NINTH CENTURY NETWORKING
Ubisoft, the perennial slash-and-burn 3rd party, is coming off a moderately successful Watch Dogs 2 outing (I wouldn't know, I don't give a shit about realistic open world busywork) and a bargain bin snowslope sim in Steep. Normally, I'd have something to say about an Assassin's Creed game, but Ubisoft took a year to think about the franchise future and offered up Ghost Recon: Wildlands and For Honor in 2017 instead. For Honor is easily their most unique IP in the last few years, not stemming from any series in the past and offering a new kind of fighting game formula. Pitting samurai, knights, and Vikings against each other in 1v1, 2v2, and 4v4 scenarios, it's focused largely on the multiplayer components--though it offers AI matchups and scenarios, including a semi-interesting single player campaign that functions more like an introduction. Although For Honor lays the groundwork for some very fun brawling and laughable moments, it does suffer from an outer layer of typical Ubisoft bullshit.
Starting from the beginning, the fighting system in For Honor relies on your 3 directional stances and the numerous light and heavy attacks from them. You also have special directional moves, character-specific combos, guardbreak grabs and throws, parries, deflections, dodges, and movement-assisted moves. Certain characters have qualities like a dodging parry or a full-defense stance, others may have better counter cabailities and bleed effects to their attacks. With 4 characters each for the 3 factions, the basic 12 (with 6 to come for free later on) is a nice round number for a 3D weapons fighter. For the most part, each character has a nice balance of strengths and weaknessess, although selections like the viking raider or the ironclad Lawbringer suffer in speed and moveset pool when compared to other easier characters. When it takes twice the work to do things that come simply to others, why bother playing them? Overall the system is very unique and very enjoyable, mostly through the one-on-one duels you have where you're on equal footing.
The game modes available boil down to a few basic selections: solo or duo battles, group elimination, and a quasi-MOBA zone capture. Solo/duo is exactly what it sounds like: 1v1 or 2v2 against players or the AI. The 4v4 modes are a little different; not only are you in complete chaos, but you'll be dealing with "gear stats." Throughout your play, you'll get gear you can equip on each character, buffing and nerfing specific qualities. You can buy stupid steel points with real money to speed up this process, if you're insane. Normally, these stats are not active for solo and duo modes, but they'll be turned on for any 4-man battles, and this will quickly become problematic for you if the matchmaking decides to fuck you over. Though the game is primarily one of skill, being matched up against characters with ridiculous high-tier high-level gear will undeniably cast things in their favor. Additionally, Elimination matches can quickly devolve into either 1) your opponent hightailing it away to doubleteam someone faster, or 2) a wild goose chase to continuously revive teammates ad infinitum. Elimination is rarely "for honor" and to be fair I don't expect anything beyond frantic drunken fights, but it gets fatuiging chasing down another agile character through a level over and over.
Dominion is a mode where you have a horde of AI soldiers helping you take Point B in a map, while points A and C depend on you and your teammates to capture and hold them for points. Again, this is a mode that quickly turns into "rove around as a pack to take points or get ganked badly" so it's not nearly as interesting as it appears.
Let's talk about the stages and the overall aesthetics. I think Ubisoft ought to be commended at locking this game to a very steady 30fps, as I rarely experienced any kind of stuttering or slowdown (terrible fucking servers nonwithstanding). Each stage for duals and larger 4v4 setpieces is lovingly crafted and looks great, from the crumbling medieval forts to the Asian temples and walls. There are plenty of stage hazards, aka "places to throw people off a cliff or into a pit" and that will surely cause many a player to disconnect in salty anger. In terms of animations and effects, Ubisoft nailed everything from telegraphed motions to the more brutal executions. Where the game sucks is the bare bones bullshit of the "soundtrack," which is mainly the same loop of fucking war drums over and over. I ended up setting the "music" down to almost mute because it's fucking worthless. I would have preferred some kind of heavy metal or stupid techno shit but I guess no fun is allowed, even if the presence of such metal aesthetics would have lended itself to such a soundtrack.
So, For Honor has a cool combat system, some nice stages, and looks pretty good. What else is there to say about the core of the game? Well, besides the multiplayer modes, there isn't much else. Like Overwatch, this is primarily a multiplayer game--though one with not as much flexibility or updates, most likely. For Honor has a few problems with the gear functionality, primarily with the piss-poor matchmaking: there is zero discrepancy with how you get premade with people that are either level 8 or 80 with their overall experience and items. There's the entire issue of "honor" in the game, as well--and why not, it's fucking called For Honor, isn't it? And yet, across platforms, people disconnect or quit midmatch all the time, or accuse others of not fighting "fair" i.e. waiting their turn to jump in next in a 1v2 situation in duo dualing, or grouping up rapidly against others in 4v4 scenarios. While I can't really say how this gets enforced or if people really care about it as a majority, I will say that Ubisoft gives zero shits about leaver penalties at all. It's very common to see a "desyncing, please wait" notification break the action for a few seconds, leading to players getting rapidly replaced by bots or even replacing bots without much warning. The peer-to-peer matchmaking isn't the worst thing in the world, but it's certainly susceptible to errors and fuckups when people are dropping out like flies. I don't think Ubisoft really thought about this kind of thing hard enough, so as a result the multiplayer is less than solid. What we're left with is a fairly confusing base game with modes dominated by gear stats and anarchy while others are governed by strictly standard rules. Meanwhile, a "pay-to-win" dichotomy exists for those who want an easier time with 4v4 rules, possibly gaining better items from the weapon packs on sale. Add to all this the tiring matchmaking with a lack of lobbies for duels and a necessity to exit out of underfilled matchups, and you have an undercooked product.
I like playing For Honor--it's an enticing new direction to go with duel-based games and has the ability to make people isnsanely angry. That alone is pretty cool, but if I paid the full $60 for this game (I paid $1.80 due to old trade-ins) I'd be pretty disappointed. In the long run, I can see a lot changing with the game, and maybe it'll have a longer tail than Rainbow Six Siege does for Ubisoft. For now, it remains an experience that is marred by stupid statboost microtransactions, moronic matchmaking and connections, and a playerbase that cannot decide if they want honor or glory. For now, the only potential dishonor might lie with Ubisoft if they fuck up an otherwise great new idea.
Amazing and topical!