My history with fighting games runs long and deep. Street Fighter 2: Turbo was my introduction to the scene with my brother and my local friends often battling it out for hours on end. The obsession continued through multiple console generations and titles like Tekken and Soul Calibur. It’s always been a genre that has only ever done well with local multiplayer, the few forays I’ve had into online fighting games stymied by lag (a sin in a frame perfect world). So when I saw For Honor, a fighting game/hack and slash hybrid, I was instantly intrigued. However the execution has unfortunately brought back some bad memories whilst cementing a few not-so-great ones.
For ages the world of man has been at war, spurred on by the upheaval of the world that came without warning. But the world has always searched for peace and for a time it has come. However there are those who seek to return the world to war; to find the strongest to rule over the weak. You are but a pawn in this war, ordered to do the bidding of Apollyon: the one who seeks nothing more than eternal conflict. Are you a sheep who awaits their slaughter? Or will you rise as a wolf among those sheep and feast upon those who fall to your blade.
For Honor is a spectacular looking game, one that’s sure to make good use of all the horsepower available to it. This comes to us care of the AnvilNext 2.0 engine which has powered the last 2 Assassin’s Creeds, Steep and Rainbow Six Siege. All the modern trimmings like physically based rendering, proper global illumination and realistic cloth and weather systems are all present and very noticeable. It’s one of the few games which, at least on my system, looks far better in the cut scenes that aren’t pre-rendered. If you’re playing on PC it’s probably worth tweaking a few settings as the selected defaults are a little weird, like turning v-sync on by default (a sin for us G-Sync/FreeSync users). It also manages to maintain fairly consistent performance even when there’s a lot going on, something which is unfortunately rare these days.
The combination of a fighting game with a hack and slash is For Honor’s selling point; an attempt to recreate the kind of epic knightly battles we’re all used to seeing in movies. How it works in practice is thus: you’re on a battlefield with other players (and AI, if you’re playing a mode with them) and when you and another player lock eyes with each other you go into fighting mode. After that point it’s quite like a traditional fighting game with all the combos, blocks and parries that fighting game veterans will be familiar with. Of course if you’re playing with more than one other player there’s every chance you’ll be ganged up on (or be doing that yourself to others) which changes the fighting dynamics considerably. Outside of that part of the game you’ll likely be running around slaughtering the AI whilst capping points. There’s 12 classes to choose from and as you play through the game you’ll unlock new abilities and loot to customise both your looks and stats. It’s a lot to take in at first look but the mandatory tutorials ensure that you’ll have a firm grounding before you’re thrown into the mix with other players.
The online combat however unfortunately suffers from what all online fighting games have: lag. For Honor is probably the only game that I know of that utilises a peer to peer netcode that also includes each player running their own simulation. What this means is that, instead of one player keeping the game state consistent (which can give rise to the “host advantage” issue) each and every player is calculating the game state. When you’re playing this means that your ping is different to each and every player on the battle field, leading to rather inconsistent results. Moves that would appear to work perfectly on one player will seemingly fail to work on others, some players will glitch around whilst others don’t and, worst of all, one person desynching can end up completely trashing the entire game state and killing the game (I had this happen no less than 3 times).
Part of this is due to the matchmaking which seemingly struggles to find a game even at the busiest periods of the day. Even during “very high activity” periods, as identified by the game itself, it would still have to look at all regions and all player skill levels to find me a game. Undoubtedly this has led to me being matched with people who have pings in the hundreds of milliseconds to me which means we’re dozens of frames apart from each other. It might not sound like much but it can be the difference between being able to parry attacks and getting hit every single time. This lacklustre matchmaking meant that no two games played out the same way, each of them having some kind of annoying lag or netcode related glitch that impacted on game play.
The UI, which was obviously designed with consoles in mind, also needs some love in order for it to be usable. Menu items appear to defy common conventions for where they should be with numerous things stashed under Social or Multiplayer for inexplicable reasons. Further to this the party system, whilst allowing you to send invites in game, requires you to Shift + F2 to accept an invite through Uplay instead. I wouldn’t even bother mentioning a minor annoyance like that if it wasn’t for the fact that the parties also seem to randomly drop players whenever the game feels like it. Honestly for a game that had a relatively long closed beta, as well as a shorter open beta, I would have expected teething issues like this to be sorted already.
The loot system teeters on the edge of being pay to win with obvious gaps between players who’ve dumped cash on it and those who haven’t. Whilst it’s tempered by the fact that all loot is a trade off some are far, far better trade offs than others. This means that, when you’re not matched against similarly geared players, it’s an order of magnitude harder to win than it is otherwise. If you’re skilled enough sure, you can still beat them, but if they’re even mildly co-ordinated there’s really no point in sticking around. Indeed since there’s no penalty for leaving games you should do exactly that if winning is a distant possibility.
The amount of effort put into the single player is surprising, given that much of the game’s marketing focused on the online multi aspect. Unfortunately it’s not particularly engaging as fighting AIs are either outright cheaters or a push over. The story is also somewhat confused, seemingly searching for a reason to match up all the various factions against each other at least once and to demonstrate all the multiplayer maps. Personally if they had gone multi-only I don’t think I would’ve missed the campaign as it felt like a chore more than anything else. After I got bored of playing on hard I dropped it down to easy hoping that would improve things (being an unstoppable killing machine can be fun, for a while) but even that couldn’t slake my boredom.
Despite all this I do appreciate what Ubisoft Montreal tried to accomplish here. It’s rare these days that a game can be truly unique and For Honor, for all its faults, really is a new kind of game. There are some issues that could be fixed easily enough, like the UI and loot system, but further fundamental improvements likely aren’t possible. Fighting games and online play have always had a troubled past and Ubisoft’s attempt at fixing it simply doesn’t work as intended. I honestly don’t know how you’d go about making this work either but there has to be a solution that doesn’t lead to the consistently inconsistent experience that I had whilst playing For Honor. Hopefully Ubisoft sells enough copies this time that they can revisit the IP, potentially with a new idea for improving the netcode in hand.
For Honor is available on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4 right now for $59.99. Game was played on the PC with 13 hours of total play time and 78% of the achievements unlocked.