When I reviewed For Honor's single-player campaign earlier this week, I noted that it was occasionally fun, but mostly underwhelming.
The problem for me is that the vast majority of the six-hour story mode is spent hacking and slashing through endless hordes of enemy grunts as you travel from objective to objective. It's just not very engaging, and after a while becomes repetitive – feeling very much like gameplay filler designed to pad out the action.
Where the "occasional fun" I mentioned comes into play is when you get to duel the game's handful of boss characters. These set piece showdowns are a far cry from the mindless combat that makes up the meat of the campaign. As you lock onto your opponent and start to circle them, the game becomes a tense and gripping test of your swordplay mettle. Different tactics and strategies are required to defeat each of the AI opponents, and learning how and when to feint, parry, block, attack, and counter-attack is both involving and rewarding.
These encounters are basically the campaign at its best: A chance to really utilize the game's nuanced and complex Art of Battle control system to its fullest potential. They’re also a great way to learn how to properly play the game. And this you definitely need to do if you're going to wade into For Honor's brutal, unforgiving, but absolutely brilliant multiplayer.
For Honor's Multiplayer Modes
I've already talked about the various aspects of For Honor's PvP in detail in my review-in-progress, but to summarize, the game features five different modes: Dominion, Skirmish, Elimination, Brawl, and Duel. The latter three are elimination-style contests that involve taking out the opposing team on smaller-scale maps, while Skirmish is essentially Team Deathmatch that also includes AI characters. Dominion is an objective-based game where both teams fight over the three zones that are situated in different parts of the battlefield. All are simple and straightforward to pick up and play, and while five modes doesn't sound like much, they each have their own unique flavor that makes them feel very different from one another.
Those who want to experience the adrenaline rush of taking on another player in pure one-on-one combat are perfectly served by Duel. This best-of-five-rounds mode definitely isn't something to play if you're new to the game. I've found from experience that most people who duel really know what they're doing, and if you don't, you'll be taken apart with ease. That said, it's a great way to learn the intricacies of combat, and garner an in-depth understanding of how different kinds of characters can be played. The good thing is that this mode enables you to battle AI opponents, which makes for very worthwhile practice. At their highest level, bots are really quite competent, and a good measure of your abilities: Once you're able to beat them consistently, you're definitely ready to take on human opponents.
The two-on-two Brawl gives players a little more room to maneuver, and can turn into an interesting game of cat-and-mouse, especially when one team groups together and tries to isolate their opponents. This divide and conquer approach works very well tactically, and is something you really need to be aware of when tackling this mode. It's almost always a good idea to sprint to your ally and fight alongside them as a team, unless you're really confident in your dueling abilities and have the chance to take on one of your opponents individually. Just make sure keep an eye out for the other enemy – they may very well try to ambush you while you're engrossed in combat.
Elimination is a real Battle Royale, with two teams of four facing off against one another. In this mode, almost anything can happen, from multi-way battles to one-on-one duels. A large part of the proceedings are dictated by how well each team moves as a unit, and that can sometimes make pickup groups frustrating – especially when teammates fail to work together effectively, and allow the other, better-coordinated team to isolate and pick them off one at a time.
The same is true for Skirmish, except that it's a little more forgiving because players can respawn and rejoin the action fairly quickly. The objective here is to score points by eliminating the opposition and AI characters, and that makes this mode feel quite exciting because there are always multiple targets to take on. Once a team hits 1000 points, the opposition's morale breaks and they can no longer respawn – to win, the remaining enemies must be taken down.
A similar endgame mechanic is used in Dominion. The difference in this mode is that points are earned by controlling the three zones that are dotted around the map. While you're bound to get into plenty of fights – especially in the mid-point zone that's always mired down with AI characters fighting one another – the real key to this game is playing the objectives. Sometimes that might mean defending one from opposition attack, while at other times you might end up constantly running around the map, capturing one zone after another. This mode is by far my favorite, and it just feels really dynamic; a battle that often ebbs and flows as each team gains and then loses the advantage.
As you play PvP games, you garner experience that levels up your character and earns them passive and active feats that can be used in battle to gain a minor advantage. Steel is also awarded at the end of a game. This in-game currency can be used to unlock characters, as well as items that enable you to customize the appearance of your hero. Finally, random armor also drops that you can equip to take advantage of their stats – as well as further customize your character's look. Armor can also be gleaned from loot crates that are available to buy using steel, or through microtransactions.
In-Game Currency Earn-Rate is Miserly
While I don't have any complaints about the speed at which experience is earned, it must be said that the amount of steel that's doled out at the end of each game seems a little on the meager side. Especially when you consider how much some items cost to unlock, and the hefty price of loot crates. It just means you have to be patient when it comes to earning and unlocking new items – or be willing to shell out real cash to buy currency to accelerate the process.
The other criticism I have of For Honor – at least at the moment – is its stability during multiplayer games. Or rather, its lack thereof. I've had a hell of a time dealing with disconnects while playing on Xbox One, and judging by the feedback I've seen around the net, I'm not the only one. One evening, I played nine games, and seven of them ended up terminating early because of network errors. I've since run a series of tests and fixes as recommended on the Ubisoft tech forums, which seem to have cleared up some of the issues, but I'm still getting occasional network errors even now. And those aren’t the only issue – I'm finding that freezes and rewinds are commonplace as players drop in and out of games, and sometimes the proceedings can lag and stutter for no apparent reason. While I'm sure that Ubisoft are working on fixes as we speak, it's just very frustrating.
When the game does work, though, it's brilliant. As someone who puts a lot of time into PvP shooters, For Honor is like a breath of fresh air. Tactically and strategically, it's a whole new brawl game – compelling and involving melee-oriented combat that facilitates brutal, gritty, and oftentimes thrilling battles between players.
As I've said before, mastering For Honor's controls is challenging, but as long as you’re willing to invest some time playing through the basic and advanced tutorials, that's sufficient to bring you up to speed on the fundamentals. At that point you can start dueling bots to finesse your skills and really learn the intricacies of the characters you want to play. It might sound like a bit of a chore, but to me the payoff is worth it. Once you get your head around its Art of Battle control scheme, For Honor delivers exciting, tactile, bone-crunching medieval combat that puts you front and center in some truly epic battles.