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‘For Honor’ offers visceral battles between history’s fiercest warriors

New video game introduces fun combat despite glaring flaws

March 7, 2017

Set in an alternate medieval timeline, where a massive cataclysm shifted parts of continents closer together, “For Honor’s” setting alone sets itself apart from many other games of its nature. The game is a strategic “fighting game,” but is blended with many other elements of combat that makes it both challenging, and rewarding.

The combat is centered around a parrying and blocking style, a cat and mouse game that revolves around players switching between stances as they plot their next move in the moment. A player can turn their stance to the left, right, or up, and switch between these stances on a whim, should their attacker swing in either of those directions. This, on top of varied classes of skill and abilities, makes for every combat encounter an intense battle for survival.

The story is its weakest point, despite the clear effort of the developers, Ubisoft Montreal, made with what feels like a low budget. The story follows 3 different factions: Knights, Vikings, and Samurai. Each chapter has multiple missions following a few characters within that faction, as they face the ever growing and violent Black Stone Legion. Their leader, Apollyon (Catherine Kidd), thrives off of war, and recruits only the strongest and most forthright warriors.

The missions have some surprisingly varied ideas, from chasing a runaway on horseback, to fighting a Viking warlord and his pack of wolves. But the individual fights with every other enemy in the game begins to feel repetitive. When some A.I. enemies begin to break the rules set by the game for the players, the fury a player would feel from having their move that was called “unblockable” in the game menu itself being blocked by a tough enemy, gives the feeling of being cheated.

The feeling that the budget for the game was low stems from the character variety and voice acting. Any character in the campaign that isn’t a Class players can play in the multiplayer are replaced with generic “grunts,” with unmoving mouths and copy-and-pasted faces. Characters mostly have American accents, even though the game has the factions clearly being English/French, Swedish/Gaelic, and Japanese. Though players will hear everyone in their faction speak English, the opposing factions will indeed be speaking their native tongues. But being a Medieval Knight or a Celtic Viking and they have Westcoast-American accents, does pull players out of the immersion.

Another problem with the campaign is that there are many tutorials that crop up throughout the game. After the first mission, it is somewhat understandable that the game would want to teach the players some new mechanics that weren’t covered in the tutorial mode. But the tutorial mode is mandatory, and finishing it then jumping into the campaign, then having to go through it all over again, felt like there was a developmental oversight, or a need in the settings menu to switch off tutorials entirely. Learning a new Class does require some practice, but when the game reminds players how to parry a halfway through the campaign, even though parrying is one of the 3 core mechanics of the game, it becomes a nuisance.

The Classes players choose from are all unique and have varying degrees of complication. “The Warden” is your typical claymore-swinging Knight, and easy to understand and control, but the naginata-wielding “Nobushi” will have move sets that require great practice and attention, for both those playing as her, and those who fight her.

The multiplayer offers a variety of maps and game modes, players will rarely feel tired of playing a match of “Dominion” after hours of play. Boredom seems to be a non-existent issue, given each match players are always trying to hone in their skills with their favorite Class. If they want a change up in style, all they have to do is change Classes and the process of rewiring their brain for a completely different set of moves starts the engaging process all over again. If they tire of playing a certain mode, the Deathmatch based “Elimination” and “Skirmish” modes offer a change up in goals, and the 1 versus 1 “Duel” and 2 versus 2 “Brawl” modes offer a more intense round based style of gameplay.

However, this is where one of the game’s biggest shortcomings shines. The game is superb in 1-on-1 combat, where both combatants have to focus on out-maneuvering each other, parrying and blocking when necessary, then striking when able. But the moment a player has to fight more than 1 enemy, or if multiple players engage all at once, the game turns into an incoherent slugfest. Though a player may be able to hit multiple enemies at once with a well-placed horizontal swing, the friendly fire will result in them harming their allies. Even if the damage dealt towards allies is a much smaller portion than to that which is dealt to enemies. But the staggering it causes to friends could prove fatal as enemies typically see those opportunities quickly, and strike with ease.

The best advice: If multiple enemies begin to rush a player, that player should either find a ledge and time it right where they can kick one of them off the ledge, or just run for an ally for back-up. If the player is the only one left alive, they best ready their sword, and prepare to die in glory.

“For Honor” manages to offer a dense and original combat system, despite its flaws in some Class balancing, and the multi aspect of the multiplayer combat. Fighting can be exhilarating, and each minor victory feels like a great triumph.

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