Clocking in at a modest six-or-so hours in length, For Honor's single-player campaign left me with mixed emotions. The story, broken down into three chapters that contain six individual levels apiece, is set in a medieval world torn asunder by an apocalyptic catastrophe. Following the devastating event, surviving Knights, Vikings, and Samurai – dubbed the Blackstone Legion, the Warborn, and the Chosen respectively – fight one another over land and resources.
Eventually, the factions settle into an uneasy peace that lasts for years, until Apollyon arrives on the scene. As leader of the Blackstone Legion, she believes that the people have become weak, and wants all-out war between the three factions. The single-player campaign initially follows Apollyon's political maneuverings as she sends her champions on a series of missions to shape events and spark worldwide conflict.
The action in the first chapter is viewed from the perspective of several different Knights, which ostensibly gives the player the chance to take the role of various hero types as they complete missions against primarily Viking targets. In the second chapter, the proceedings are seen from a Viking viewpoint, with the player cast as different Warborn characters as they battle the Chosen. In the third and final chapter, the story comes full circle, with the Samurai fighting back against the Blackstone Legion, which culminates in a face-off against Apollyon herself.
Missions are comprised of a series of very clearly articulated objectives. At the start of a level, a waypoint is highlighted that you head towards, killing any enemy soldiers that block your way. The majority of them are grunts that can be swiftly dispatched with a light attack, but there are a few that are tougher, and can be locked onto so you can duel them.
Objectives are a fairly mixed bag. Sometimes there's an action to perform, such as using a mechanism to open a gate, raiding supplies, or sabotaging siege equipment, while others take the form of a boss character, or a group of soldiers that you have to defeat to progress. There are also a few missions that involve slightly more complex tasks, such as teaming up with AI allies to fight hordes of enemies and push them back to a certain point on the map, protecting a siege engine as it's moved towards a castle's doors, or defending an NPC from enemy attack.
Most of the time is spent fighting from one objective to another. It's pretty straightforward, and as long as you're familiar with the game's combat controls, wading through the bulk of the enemy is quite easy, and indeed becomes rather repetitive after a while. It just feels like busywork – padding to keep you occupied as you travel from point to point. Fortunately, you can actually avoid a lot of this kind of combat by simply sprinting past groups of enemies and making a bee-line straight for the next objective. Once you reach and activate it, the game moves onto the next event, and any soldiers you previously ignored just disappear. While it feels a little cheesy, I preferred this to battling every grunt and AI character I encountered. Doing so would have made the game very tedious, as most low-level characters are just not very exciting to fight.
The boss battles are far more engaging and challenging, however. They're few and far between, but these set pieces are often quite spectacular duels that require you to use your full repertoire of moves to succeed. The AI is generally very good, and I had to tackle several boss battles multiple times before I could work out the correct strategy to best them. Some characters can be defeated by being quite aggressive and going on an all-out offense, while others just keep on swinging at you, requiring you to continually block and parry as you try to execute counter-attacks whenever the opportunity arises. This is the campaign at its best: It basically showcases the Art of Battle system and uses it to deliver tense and gripping duels where your skills are truly tested.
That said, there were a few instances where I did manage to cheese the AI – or at least, it felt like I did. As you progress through the story, you earn feats (perks) that you can add to your loadout to give your character custom abilities. Examples of these include passive effects such as increasing your damage, and cooldown spells that enable you to rally your allies, or heal yourself. In certain circumstances, I found I could run away from a boss character, heal myself, and then keep my distance as I waited for the spell to cool down. Once it was ready, I'd return to battle, and repeat the process if I was hit several times.
It basically felt like an exploit. Perhaps it's shame on me for not playing properly, but this is a game, after all, and unfortunately, I'm going to use every trick in the book to succeed, even if it feels like I'm abusing a design flaw. Thankfully, it doesn't work for every battle, but there are definitely a few where you can use this hit, run, and heal tactic, and it just seems like a bit of an oversight.
Having now completed For Honor's campaign, I'm left feeling largely underwhelmed. On the positive side, it's visually outstanding. The highly detailed characters are beautifully rendered and animated, and their weapons and armor are absolutely terrific. The landscaping, scenery, and story cinematics are also top-of-the-line. Clearly, a lot of work has been put into the design and architecture of the game's locales, and the results have paid dividends: For Honor is a stunning-looking game, with some wonderful settings in which to do battle, from ancient castles through Viking villages to medieval Japanese cities.
However, while I love the game's visuals, the voice acting really didn't work for me. The dialogue, phraseology, and delivery sounds very contemporary, and doesn't seem to fit with the game's medieval theme. Also, almost all the characters wear helmets or facemasks, but it doesn't sound like they're speaking through them. While I'm sure that having that level of realism would have made the dialogue muffled, it's nevertheless a little incongruous to hear two helmeted characters talking to one another as though they're speaking directly into a microphone. And call me fussy, but I'd have loved the different faction's heroes to speak in their own languages. Listening to their American accents just breaks the immersion for me.
But really, it's the gameplay where I think that For Honor's campaign is a bit of a disappointment. While there are a few entertaining set piece objectives, including goading a rampant elephant into charging at a castle's gates, and using a ballista to mow down enemies, and although most of the boss battles are challenging and fun (when they're not exploitable), the bulk of For Honor's story mode is fairly repetitive. Even when you're avoiding most of the grunt soldiers by simply running past them, there's still way too much mundane hacking and slashing as you scythe down the enemies in droves. It starts out fairly enjoyable, but unfortunately the novelty soon wears off, and it simply becomes tedious. Like I said, it feels like busywork designed to pad the game out between objectives.
What's clear is that For Honor's Art of Battle system is complex and nuanced, and works really well to deliver tense and exciting duels. Facing off against an opponent is a thrilling strategic battle of reflexes, wits, and combat creativity that can be incredibly involving. The problem with the campaign is that it only occasionally uses the Art of Battle to its fullest potential – when you're dueling bosses. For the most part, it's a hack 'n' slash game that's just not particularly engaging and entertaining. If you crank up the difficulty, it can be a real challenge, but even then, you still can't get away from the fact that most of the time you're fighting grunts in fairly repetitive group combat. It just isn't particularly fun.
Over the next few days, I'll be dipping into the multiplayer side of the game, and will report back on that with a follow-up feature. Having already played it in Beta, I'm feeling far more positive about this aspect of the game than I do about the campaign, and feel that multiplayer is really what For Honor is all about. Hopefully I'll be able to get in at least a few games tonight – so far, I haven't been able to actually play any multiplayer games yet, because I keep getting disconnection issues. Hopefully Ubisoft is on the case, and servers will be more stable when I try again later.