Thinking about the good Melee focused combat games out there, like Chivalry Medieval Warfare or, umm, the one with, no that was Chivalry too.
Melee focused combat is not a large or one would think popular genre yet games have an innate blood lust, the more gore the better and what’s even sweeter is the fact we didn’t have to spend years honing our skills to turn us into lean mean fighting machines. Instead, I can sit in my pants eating Wotsits and getting that orange stuff all over my keyboard and still beat a guy who goes to the gym every day.
For Honor is Ubisoft’s third-person hack attack melee arena combat game, and it is different from other arena games because you can chop people up, literally. Initially, the combat system is strange and off-putting but when you start to understand the way the fights play out, the pacing the tactics involved you realize that there are no other games that come close to For Honors satisfying battles.
OK so there is a fantasy medieval world that has Knights, Samurai and Vikings all fighting each other and that is a little silly for any axe purists out there but the elegance of combat that rewards skill over luck and patience over power is enough to make you forget that these fighters would never have met on the battlefield.
For Honor is a battle game but one that focuses on one-on-one duels and whilst you will find yourself often fighting more than one opponent it’s those individual battles that will ultimately win the war.
Right now there are 12 characters to choose from and each has their own weapon and fighting style. Initially, players can learn enough about the basic moves to reasonably expect to compete and will be able to hold their own against some reasonable opponents after only a few hours. It’s when you start to get into the complicated stuff that things get interesting and the strengths and weaknesses of each character are highlighted for all to see. Fighting as the Viking gave me an axe and appeared to allow me to knock my opponent out of the map entirely. Maybe a genuine tactic is to press your opponent really hard and disorient them or is it better to sit back and counter their attacks, what if they are sitting back, should I change to attack or force them to come forward. This is the constant Rock Paper Scissor thought running through your mind as you battle your opponent. Whatever happens slow and measured usually wins out and this game will not suit the button bashers. The winner is the person who could read the opponent and counter, the guy with the fastest finger will probably go and play COD in a week.
The campaign is essentially a long and drawn tutorial and it basically puts you into various scenarios to learn the fundamentals of combat. Some stages will give you an insight into how certain characters are played and how their feats are used or how the multiplayer mode works but linking this stuff together is a very poor story, an even more unbelievable villain who wants an eternal war.
The campaign is around 6 hours long and there are no standout moments to make me feel that is anything more than a tacked on component to a multiplayer game that ticks a box on the game developers guide to making games check sheet.
For example, some stages offer you insight on how certain characters are played and how their special abilities (called Feats) are used, while others familiarize you with some of the multiplayer modes.
So then on to the meat and two veg of the game, For Honors’ multiplayer. There are lots of different play modes and I spent the majority of my time in Dominion. It is by far my favourite and easily the most entertaining mode in terms of variety. It’s a 4v4 game where you and your team have to work together to capture and hold three zones. There are lots of easy to beat AI that at times do hamper your attempts to capture zones and it’s a great feeling coordinating attacks and pushes with a team especially if you find yourself with people who want to work together. It feels like a large battle and you are right in the midst of it defending and capturing points. In one match I was in a 2v1 situation and managed to kill both my enemies as well as AI that had ended up in the way, only to find the other two enemies almost upon me. Then my team arrived and it was a 4 v 2 for the last moments of the match. There is no re-spawning at the end of the game and putting down the last enemy I felt like William Wallace in a scene from Braveheart.
My least favourite mode has to be Elimination. It’s another 4v4 but there are no respawns and I found myself constantly pitted against two opponents. Despite my previous claims, it’s a very hard, if almost impossible task to take on two human players and consistently win. I guess that is one gripe, the combat can be a little inconsistent when you take into account that you can be pushed or thrown out of some maps just by the number of attacks. However, it’s also great on the reverse when you a teammate work together so well that you force a player to fall out of the map.
I played only a handful of matches of Duel so far. The reason is that I think the match up system is not adequate to match me against players of my own skill. I was beaten on two occasions without the other player appearing to break a sweat or taking a single hit and in other matches, I felt as though I won without a thought. It is a shame because this is a mode where For Honor could shine. The brutality and grace of the combat can shine through as you have no other focus than your one single opponent. The one on one combat is fabulous if you are matched with a player of similar skill. It’s a tense game of wits and the second guessing, countering and movement all work together to make the duel look almost like a dance.
A cross-platform system called Faction War lets you earn war assets based on your performance in battle. This can then be used to bolster your chosen factions influence and whilst it’s a minor addition it is a welcome one as it does garner a sense of community and common goal for your specific faction and gives you a reason other than wanting to see someone’s head come off to want to do well in battles.
I played on both a high-end gaming rig with everything turned to 11 and a mid level system and whilst certain graphical elements had to be turned down or off on the mid-range system it ran perfectly well and I got over 45 FPS whilst the game still looked fantastic.
If you are coming to For Honor looking for a hack and slash game where you can mash buttons and unseat a good player forget it. For Honor is a slow paced combat game that will take you some time to master. It isn’t perfect and does have its shortcomings but overall I had a great time playing. I am concerned that being a Ubisoft title we will see an awful lot of paid DLC but that is part and parcel of the modern gaming industry so for now, For Honor gets a thumbs up from me and if you can take some of the issues you will not put this game down for some time.