Last week, when I reviewed and subsequently analyzed For Honor, I found myself in the most unusual position of defending a video game microtransaction system that actually provided in-game bonuses.
In For Honor, you can use real money to purchase in-game currency (Steel) and use that currency to unlock gear (through loot box-style crates) that gives you stat bonuses. Generally speaking, this is a huge no-no, but the way For Honor did it was able to circumvent this criticism by making this gear also give have a negative effect. Each piece of gear affects three unique stats, and it will raise one stat, lower another and leave the third alone. So, it ends up being a pro-con type of system that never really feels imbalanced.
That is with the glaring exception of "Heroric" gear.
Heroic Gear Is Objectively Better
Since For Honor is markedly stingy with the details of how their game works, I was only aware of "Common" and "Rare" gear for the majority of my playtime. Then I started seeing players with a purple gear level, which signifies that they have all or mostly "Heroic" gear. This is the third and final level of gear in For Honor, and, unlike common and rare gear, Heroic gear gives you a bonus to two of these stats, while taking down only one. You can see the difference in the two images below.
As you can see, with Rare gear, I have to choose between block damage and sprint speed, where as someone with Heroic gear gets to have both, and, sure, they don't get as much health back upon execution. But, as we'll see going forward, there are several ways to mitigate that need.
More than just in the ability to upgrade, the overall benefit of these, whether upgraded or not is substantially higher. With one person's fully-maxed out gear, they have to take huge hits in things like block damage resistance and defense, but that is entirely mitigated by Revenge – a controversial ability that gives a player in For Honor massive shield, health and damage bonuses if they are about to die. So they may take a lot of damage, but that plays right into their revenge stat that makes them nigh unkillable. See below:
As you can see, this person has a maxed-out gear rating of 108, and, with every piece of gear, has two stats well above the starting mark (indicated by the hash mark on each line). Compare this with my current build, which I obtained after a couple dozen hours in multiplayer with no real-money purchases.
All technical skill levels being equal, how quickly would I lose to the player above? I'd argue pretty quickly, and I don't think it's a difficult argument to make. While I'm unlikely to get matched with such a player, I have been matched against players with a gear level (top left of each image) in the high 80s, and, while I imagine their stats are a bit less than a maxed out player, they're still way better than mine.
Some people do make the claim, still, that Heroic gear leaves you really vulnerable in too many things, thereby balancing it out. While that may be true, I have no way of knowing what another person's weak spot is because I can't see their stat overview. They don't where a sign that says "I take a lot of damage and run out of stamina quickly"; those are things I have to figure out on my own through the course of a game, and it may already be too late once I do figure it out.
Easier Paid Than Done
But, in order to declare a game as pay-to-win, I not only have to show that this purchasable gear is better but that it also is far more difficult to earn without paying. Let me tell you, it is unbelievably harder.
Here's the skinny on Heroic gear. You have to get to Reputation 3 (think prestige in Call of Duty) before you can even get Heroic gear from scavenger crates with in-game Steel. This is something I did a bit of (without purchasing the Steel), and I only got four out of six possible types of gear, which is why I have two common gear pieces as seen in the previous section. Below are the types of crates you can buy:
- Basic Pack: 300 Steel
- Armor Pack 400 Steel
- Weapon Pack: 400 Steel
- Premium Pack: 500 Steel
For reference, a game of Dominion (the most rewarding game mode in terms of Steel) will net you 40 Steel – that's regardless of performance or any other factor. You get a flat 40 Steel at the end of every match. So, you have to play roughly 10 matches to get anything of note, as the more expensive packs guarantee better items, and even then, you can't guarantee that you'll get the gear you need.
But, for the sake of argument, let's assume that you magically have all six pieces of Heroic gear. Maybe you got them through a few fortunate crates, or hey, maybe you scavenged them from end-of-game bonuses, you lucky dog. But then, there's the cost of upgrading them to the maximum level. You see, each piece of Heroic gear starts at level 13, for an overall gear level of 78. In order to get the max of 108, you have to level up each individual piece of Heroic gear to level 18.
And that comes with a very high cost. Here are the costs in Steel for upgrading a piece of Heroic gear from level 13 to level 18.
- 13-14: 270 Steel
- 14-15: 290 Steel
- 15-16: 315 Steel
- 16-17: 340 Steel
- 17-18: 360 Steel
So, the cost of fully upgrading one piece of Heroic gear is 1,575 steel and 9,450 for all six. Without purchasing any steel, you would have to play 240 Dominion games, without even counting all the games it took you to reach Reputation 3 and get all the pieces of gear you needed, to earn enough Steel to reach 108 gear level. Or, you could just spend $10 to get 11,000 Steel, fully upgrade all your gear, and have Steel to spare. So let's see, 240 games of For Honor or $10. You tell me which one is easier.
Keep in mind also, that this is just the cost of getting a max gear ranking for one hero, out of a possible 12, soon to be 18.
That doesn't even tell the whole story, because you can also spend money for Champion Status, which will help you upgrade gear more quickly and let you level up 25% faster than people who don't have champion status, allowing you to get to Reputation 3 more quickly and have access to Heroic gear before anyone else.
There isn't any way around it anymore, For Honor is pay-to-win. From level 1, you can pay money to level up faster than those who don't pay, where you can pay even more money to get better gear than those who don't pay, and then you can pay money to upgrade that gear much faster than those who don't pay.
And none of this would be a huge problem if that gear wasn't objectively better. Because Heroic gear gives you bonuses to 2/3 stats, it is. Peer-to-peer may be eating up all the negative press around For Honor, but Heroic Gear is the biggest problem.