In preparation for its February 14th release date, Ubisoft launched a final open beta for its title, For Honor, over the weekend to sway some gamers off the fence into lunging to make a purchase. Unlike many of Ubisoft’s recent games focused on modern combat, the concept of For Honor is fairly unique because it is set within an alternative history where war between Vikings, Knights, and Samurai has ravaged the planet for a thousand years. Just to clarify in the time of alternative facts this is not a real historical timeline. I wouldn’t write anything you learn about this war on your next history test. That being said, the relatively creative background narrative gives For Honor an intriguing twist where I found myself wanting to know more about the game’s singleplayer story. At the same time, even though going hands-on with the beta had some extremely satisfying moments I still felt that the game lacked in some critical areas that kept me from hitting “Pre-Order Now”.
One of the best parts of playing For Honor was the wide range of fighting styles that the game has to offer. The beta featured nine of the game’s twelve heroes and each had their own unique approach to combat. For example, the Orochi is a very fast samurai character whose play-style is centered on chaining a dodge with a series of quick attacks. But, his overall health is quite low causing timing dodges correctly to be crucial to winning matchups. There are also much stronger heroes like the Raider that wields a two-handed axe and is more focused on delivering blows that really pack a massive punch. These variations between each character cause the game to feel like a different experience depending on the hero you choose. However, there is definitely a steep learning curve for some of the heroes while others can simply overpower enemies with things like the reach of their weapons and overall health. The current hero system also definitely has some balancing issues that need some ironing out before the game can really put players on an even playing field. For example, the Nobushi is an obvious member of the meta (the best heroes in the game) because of her reach and the fact that her sometimes utterly unblockable strikes cause bleed damage over time. This makes her a particularly frustrating hero to face when playing heroes with shorter reach like the Peacekeeper or Conqueror because for every couple of strikes you land, the Nobushi can hit you with three more as well as cause bleed damage. As a result, even though the different play styles that heroes offer keep the game engaging not every matchup between heroes is what I would consider balanced.
The game’s overall grit and tense combat are other areas where this game really shines. There is honestly nothing quite as satisfying as landing that finishing strike on your opponent especially in the game’s 1v1 mode. Additionally, each character has a series of absolutely savage finishing moves that make your victory just that much sweeter. However, I found myself sometimes missing these opportunities because your finisher is disrupted if you hit certain things like the move stick when you kill an enemy. At the same time, the best moments of the brutal combat in For Honor are the encounters where you find yourself facing off against one opponent. The intensity of these battles stems from the pure focus and stamina that it takes to strike at the moments where you opponent makes mistakes or to perfectly time parries. Unfortunately, this same intensity is not always upheld in the game’s combat because when a 2v1 situation occurs it is almost impossible for the player that is outmanned to win this matchup.
For Honor also falls a little bit short with some of its multiplayer aspects. For example, the idea of having a faction war between the three groups that is cross platform is fairly intriguing because console and PC gamers are usually never able to interact. This faction war also causes cosmetic changes and weather effects on each map that change to reflect which faction has conquered the territory. As great as this idea sounds, I was fairly underwhelmed as I began playing matches and deploying troops that I earned from my multiplayer wins. I started to doubt whether I really had any impact on the system if thousands of other people were playing. It was even reported that Ubisoft eventually stopped keeping track of the faction wars stats before the beta even ended. Finally, there are only six maps in the entire base game causing some of the novelty of the multiplayer gameplay to wear off after a couple of hours.
For Honor is definitely a distinct hack-and-slash game with a creative backstory and some very enjoyable moments of gritty combat. But, the game’s emphasis on the underwhelming faction war, its issues with balancing heroes, and minimal map variation all felt like elements I just could not look past even when I tried to focus on some of the successes of the gameplay. Instead of buckling on my samurai sword and preparing to assault the breach I think I will let it collect dust for a while. In fact, I will probably stay at home and play something else because this battle might be one worth sitting out.