Back in February of last year, For Honor launched a new type of multiplayer experience on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Instead of a first or third-person shooter, For Honor was a game that wanted to capture the feeling of pitched, hand-to-hand medieval combat. It imagined a world of endless conflict between three factions: Samurai, Vikings, and Knights.
So Young, So Brave
"I mean, this is my dream game. This is a topic that I’m deeply, deeply interested in–I’ve been studying all of these types of groups for most of my life," For Honor creative director Jason VandenBerghe told DualShockers before the game came out. "The game came out of our belief that combat is an art form, that this form of art is the kind of art where the warrior often gives their life in the service of what they believe in, and wanting to really capture that feeling in the battlefield. We’re putting that on the screen so you can pick it up with the controller and give you a whole new way to feel that intensity and that connection, and then live out these epic medieval battles as the medieval 'special forces.'"
For Honor launched to positive critical reviews, with a 77 on OpenCritic and 79 as its highest score on Metacritic. The honeymoon period ended pretty quickly though. A month into launch, For Honor was plagued with matchmaking problems and server desync issues, because it used a peer-to-peer networking system. This made it rather difficult to play the game, given it was mostly online and required an always-online connection.
Players had issues with obtaining enough Steel, For Honor's in-game currency, which is used to purchase further characters, gear, and executions. One Reddit user tallied up the cost and time sink of unlocking everything in the game at launch: it came to $732 or 326 days of hardcore playing every single day. Those mounting problems and Ubisoft's lack of communication caused the playerbase to go so far as to plan a boycott of the game. VandenBerghe left Ubisoft to join ArenaNet five months after launch.
This all culminated in August of 2017 with the first major For Honor tournament, the For Honor Hero Series. The winner of the event was Jakub "SB.Alernakin" Palen, who took the trophy without losing a single match. Palen picked the contentious Nobushi and utilized an exploit to destroy his opponents, leading to a bitter win for For Honor's developers and community.
It's been a long year for For Honor. It's gone through four seasons worth of additional content for the game, and in January Ubisoft announced Season Five, Age of Wolves. Dedicated servers are finally coming to For Honor later this month. The game launched with 12 Heroes across the three Factions, 12 maps with multiple variations, and five game modes, including Dominion and Duel. Ahead of Season Five, there are 18 Heroes in total, 16 maps, a new 4v4 Tribute game mode, a host of balance changes, and a lot of new armor, weapons, and executions. So where does For Honor stand with the community now?
Where Do We Stand Today?
Well, while dedicated servers are launching on February 19, they're only coming to PC for the time being. This means the ongoing connection issues will still plague console players. The plan is bring the system over to console once it's been fully tested on PC. So while players are ecstatic about the addition, they're also unhappy because they don't know when it will come to consoles.
"Without dedicated servers, console is a mess even trying to play brawl. Me and my friends are quickly straying away because of this. I hope it is soon after the 19th, because if not I won't stick around to see the release," writes Reddit user Chris_TelemusTGN.
Ubisoft is also making fairly huge changes to For Honor's overall balance. For all Heroes across the board, parrying is going to be less rewarding overall. There will no longer be free Guard Breaks on a parry. For parries off a Heavy attack, players won't have enough time to get in a free Light Attack, while Light attack parries will offer just enough time for most of the game's Heavy Attacks. For characters based heavily around Parry punishing, this is a huge change and potential nerf in some cases.
"What we didn’t like in current gameplay is that the fear of Parry > Guard Break > Throw is so intense that you don’t want to launch an attack at an opponent if you’re within range of a pit, or within range of a wall, or low on stamina. But the reality is, you’re generally near a pit, or a wall, or trying to manage your stamina almost all the time," explains Ubisoft in an article about the changes. "With our upcoming changes, if you get Parried the worst thing that will happen is that your opponent will hit you with an attack–but you won’t be Thrown to your death, Thrown into a wall, or suffer an Unbalance, because you can Counter Guard Break."
It's a fairly major change to the flow of the game, as most players have strategies built around that Guard Break. Some players are perfectly fine with the changes, which have been requested by members of the community for some time now. They even praise the developers for making the changes to prevent easy kills and improve the game's overall flow.
"This makes the entire flow of combat across the board smoother and allows a shit ton more new punishes, for example double side Lights after a heavy Parry as warden is now justifiable and allows more mix ups and mind games, while before there was no reason to not get the extra damage from a [Guard Break] > side Heavy," writes Reddit user Slik4774.
