It's safe to say that perhaps no one was a harsher critic of For Honor than I leading up to its release. While its peer-to-peer nature ate up the majority of negative press (as it should've), there were laundry list of warning signs that made me question whether or not Ubisoft's new fighter was going to be worth either the time or the money required.
But damn. Against all odds, you've won me over with For Honor. It will make you feel like you're getting nowhere, slamming your head against a brick wall, until everything finally clicks and you become one with Ubisoft's vision. For Honor has all the intangibles of a unique, groundbreaking IP, and I can't wait to see how it progresses.
You play as one of four heroes from each of the Knights, Vikings or Samurai. Three classes, four hero types. While it's tempting to think of these guys in terms of MOBA heroes, they fall in line with one another very easily. In each class of For Honor, you have a vanguard, a heavy, an assassin and a hybrid, and (with exception of the hybrids), they each have a common pool of feats and ways to gain in-game bonuses.
That means that a heavy on one team (when played right) will likely be playing the same way as the heavy on the other team. And, while it's too early to tell for definitively, it's been a long time in For Honor's public play time, including all the Alpha's and Betas, and it doesn't seem like any one faction or hero type is inherently better than the other.
Sure, I may be able to identify a tweak here or there that I would like to implement, but it's never anything as game-changing as "I died because that hero is BS." Granted, I still haven't fully climbed the ranks of For Honor greatness, so, while I'm much better than I was when I started, I could reach the top of the mountain only to see that the Samurai's mountain is much taller. For now, at the lower levels of play, arguable where it matters most in a non-eSport game, there isn't much to complain about in terms of balance, and that is so impressive for a game with this many moving parts around its heroes.
Play Your Way
One of the concerns I brought up was For Honor's allowing you to purchase in-game items that give you in-game bonuses. While I still roll my eyes at that, that's about all I do. Most every item you come across (which you get every time you level up) has pros and cons – a positive in one trait and a negative in another. So at worst, purchasing an item allows someone else to play their desired playstyle at a slightly higher level than you can play your desired playstyle. These items can also be purchased with in-game currency (steel), which the game unloads on you like a manure truck in Back to the Future when you first start playing.
And, actually, this system manages to still have a positive affect on the gameplay experience. For instance, I noticed that my style of play used up a lot of stamina, and I was finding myself running out too quickly and not being able to regain it in any timely fashion. Then, I got some weapon parts that decreased the stamina cost and another that increased stamina regeneration. That's perfect for me!
That being said, it may not be perfect for everyone. It all depends on your playstyle. If you'd rather forgo stamina for more damage or defense, there are parts for that as well. It's a fantastically designed system that makes For Honor all the more enjoyable/
We all know the elephant in the room: peer-to-peer connection only for multiplayer. But, this is much more of a subtle beast than people realized. It's not a wasteland or an apocalypse of frequent match crashes and five-minute wait times. While I'm sure these things happen, they represent an extreme and not the norm.
But, that doesn't mean all is well. Peer-to-peer is definitely sub-optimal. When the host leaves and the game reinstances, it's really jarring for a game that otherwise feels intense and seamless. Likewise, I've sat at a screen after everyone has readied up for a minute or two, which doesn't make for the best experience. But it's not the disaster that everyone predicted.
What I do worry about is how peer-to-peer will affect For Honor's longevity. These extreme problems may not exist with any regularity now, when the game is populous and options are everywhere, but you cut the number of players in half, or even more than that, and For Honor could become a wasteland of technical issues and, worse yet, a hotbed for those looking to take advantage of an inherently flawed system.
Loss of Control
Here is my message to all those who are playing For Honor on PC using a mouse and keyboard setup: you're crippling yourself. I went through the same motions, thinking the controls would work fine only to get my face stomped in every time. It's not as though MKB were making me bad, but they certainly were preventing me from getting better.
The PC controls are something of gutter trash. With a controller, you set your guard stance (either left, right or top) with the joystick. With the PC, this functionality is handled (quite literally) by the mouse. Unfortunately, I found that if I moved my mouse up to guard, I had to make sure it was pretty much straight up, because even the slightest angle to one side or another would switch my guard stance and leave me open to strike.
And I tried remapping this, but there's no way to turn the mouse off, so to speak, so you'll still have to avoid moving it too much if you do remap your PC controls. While all of this is disappointing and would be a huge ding on the game, For Honor comes with native PS4 controller support, and I'm happy to report that it works splendidly, so it's just not an issue.
For Honor is still figuring out matchmaking. I got put in matches that range from actually pretty fair to "what were they thinking?" At one point, there were only five players (out of the necessary eight), so three bots filled in. Rather than putting two bots on one team and one bot on the other, I got placed with all three bots against a team of decently leveled folks. Naturally, I left the game on the spot. But, my very next game was one of the more balanced matches I've played in, so the jury is out on this one.
That's a shame, too, because the online game modes are all really fun. There has been some chatter around the web about people not liking Skirmish as opposed to Elimination, but I'm partial to both. Besides, the premiere game mode is Dominion, which plays a bit like other capture-point or domination modes, but with enough to vary the formula that the experience feels uniquely For Honor. Since I never want to play a game and feel like I'm playing another, that's a very good thing.
Also, the online community is surprisingly short on toxicity. It seems those who bought the game have a lot of… oh, what's the word?
The single-player, however, can't help but feel like a series of unexciting multiplayer matches. You do fight AI heroes, but even on hard difficulty, they're little more than paper mache when matched up against you. It's all auto-pilot, as well. Go here, kill these soliders/archers, fight this bad guy, etcetera. It's not very good. That being said, it's also easy to ignore.
Here's what really makes For Honor great, though: its difficulty curve. I haven't played a game that slaps you in the face as much as For Honor since I played Dota 2. You'll play and play and feel like you're getting nowhere until one day, one game, or even one moment where you see everything differently, and, while you won't instantly master it, you'll now clearly see the path to mastery.
See, For Honor is too difficult and complicated to tell simply tell you how to play, so the onus is yours, as is the subsequent joy, to find out. Sure, For Honor does have a series of normal and advanced videos on each of its heroes, so it doesn't completely hang you out to dry, but you won't really understand why everything they're saying works until you play the game for yourself and understand how that works.
Yes, it's a tautology, (the game is fun once it's fun), but that's the best way to describe it. The game will feel frustrating and even infuriating while you're learning it, but, similar to any long, arduous hike up a mountainside where there's a great view waiting for you if you can just put in the effort to get there, For Honor rewards you with a sense of accomplishment unlike anything else on the market today.
Against all my better instincts, I have to sit down and Ubisoft's dinner table and eat however many crows they put in front of me. Everything but the beak and feet. For Honor is a damn fine experience, and while it's held back by a few technical issues and an underdeveloped campaign, learning and mastering its every complexity is rewarding enough to balance those out and then some.
Feel free to use this example against me the next time I doubt a Ubisoft game.