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Review: ‘For Honor’

Ubisoft’s latest is a fantastic game unfortunately marred by critical and intolerable P2P networking and security flaws.

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

Release Date: February 14th, 2017

NOTE: This was played on a PlayStation 4. Review Code provided by Ubisoft.

The premise of For Honor is unique: what would happen if Knights, Vikings, and Samurai all fought on the same battlefield? Who would win? In this episode of “Deadliest Warrior,” For Honor pits players who are aligned with one of those three factions. And each of those factions have classes with strengths and weaknesses that can make or break a battle across the game’s five modes and twelve maps. This third-person action game makes quite a first-time impression, but there are still chinks in the armor that make the experience quite unbearable.

To begin with, For Honor makes sure you are trained in the art of battle. A tutorial ensures you understand the basics before you even attempt to venture off into other modes. For Honor is predominantly a multiplayer game -- usually a singleplayer is haphazardly cobbled together as just “missions” and “practice” and for the most part, that is very true. There are six missions across the three chapters that let you get your hands on each of the different kinds of characters and classes to see which ones you like the most.

The frame story for the game is basic but intrigues. At some point in the past, a cataclysmic event shifts the Earth’s plate tectonics together and wipes out the world’s resources such as water and food. The Knights, Vikings and Samurai have been fighting against each other for control of these resources. From Chapter 1, you play as a Knight who gets inducted into the Blackstone Legion, which is controlled by a female warlord named Apollyon. I name her specifically because she is one of the most brutal warlords I’ve seen portrayed in video games.

SPOILER WARNING: At some point, late in the Knight chapter, one of the other characters tells her that they should just burn the Viking village and food and be done with them. Apollyon – who you may also refer to as Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones – suggests that they leave the food for the Vikings to fight and kill each other over because the mission was not to kill them but to remind them of their place in the world. You later play as those same Vikings trying to take control of those same resources and interact with the Samurai. The other characters are not memorable enough but For Honor does an excellent job of setting the stage for why these factions are in perpetual conflict, besides their obvious cultural differences. The campaign is certainly worth a single or multiple playthrough if you’re the trophy/achievement hunter.

For Honor’s gameplay immediately sinks its claws into you from the word “go.” The game emulates much of the gameplay from Dark Souls and Bloodborne but with a few twists to make it its own beast. Stamina management is crucial to For Honor, even more so than the Soulsborne series. If you run out of stamina during a battle, you’re left waiting for it to recharge. During a heated fight, it’s the difference between victory and defeat.

The right-shoulder buttons and triggers control quick and heavy attacks. The left-trigger controls targeting specific foes in a battlefield. When you target, you can dodge, break the enemy’s guard and taunt. The crucial difference in For Honor’s gameplay is that the right stick is for blocking attacks. Depending on where the right stick is, that is the direction that your attack will go. Conversely, if an enemy is attacking you, all you need to do is move the right stick to whatever direction the enemy is attacking from, indicated by a bright red symbol. If you’re being attacked by more than one enemy, the system allows you to block as long as you’re exercising the same blocking maneuvers. It’s the kind of gameplay that is highly addictive because it is easy to learn but difficult to master. In a pinch, you can initiate the revenge mode which gives you unlimited stamina and boosted attacks. It’s not invincibility but it can turn the tide of a fight.

For Honor has three main modes with slight variations and each one offers a different experience. Dominion, a personal favorite, is a 4v4 match against players or bots where the objective is to take command points on a map amid easily killable grunts that give the battle weight and scale. Those of you who’ve experienced Titanfall or its sequel will know the sensation. The battles ebb and flow relentlessly and victory can mean the difference in a single battle between you and another player. It’s white-knuckle stuff for sure.

Deathmatch is straightforward between Elimination and Skirmish. It’s a 4v4 battle without the grunt type characters and is played on medium-sized maps. The last modes are 1v1 fights and 2v2 duels for the prideful players. After every game, your chosen character is awarded loot, currency and war assets. Those war assets are used in the meta game of For Honor’s Faction War but you won’t lose sleep for it.

For Honor’s character customization is robust and extensive. No, you can’t change your face directly but you can choose different shoulders, chests and helmets for your avatar depending on your choice of faction. You can also switch freely at will at any point in time. The customization reaches beyond the aesthetic with gameplay modifiers such as an arrow volley, health boost or smoke bombs. Most of the modifiers aren’t significant changes but perceptive players will know when to unleash a volley for maximum efficiency. None of characters or classes seem to overpowered which is a massive pro in its favor.

What isn’t is Ubisoft’s decision to favor the cheaper P2P multiplayer connection as opposed to dedicated servers. On the most basic level, P2P (Peer to Peer) connections base the match connection off one individual. If they leave the game, the entire game stops until another host is found. But the problems don’t end there -- there have been countless cases of hackers taking advantage of the P2P connection.

Not only that but P2P also makes your IP address vulnerable if you’re playing on a PC. And if you’re playing on PS4 or Xbox One and there’s a network issue, you can’t even play any of the game’s modes or against bots. Before writing this review, I ran into an issue where I was unable to even start For Honor. I was met with error message after error message and bumped right back into the main menu. I left and came back and it was working fine. But these issues do exist and it’s not okay that Ubisoft has elected not to use dedicated servers.

If you push through the barricades, For Honor is a fantastic game. The strategic gameplay and map design make it an easy recommendation. But Ubisoft can’t keep using the P2P server structure for much longer and hope to retain an audience.