There aren’t many games that can make you feel like a true badass. While it’s entirely possible to fire up the likes of Shadow of Mordor or Assassin’s Creed and hack your way through a horde of 100 bad guys, you always feel like you’re in control, with plenty of tricks up your sleeve for when things get a little dicey. It can, at times, feel a bit cheap. Not so with For Honor; most of the time there are no 1 vs 10 fights where you’ll come out on top, no racing into a group of five close-knit fighters and living to tell the tale with just a small scratch on your new shirt. Such heroics are met with a swift and devastating punishment that can, if your opponent feels the need, end with your head becoming more distant from your body than you might like. It’s hugely challenging, it’s crushingly upsetting at times, and it’s nothing short of sublime.
Focusing on the single player campaign first, it’s quite clear that this is really a big tutorial for the main multiplayer event. You’ll hack your way through hoards of dumbass enemies with the occasional challenging one-on-one with a slightly more worthy opponent, an event which can feel like quite a shock to the system after swatting down dozens of minions on your way to the final fight. But it’s these more occasional fights that give you the best practise for playing against others, carrying as they do the main fighting system of blocking, attacking and generally trying to outsmart your opponent. It’s a decent enough campaign, playable through with different factions to give you some exposure to each type of fighter, but it’s not the highlight of the game. It’s not as terrible as I’ve heard some people saying either, and if you want a quick few moments of carnage you could do far worse than dipping your toe into a quick mission and not having to worry if you need to stop after 5 minutes.
But to really enjoy For Honor, you need other people. Real people. Real people who don’t mind you cutting their heads off.
To win online though you’ll need to have patience, skill and the ability to shrug off losing time and time again. For Honor can, as mentioned earlier, be a very punishing game – get caught on the wrong side of a 2 v 1 fight and you’re not going to last long. The control comes from a three-stance system which lets you block and attack from different directions, with an indicator on screen to give you an idea of which stance your opponent is taking. They attack high, you block high. They attack from the side, you block the relevant direction. If you’re really clever you can possibly catch them with a quick counter, or block skillfully until they’ve knackered themselves out to the point that they can’t attack any more, and even blocking might not quite work out. In such an event it’s time to pile in and strike repeatedly, firmly and without hesitation, trying all the while to not push yourself too far and get yourself into the exact same mess. As a result of these methods you can face off to an opponent and still be going at it a few minutes later, having barely blinked or taken a breath the whole time, and the way a fight ebbs and flows can be spectacular if you both find a rhythm and struggle to find a way past the other player’s blocks and dodges. It feels fantastic to play when everything clicks, and even if you’re on the end of a beating you’re still learning, picking up other people’s tactics, working out new ways to avoid annoying attacks, and earning crucial experience to unlock extra skills or items for your characters.
Handy, because customisation is an important part of what For Honor is all about. You can earn cards which flip over to reveal new clothing, new parts for your weapons and various other nice treasures. Each comes with a stat tweak, letting you regenerate health quicker at the expense of healing speed, or giving you more attacking power while reducing your defence capabilities. Very few items make you simply better, you need to choose a set of equipment and customisations which suit your playing style. As such yo umight get some great looking gear that just doesn’t match how you like to play, but I found it just pushed me into trying other characters and new ways to play. There really is a lot more to this than meets the eye, and what seems to be a simple way to make your character look prettier actually has a pretty major bearing on the game.
There are a few game modes available to you, each needing a very different focus. Duels can be played out in 1v1 or 2v2 variants, with the latter option often (but not always) leading to some very gentlemanly gameplay when one player is taken down – I’ve had several games when one of the two players has taken a step back during a 2-on-1 scenario and only rejoined if their teammate has been killed, taking it back to a straight forward 1-on-1 fight to the end. Others don’t do that and just beat seven shades of dung out of you, but that’s just the nature of the beast – if people get a sniff of blood and want the win, you’ll feel it. Elsewhere two teams of 4 pitch against each other in Domination and Deathmatch type modes – I really enjoyed both of these; storming into an area held by the enemy and successfully fighting off a couple of the other team as they try to take it from you is an awesome feeling, as is stalking round a level trying to find the one remaining enemy in a deathmatch game. Again, it’s tough once the teams become unbalanced, and if you find yourself alone in amongst a group of 2 or three enemies than running away is your only hope of survival, but there’s a huge adrenaline rush when a game starts and you face of against your first opponent.
So while the campaign isn’t quite as amazing as it might’ve been, it’s still a great way to learn the dynamics of the game and get some less embarrassing practice in. And while the multiplayer game can be rock hard at times, it’s generally a fantastic experience and one which can prove very addictive once you find the games which you enjoy the most. So if you fancy grabbing a weapon, heading onto the battlefield and hearing that sweet sound of steel clashing with steel, For Honor is for you. It’s awesome.
Reviewed on PS4