I really suck at writing shit, these days. Once upon a time, in the magical land of made-up memories, I wrote like a demon. Not only like a demon, but like a motivated demon that was really organized. The kind of demon that didn’t start a writing shift by turning on a video game or checking Facebook. You know, a professional, enthusiastic, and capable demon. And that’s commendable. It’s hard to be a demon and a writer at the same time; both crafts require an insane amount of time and devotion. I like to imagine that this demon found ways to combine his work. For example, while holding a hapless screaming victim over the lip of a volcano to the point where the heat of the lava is melting the captives flesh, he might be holding a tape recorder in his other hand, outlining a plot for his protagonist’s latest romantic romp while working on a llama farm.
You know, because cowboys are for loving.
So, to sum up, I suck at writing. I am so good at putting shit off, even the introduction to this game review isn’t about the game. That takes skill, motherfucker. That takes procrastination to the next level and then tells it to wait there for a minute. No, not yet. Wait for it… wait for it… alright, now.
Ubisoft makes insanely popular games. Let’s not beat around the bush, here. If you haven’t heard of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, then you probably haven’t played a video game in the last decade or so. This is the company that brought you Beyond Good and Evil, one of the landmark games of the sixth generation. They make Prince of Persia, Far Cry, Watchdogs, anything involving Tom Clancy – you could fill a Blockbuster with their list of blockbuster titles.
You know, if you could find one that is open.
The thing about Ubisoft is that, even when they make a “crap” game, it is still spectacular. Assassin’s Creed III is considered the weakest part of that franchise. Think about that for a moment – an open world game set during an alternative history version the Revolutionary War where you play a half-native assassin, working against a clandestine organization bent on total domination while uncovering his secret heritage is considered the worst of those games. It isn’t considered the worst from a gameplay perspective, either! People felt that Conner, the principle character of the game, was too stoic and not emotional enough to pull off the drama of the game. I haven’t played many driving games since Gran Turismo II back in the day, but even I got sucked into The Crew, a driving game so much fun that my son and I bonded over it. Even their crap games have the power to bring families together.
That means that For Honor, the newest game to come out of the Ubisoft Hit Machine, has a lot to live up to. It must not only maintain the level of quality and excellence that Ubisoft shits out on a yearly basis, it also has to help cover a year without an Assassin’s Creed title and it has to do so in a genre that Ubisoft is not really known for. This is competitive game-play to the extreme, a multi-tiered fighting game with a meta-game based on global domination. This is Street Fighter meets Risk and it must be excellent because Ubisoft doesn’t release crap.
Vikings and Samurai and Knights, Oh My!
I was recently invited to play in the For Honor closed beta weekend, and during that time, I must have logged close to forty or more hours playing this game. I should mention that the beta was not the full release of the game; each faction has four playable classes, but only three of each were available during the beta test. Likewise, the long ranging effects of the global war really weren’t felt at that time. While territory did fluctuate and switch hands, what that meant in the overall campaign really didn’t come together in any meaningful sense over the weekend. How this meta-game will affect gameplay after launch I can’t tell you, all I can tell you is what I experienced during the beta test.
So, what is For Honor? To put it simple, For Honor is a game where Vikings, Knights, and Samurai duke it out for cash and prizes, and eventually, control of a continent. You may at this point be saying, “But Ogre, there is no way in hell historically that those three groups could meet in open warfare.” And to you I say, “What the fuck, geek? It’s a god damn game. Go history at your professor. GIT GUD!” And then I’d probably teabag you a few times while shouting “USA! USA!” for no apparent reason.
Yes, in our world, there is no way this could happen. But in the near-earth simulated world of Valkenheim, a land torn apart by some great Cataclysm. And that’s important, isn’t it? Who cares about a world where shit just goes along and things work out. Fuck that, you need a land with attitude. Imagine how much the Power Rangers would have sucked (well, sucked more) if Zordon had been content for “teenagers with well-adjusted social relationships.” No, he knew that the secret ingredient was attitude, and thank to that we got thirty years of multi-colored ninja action. Ubisoft takes a lesson from the Power Rangers and infuses attitude out the ass of the world. At one time, the land was ruled by Vikings. Then they fucked off across the sea and the Knights took over some shit. Then this Cataclysm thing happened, and the Emperor was all “holy shit, this sucks We gonna starve. Samurai, go find me some place to plant trees and grow some pizza and hot wings and shit.” And then Vikings came back and they were all pissed at the Knights and like “yo, fuckface. This is my shit. Not yours.” And the Knights were all “FUCK YOU DUDE!” and then the Samurai landed and no one could get in touch with the Emperor so they were like “fuck it, let’s take all this shit” and that’s how you get the state of the world today.