Others, notably those who main Heroes who are losing out (notably Valkyrie, Nobushi, Shugoki, and Raider), are unhappy.
"I've played Valkyrie since release," writes Reddit user Rouvee on the negative side of the things. "But now it's just laughable. She is completely unplayable now. She was frustrating to play before because everything was so punishable, but now she's just completely gutted. I honestly don't know how I'm supposed to play her anymore. The only thing I can even do is just turtle and parry, then get a quick light in and rinse and repeat that. But this isn't fun at all."
Three of the Heroes are getting a major rework with the upcoming patch: Kensei, Berserker, and Conqueror. Kensei was probably the one with the most extensive changes, and the community seems mostly happy with the results, if not a little afraid of the future Kensei. Conqueror players seem fairly happy with their changes as well, making their chosen hero more of a counter-attacker. Berserker fans are split on the upcoming changes: the rework sees that hero becoming more reliant on unblockable attacks and trading damage, rather than feints, which is not what some wanted from the class.
Most of the community no longer seems to have a problem with Steel grinding. Ubisoft made changes last year at the end of March that rewarded more Steel for gameplay and players have largely been happy with the results. There is a lengthy discussion happening on the Ubisoft official forums about increasing the amount of Steel rewarded for various events like Faction War, but by and large, the undercurrent of dissatisfaction of Steel gain that characterized early For Honor is gone.
In fact, players seem to be very excited to have things to spend their Steel on. Executions and armor are For Honor's versions of Overwatch's skins and emotes, keeping players coming back time and time again. With the upcoming season, Ubisoft is offering a whole new round of executions that fans are all about. The most notable new execution is the Warden's "End Them Rightly", where the hero throws their sword pommel at the fallen foe. The execution, based on a memed tidbit from a video by YouTuber Skallgrim, is already getting rave reviews from the For Honor community.
A Hint of Melancholy
Despite all this joy over executions, For Honor is still struggling a bit heading into Season 5. Recent reviews on Steam are Mixed overall, but they lean into the negative territory. A number of the reviews have problems with the the server issues, which should be fixed once the dedicated servers launch. Others point to the unbalanced heroes or the stat-based gear system, which means that veteran players have far more than a skill advantage over neophytes.
Even on the official forums, while the overall conversation is mostly about balance changes, buffs, and nerfs, there are still players lamenting the state of the game.
"The concept of For Honor was amazing. Since launch, it's gone downhill," writes For Honor forum member Archeun. "Dedicated servers are supposed to be coming; over a year since release. The game has been plagued with disconnect and connectivity issues since day 1. DLC characters have come into the game overpowered and ridiculous. A very large portion of the game population has left. On Steam, you have a average of 1500-2500 players on at once."
The latter is true. For Honor on Steam hovers at around 2,000 concurrent players according to metrics from Steam Charts. This doesn't paint a proper picture of the game, since it's also available on Uplay, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4, but that's not the biggest playerbase. It's a pretty sizable drop from 20,000 concurrent Steam players at launch and an average of around 8,718 concurrent players in March 2017. The subreddit for the game has around 3,000 players on a regular basis. A lot of the community simply left and didn't come back. As such, some are hoping Season 5 will provide the way forward.
"Season 5 will probably be the make-it or break-it point of the whole game, and I try my hardest to stay positive and open minded about all the upcoming changes, and giving the game the chance it needs to stay alive," writes For Honor forum member Tundra973. "The developers have worked very hard, across a lot of different parts of the game over the past year, and if we've stuck around this long, we should give Season 5 a chance to show us the game has a bright future."
Ubisoft is known for its commitment to making changes to its service titles in order to find their perfect form for the community. Rainbow Six Siege stands as one of the publisher's grand success stories: it launched with around 8,000 concurrent players in 2015, but currently boasts a strong community and firm Top 10 spot on Steam's Top Games By Current Player Count list.
For Honor hasn't reached the promised land yet and its crusade is still ongoing. It has a small, very fervent community that believes in everything the game can be and a developer that's committed to making those changes; two things that are needed to grow. There's nothing out there quite like For Honor, so if the game can find its way forward in Season 5, I can see it carving out a solid niche in the years to come. Now, it's only a matter of whether Ubisoft can pull it off, and if it'll be too little, too late.