Since the first reveal trailer for For Honor, it was clear that this game would be introducing a unique interpretation of duelling combat. Blocking and attacking from three distinct directions introduces tactics that have never been featured in video games. At their best, encounters become drawn-out affairs of baiting, countering and outwitting, a tiny ruthless battle amidst a greater war. While this melee combat is faithful to the imagination, the ancillary necessities that encompass this mechanic are insufficient to prop it up for long. Ultimately, the success of For Honor relies on retention of the player base, and I have mixed feelings, to say the least.

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For Honor follows format formula with its two game modes, a story mode and multiplayer. The story is so poor I almost feel it’s unfair to pair it with the impressive and interesting multiplayer. While you can get a general idea of the many playable archetypes through the story, you’re never given enough time to become comfortable with any hero’s moveset and counters, which all behave differently. The story mode is a sort of dragged-out introduction to the game, giving a broad yet inaccurate sense of how to play. Throw in some cookie-cutter Linear Action Game™ objectives, paltry writing and unclear voice direction, and you’ve got For Honor. Yep.

The writing through the seven-or-so hour story mode is dissonant, with ill-placed humour conflicting with the completely unironic evil fantasy overlord narrator. Should you choose to play a female, it’s really quite hard to differentiate between the unnamed protagonists’ voices and that of Apollyon, the only established character, since narration often overlaps with contextual dialogue. As the game’s only actual character, Apollyon is a textbook warmonger, and there’s little more to be said.

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On to the meat of the meal. The best of For Honor are the intense one-on-one encounters with enemy players, where two individuals are trying to work each other’s playstyles out, risking it all to pull off a counter or a special move. An entire war carries on around them, but they are locked in a fight to the death. Your choice to fight or flee from an enemy always feels tactical; it is possible to lose sight of the objective in Dominion, which is to secure set locations to earn points, but sometimes you need to eliminate just one more player to tackle that objective. Sometimes you just keep them busy while your teammates sneak on through. For Honor would be a fantastic team game, and I feel something is lost when playing solo, with a directionless team that trickles in and meanders to defeat.

The thematic direction of For Honor is clear, almost. An anachronistic feud between Samurai, Knights and Vikings pits players as swordsmen vying for control of the lands in a metagame war. The caveat here is that unhealthy injection of jest in the story mode, so as long as you ignore that entire segment of the game you’ll be immersed in the unwavering seriousness of the piece. Choosing a faction determines only your metagame positioning, and you are free to select any four archetypal heroes from each faction at the beginning of every match. Eventually you come to recognise the capabilities of each hero, and the How To Play menu option is a godsend, a wealth of knowledge that details otherwise unspoken mechanics and strategies.

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Prior to stumbling across these tutorials I had a rather hard time playing For Honor. Enemies always seemed to have the upper hand, however I never felt as if an encounter was impossible to win by design. I was never the fire type getting hopelessly demolished by a water type, just a pathetic fighter being humiliated by another, more trained warrior. The barrier to entry feels high, with a brick wall of a difficulty curve, but it is satisfying and fun once, and if, you become comfortable with your capabilities.

From start to finish For Honor is gorgeous. During combat it’s rather difficult to appreciate the visceral sound effects or attention to detail in just about every texture on screen, especially if you’re trying to actually survive. Take a second to overlook a ledge and survey the battlefield, or the frightening effects of fireballs and falling rubble, and you may lose the war, but at least you got to take some pretty screenshots.

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I had hoped For Honor would be able to yank me back into competitive multiplayer games with its authentic and surprisingly deep melee combat system, but it leaves me with the same frustrations that prevent me from enjoying staple multiplayer franchises. Trudging through one awful match after another to finally become able to defeat the previously overwhelming onslaught of enemies is made meaningless when the realities of poor P2P connectivity comes to slap you in the face. Disconnected. Try again.

A flawed piece with an unfortunate future, For Honor takes common sense steps that are somehow remarkable. A new IP with one interesting, fleshed out mechanic. Women in armour that appear appropriate, that is to say they are as fierce, menacing and savage as their male counterparts. A game that is fun and competitive and frustrating and rewarding.

But really, why even bother with that story mode? Did you have contractual obligations? Was it for the sales?

7/10
Great

Select Start Media was provided with a code for For Honor on PS4 by Ubisoft.

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