Microsoft Xbox OneAlso available on PC and Sony PlayStation 4
Fighting games are somewhat of an acquired taste, many people love them and would argue they are the backbone on which the console market was built, others would say they are button- mashing affairs with very little skill or nuance. For Honor enters the market with a slightly different take on your more traditional fighting games.
For Honor takes place in a fantasy medieval world populated by Knights, Vikings and Samurai, building upon tight, push and pull sword-based combat seen in such titles as Chivalry and Dark Souls, all the while taking a few nods from the classic Japanese fighting series, Dynasty Warriors. For Honor drops you into a gorgeous, visceral medieval world allowing you to control one of a range of characters from the three factions. There are twelve characters across the three factions, all offering something unique when it comes to both attack and defence.
The tutorial is something which every new player should sit through, along with the advanced tutorial, and there are two main reasons for doing so. Not only does For Honor bring some surprisingly deep combat mechanics to the table but the game's main currency, steel, is rewarded aplenty upon completion and is somewhat surprisingly difficult to come by through general play. Following on from the detailed and slightly repetitive tutorials it is advised that players do not jump straight into the main piece of content - the multiplayer - but instead take the time to play the six to eight-hour campaign. An interesting recommendation as it is by far and away the weakest part of the whole package. The presentation and delivery of the story within the campaign are excellent but it’s a complete mess from a narrative perspective and unfortunately is ultimately a very shallow experience. At first it all seems interesting and very traditional single player campaign focused but within an hour it quickly reveals itself to be nothing more than a big introduction to all the characters and yet more tutorial to chew on. As another introduction to the mechanics it works absolutely fine, if very repetitively, but as the campaign uses the multiplayer maps and offers absolutely nothing more than a chance to give each hero a try then it begins to feel very much tacked on. Fighting as all the heroes across the three factions is at best mildly interesting and at worst painfully boring - luckily, however, you can bring a friend and also ramp up the difficulty to acquire more of that precious steel.
For Honor really comes to life when you jump online into the multiplayer and choose from one of the launch modes. Duel is a straightforward 1v1 mode with best out of five rounds versus real life players or the AI. Brawls are similar but are battles 2v2 and versus real players only. Deathmatch which can be either Elimination 4v4 (take on opponents as a team but with each round starting out as 1v1) or Skirmish also 4v4, which is a mixture of player and AI. The aim is to break the opposing team by reaching the thousand point target first; this mode adds in a series of soldier grunts for you to mow through to boost your score and level up your character in game, unlocking skills for that match (similar to most MOBAs). Lastly the most popular mode (currently) is Dominion, the tried and tested “hold three points to win” game type which seems ever present in online games these days. Here you have the choice of 4v4 against players, AI or a mix (often due to dropouts) along with a wealth of AI-controlled grunts and captains to plough through. Rack up the points to a thousand and the game will enter a break state which turns the match briefly into Skirmish where you need to defeat the other team’s heroes to win with no respawns; you can however bring teammates back to life by stopping the rot and retaking a capture point. Dominion is arguably the most fun game mode and the most accessible as it’s possible to succeed without ever really engaging in the one-to-one combat. This is both a blessing and possibly a curse as whilst you might feel like you’ve avoided the difficult bit, you’ve also probably avoided the most exciting bit.
As complicated and at times overwhelming it may feel, especially when up against someone who’s made the effort to learn the subtleties of the combat such as feints, combos and so on, the one against one match-ups are arguably the most exciting visceral thing to be found in the game. It’s never fun being the last man standing with your teammates looking on but in this case they aren’t watching some guy sneak around the back of you to get a cheap kill, it’s face to face, one against one and you are exposed for all to see. These battles are genuinely thrilling and unlike most online offerings out there right now.
There is an overarching world-based game that every multiplayer participant can contribute to through the war assets system. Essentially, when playing online you acquire war assets which can be distributed across clash points on the map to attack or defend a different faction. The three factions push and pull across the main map and what elements they hold dictates what maps the different game modes can be played on. In theory this is a nice little novelty which could change things up from time to time for each game mode. Only time will tell if it offers enough regular variety to warrant its existence.
As much fun as the multiplayer is though, it is not without its faults which sadly at this time aren’t really avoidable. For what is an always online co-op or multiplayer fighting game, it’s a bit of a let down that the title utilises peer to peer connectivity - this means that whilst the title ran quite wonderfully just before launch when we started to take a look at our review copy, once lots of people joined the fun in its first week dropouts became commonplace. Resets to the main menu before and during a match now happen far too often resulting in no XP or loot rewards for what could have been a match which was ten minutes in, and loading times seem to have increased too, thus making the online component a bit flaky at this time. Such issues can even be seen when trying to play two player co-op with a friend. If only there were some betas to try to thrash these things out before launch...
For Honor brings us a surprisingly deep and downright fun co-op / multiplayer fighter held back from greatness by an incoherent, mundane single-player campaign and the use of peer to peer networking for online matches. If you can get into an online match with no issues at all then For Honor is a riot and a great way to get all Medieval on someone!