is obviously meant to be played by one person. This transfers into game play, which I’ll talk about in that section, but cut scenes disregard a second player if there’s one in your game. Overall, the narrative is functional. It serves the game play, and that’s about it. This means that you’ll always have some sort of story motivation for going somewhere and killing everyone. You just might not understand what that motivation is, due to the confusing jumps in character and the lackluster script. I was not alone in my confusion either; my cooperative partner continuously searched for clarifications that the game could not provide.
Visuals and Audio
Despite a shoddy narrative, For Honor definitely impressed me with its visual style. The surrounding environments are beautiful. Whether you’re scouting through a lush forest, or storming a gate ablaze, the game performs magnificently. There’s rarely a frame rate stutter, and I experienced no video (or network) lag during my entire cooperative play through. Some of the character models can be a bit rough around the edges, but that was the only noticeable issue I saw. Through and through, For Honor constantly impresses with its handle on effects and environmental construction. While the actual level design can be a bit uninspired at times, you’ll never be visually bored during game play.
The audio design is a bit inconsistent. While the actual quality of the sound is crisp and of high production, I would’ve preferred a bit more of it. Music rarely rises and falls with the action, mainly staying a source of ambience. I would’ve enjoyed a more explosive score. A grand and booming score would’ve felt great against all of the violence and combat. Additionally, the game could’ve used a bit of extra layering when creating atmosphere. Swords clash and clang beautifully, but the sounds aren’t layered very well. Most of combat just sounds like a bunch of people screaming and smashing metal around. Sure, maybe that’s how true war sounds. No one ever said that true war sounds good, though. Since the game is so visually impressive, the audio mistakes are a bit easier to forgive. It would’ve been nice to see the two elements come together to really punctuate the experience when effective.
For Honor is a tricky game to assess. On one hand, you have a large selection of warriors with different abilities, move sets, and strengths. On the other hand, you can beat the entire game without even bothering to look into it. Combat is interesting, and I enjoyed seeing the amount of care put into it. Unlike your typical third person action game, you don’t just smash buttons and win (although on Easy mode, you probably can). Locking onto an enemy puts you into a duel with them. Here, you use the right analog stick to choose a direction to block and attack. For example, if I see that my enemy is about to attack on the right side, I’ll move my analog stick to the right and block it. There’s a light attack and a heavy attack, and these can be linked into combos. You also have evasive options, such as dodges and grabs. It’s a pretty intricate system in comparison to other action games. In fact, it feels like a 3D fighting game system put on top of a third person action game. The depth of the combat comes out in the multiplayer, but on Normal difficulty, I was able to clear the entire game without using too many special attacks.
With that said, there might be another reason why the game was so easy for me. As I said in the Story section, the game was not designed for cooperative play. This is super apparent when you have to tackle formidable foes during the story. As a one-on-one situation, these boss fights require pattern recognition, precise timing, and strategic attacking. As a cooperative experience, these bosses become mere damage sponges. You won’t have an issue overcoming them; as soon as you get hit, they’re left open for your friend to deal plenty of damage. And thus the game continues, with one person smacking the boss in the back of the head as they attempt to attack the other. Regardless of the reason, Normal difficulty didn’t provide me with much of a challenge. I only failed a level when I wasn’t paying attention or failed to use my healing abilities. Cooperative play also lets you revive a fallen teammate, so checkpoint restarts are rare.
That brings me to the leveling system. As you complete levels, you earn experience based upon how many enemies you have killed. Higher difficulties add a bonus multiplier to this experience gain. As you gain experience, your overall story level will increase. Getting a higher level in the campaign unlocks “Story Feats”, abilities you can equip on your character at the start of a level. These abilities can be either passive or active, providing things like a 15% damage reduction for the entire level, or a quick boost of health. I mainly stayed with two abilities throughout the entire game, but enjoyed seeing new ones unlock.
Generally speaking, the combat in For Honor is unique. The visual combat is brutal, bloody, and violent. You can execute enemies while they are staggered, usually displaying gruesome decapitations or swift death. The combat system feels strategic in a way, as attacks play out with purpose. There’s a slight delay between when you hit an attack button and when the animation plays out. This leads to fighting feeling stilted, but becoming fluid when combos are involved. The combat is the main focus of For Honor, there’s no doubt about that.
I’m going to keep this section brief, because I don’t have too much to say about the multiplayer offerings. There’s a few modes, spread across a faction war. You pick one of the three factions from the campaign, and fight the other factions for land. You win this land by filling different sections of the map with war assets. War assets are obtained by performing well in online matches, and there you have your cycle.
There’s 1v1, 2v2, and multiple 4v4 options. Unfortunately, the game takes so long to find a match and then load said match, that I was able to play approximately three matches in the course of 20 minutes. When matches can be finished in under 3 minutes, that’s a bad menu-to-gameplay ratio.
Playing the multiplayer offerings will force you to become more acquainted with specific characters, and the nuances of their move sets. I had fun throwing other players off of ledges and taunting them mercilessly, but the amount of time I had to wait to get into a match was inexcusable. When a mode is denoted as “very highly populated” on the game itself, it should not take upwards of 2 minutes to find a match. Whether this is an Ubisoft server issue or a personal one, I do not know. However, the actual game load times are almost a bigger offender than the networking times. This transfers over into the campaign offerings as well. Generally speaking, For Honor takes way too long to load in almost every aspect.
That being said, I can see the appeal to For Honor and the multiplayer offering. The various move sets and character options are interesting, and there’s quite a bit of gear customization available as well. I just didn’t find the game enjoyable enough to deal with the various networking and load issues. After playing a couple matches, I had my fill. Unfortunately, I don’t see For Honor becoming a front runner in popular online experiences. While it’s not going to fall off in a week, I doubt you’ll be seeing For Honor at any fighting game tournaments.
Final Thoughts on For Honor
I’m going to be honest, For Honor doesn’t have a great campaign. It feels like an introduction to the multiplayer, in a way. That’s great for people who are mainly playing the game for the multiplayer offerings. Otherwise, we’re left with a somewhat hollow experience that doesn’t highlight the true strengths of the game. The game spends far too long on story and dialogue, only for the story to be functional and serve the game play. The environments and visuals are beautiful, but hardly utilized in the grand scheme of things. Set pieces don’t play an active role in game play, save maybe two instances with an elephant and a horse chase. While the combat is deep, you won’t be forced to learn any complexities to complete the game. The load times are horrendous, and while the multiplayer is interesting, it’s not entertaining enough to invest my time into. I do have to praise Ubisoft for coming out with a new IP, in a flood of sequels and remakes.
It’s like a jigsaw puzzle; you’ll have fun putting it together, until you notice the final picture is taking 20 minutes to load and there are pieces missing. I’m just kidding. There’s some truth there though. For Honor is a decent time for the 5-6 hours it’ll take you to play. It might be longer depending on if you’re playing solo and what difficulty you choose. However, the true potential is missed due to a lackluster script, missed audio opportunities, and far too lengthy load times. I mostly enjoyed my time with For Honor, but it was a bumpy road that should’ve been a bit smoother.
Special thanks to Mike Cunningham for playing through the game with me for this review.