Or something like that. Oh yeah, and there is some evil chick (I think?) named Appples or Appollo or something and s/he is all “let’s stir this pot” and yeah. Like that.
Combating for Fun and Profit
From the get-go, it is obvious that For Honor is a gorgeous game. From the details in the battle arenas to the insanely fluid animations of the champions, this game packs more beauty into every frame than George packs sausage at a Foreman grill party. The feel of the world is intense, dirty, and visceral. There is nothing untouched by either the war between the factions or the cataclysm that predates it. You can see the ravages of battle hacked into to Stone Walls of the Citadel, run past trees twisted by the cataclysm at the River Fort. Everything in the game pushes the idea of a desperate battle for the few remaining fertile lands left to this world, and that sense of urgency and desperation enhances the sheer magnitude of the campaign as war is waged.
And it is a good thing the maps are so beautiful, because you are going to be seeing an awful lot of the same locations, over and over and over again.
That is not to say you’ll ever get bored of it; the competitive nature of the game will keep each engagement unique, a different battle each time you charge into the same old location. I am also certain Ubisoft will be releasing more maps as the life of the game carries on. It should be noted that these maps, especially in the Domination mode, are enormous on both the vertical and horizontal planes, and are detailed down to the very bolts. I can only imagine that the amount of time it takes to create one of these maps, and the loving attention to detail shows in the final result. With that level of dedication, I really don’t mind waiting for new maps since it is the gameplay the really drives For Honor anyway.
As a player, you pick which Faction you want to join for the season and compete against other players (or the AI) to win skirmishes in a massive battle campaign that forms the core of the For Honor experience. Each season, the results of battle are tallied up and one faction is declared the victor, with each member of that faction receiving some sort of prize. During the Closed Beta, there were three game modes available: 1v1 Duels between two Champions, 2v2 Brawls where two teams are put in nearby lanes, and Domination mode, a 4v4 battle royale which forms the heart of the campaign. Each faction has four different classes, each unique in purpose and look. For the Closed Beta, each Faction only had access to three of the classes.
- Knights: The Warden, a greatsword wielding front line combatant. The Conqueror, flail and shield carrying defender. The Peacekeeper, a lightly armored dagger wielding hero that is quick as hell. The Lawbringer class was not available for play.
- Vikings: The Raider, complete with battle axe and “go fuck yourself” attitude. The Warlord, a sword-and-board powerhouse. The Berseker, who wield twin axes of choppy choppy. Like the Lawbringer, the Valkyrie was not available for play.
- Samurai: The Kensai, sword-saint heavy attack of the samurai. Nobushi, a naginata poking warrior with incredible reach. The Orochi, a katana wielding son-of-a-bitch. The Shugoki and his massive tetsubo were not available for the Closed Beta.
Each class has some sort of analog in the other factions, be it the obvious comparison between Warlords and Conquerors or the similarity between greatsword and nodachi that are the hallmark of the Warden and Kensai classes. However, just because you chose a faction does not limit you to only playing classes from that faction. When taking to the battlefield, you can access any class that you have unlocked with the in-game steel currency. This is something I am still back and forth on liking; while it is awesome to have that flexibility in choice, it kind of waters down the experience of playing a Viking when you are surrounded by Peacekeepers and Orochi.
Fighting in this game is not for the weak of heart, and it is not easy to learn. Unlike the typical button-mash mentality of many fighting games, For Honor opts for skill based zone of attack system, which does a good job of simulating martial arts training. Instead of the five standard zones of attack, For Honor has simplified it down to three zones – left, right, and high and ditching the lower zones altogether. By using the right analog stick, the player can set the character’s stance in one direction and launch attacks with the right shoulder buttons, or switch it to block incoming attacks. A lock on system keeps the warrior focused on an opponent, but double tapping the lock-on will quick switch to another opponent. To add to the complexity, each character also has unique attacks (such as the Warlord’s headbutt) and attack chains, which simulate combos from traditional fighting games like Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat, though not quite as complex.
I am not going to lie to you, it is fucking hard to get used to combat in For Honor, but once your mind does latch on to the flow, it feels so natural that you will swear you’ve been playing fighting games this way all your life. Somewhere along the way it just snaps into place, and you’ll find yourself switching stance, attacking, switch for a block, and timing parries without thinking. While this means that, once you get the hang of it, you will trounce newbs in duel mode, when you come across another player that ‘gets it’ you are going to have some amazing battles across the castle walls or river bridges, fights that will keep you on the edge of your seat and screaming for nerfs when you are defeated.
Mr. Ogre goes to Valkenheim
My experience with For Honor was fantastic.
I chose the Viking faction, because I don’t suck, and immediately jumped into the game. A brief tutorial gives the basics on how to work your character, but it really doesn’t prepare you for how fast combat it is or how to effectively do some basic things. Instead, buried within the menus, are various “how to play” options which go into further combat tutorials, and each class also has videos devoted to it showcasing their basic and more advanced moves. Watching these videos and learning the moveset is critical if you want to advance your playstyle from being fragged constantly and running back to the battlefield or being an unstoppable force of destruction out for a little bloody fun. I chose to concentrate mainly on the Warlord class, and I do not regret it.
While playing Duel or Brawl mode, everyone is on the same footing. Every player has access to any class they’ve unlocked with a basic set of stats. This keep the playing ground level for those modes. In Domination, however, there is a leveling and loot system. You gain loot off the battle field specific for a class, and you can use that equipment to better enhance your character. Not only that, you can upgrade specific items and tailor your gear based off the playstyle you want. For example, as I crawled through the ranks, I eventually had five different shields (or so) on my Warlord. Each boosted the same set of stats, but in different ways. One shield might have focused on defense while another allowed your revenge mode to last longer. His sword, on the other hand, boosted different stats, and the various hilts and blades boosted them in different amounts. This allows you to tailor suits of gear for exactly how you want to play, or for what you expect out of the upcoming battle.
Likewise, each character has feats. As you run through the domination match, you are gaining experience for almost everything you do. As you level on the field, you gain access to the feats that you selected before the match. Some can be passive abilities (like the Warlord’s ability to self-resurrect), and some may be active attacks (like the Raider’s fire pots). What feats you have access to depend on the level of your chosen class, which increases through overall gameplay. Each class has twenty levels, and each level may unlock a feat or some new type of customization (such as colors, patterns, tattoos, and the like). After level twenty, you start gaining Reputation Levels, of which there are ten. Every 21st level becomes the next reputation rank. During the Closed Beta, I was able to raise my Warlord to Reputation 1, Level 5 before beta ended. To reach the full 10 reputation will take a lot of gameplay.
Like, a fucking lot of gameplay. And you can do that for each class. When you see someone wearing a skin unlocked by high reputation, you know that person has done their time. Be wary.
Another point to gameplay are orders. Orders are goals given daily, where you need to achieve certain things, and doing so will award you with experience and steel. For example, you may need to win three matches in Duel mode or play in ten different Domination games. A little icon by the order tells you if you need to do this versus the AI or living players, and pay close attention to that! It is very easy to think you are working toward completing an order, only to find out you’ve been doing it in the wrong mode. You also have access to contract orders, which is a list of different goals along the same line, but you chose which three from the list you want to pursue. Contract orders take longer to refresh, so you have a couple of days to compete them before you can take on more. Finally, there are event orders. These are rare and how they pop up I believe is at the whim of Ubisoft. During the Closed Beta, we had orders to (as a community) execute an absurd number of people on the battlefield (executions are done by finishing an opponent with a heavy attack and then hitting a hotkey, triggering a brutal animation and taking way their ability to be revived). Had we succeeded in the order, it would have been worth an astonishing 500 steel and a couple of prize boxes, but something happened with the server when we were at 75%. When the server came back up, the order was gone completely and no one was rewarded for anything.
I really enjoyed my time with For Honor. While the Closed Beta only had a few game-modes and maps that were repetitive, it remains a fast paced, visceral example of what a good competitive fighting game can be. The upcoming Open Beta (February 7th – 9th) should allow us a new game mode and the classes that were locked in Closed Beta, and be the last chance to really get a feel for the game before it launches on February 14th. With as much detail as I’ve gone into, it only scratches the surface of what’s available in For Honor. If you are looking for a competitive game to sink your teeth into, I highly recommend it. This is probably the most fun I’ve had with competitive play since Mechwarrior, and that says a lot for it. So pick it up on the 14th and send Thrazghul a friend invite. I’ll be the guy chopping your fucking head off on the XBone version of the game.
Rick A. Carroll is a writer, podcaster, and professional badass with a penchant for narcissism. When not parenting or husbanding, he can be found writing or playing video games and finding new ways to get himself hurt. His book, Dead Man’s Skin, is available at Amazon and Smashwords, and he assures us that the sequel will be out soon. He also is writing about himself in the third person right now because being pretentious is more than just a hobby, it’s a god damn duty.