Review: For Honor (PC)
For Honor grabbed my attention a long time ago, with its interesting take on the way sword combat works. It was complex but natural and led to cool moments in one-on-one duels about honor, glory and victory, outwitting your opponent and driving your blade home. However, without the emotions attached to beating another human in a game, For Honor loses a critical component. Or at least I have lost that component, because the multiplayer is completely inaccessible right now.
I want to love For Honor, I really do. But the short, contrived singleplayer campaign serves wholly as a training mechanism for a multiplayer component that I am unable to access. After spending most of Sunday and Monday trying to access multiplayer content, sitting through long matchmaking queues to only run into error message after error message. In all this time, the game’s counter says I have spent 6 minutes in PVP. The majority of that time is loading screens, I would guess, and one game against bots where the bots would sometimes teleport in and out of combat.
Peer to problem
For Honor has been out for a week now and the matchmaking issues are not unique to PC, though it seems the PC has the most matchmaking issues of the lot. Matchmaking takes ages to find a game, despite a cheery message of high activity in a game mode, and errors can occur during matchmaking, after finding other players or, and this one is the best, when you finally finally get into a game and start playing and get kicked with an error message. For a game whose heart and soul is the multiplayer component, this is beyond confusing. Instead of leading a charge and discovering that everyone else that plays this game is so much better at it than me, I get to watch an endless process of matchmaking followed by error messages. No thank you.
So what can be done in the game? The singleplayer content. The story follows the machinations of Apollyon, who wishes to teach people to become wolves again, feeling they have grown soft and docile thanks to years of peace. She somehow manages to pit three factions against each other, but her hope that war will last for months before they come for her are cut short, probably due to her all too obvious plots and schemes. She never explains why she wants war so badly, despite every level intro and observable item, a type of collectible in the game, being voiced by her. In essence the singleplayer campaign is a six hour romp built to teach you how to play the majority of the classes and how the multiplayer maps work. You defend points, help your army of grunt push up to a point and sometimes have enjoyable boss fights.
Thanks to this customisation of characters, you end up with some very silly conversations. With the knights you meet people like Holden Cross, Mercy, Apollyon and more but you are the ever helmeted Warden. At first it just seems weird, but it almost gets away with it thanks to an apparent lack of other wardens (similar to how using Shepherd or Inquisitor gets around cutsomisable characters in other games). There is a moment which is absolutely cringeworthy during the viking campaign where a large viking repeatedly shouts “RAIDER” at the top of her lungs, until your character arrives, a raider class hero. It is terribly executed and I almost couldn’t believe what was happening. Even the samurai campaign suffers from this, with every class getting a named character except tho Orochi, the Emperor’s champion.
Gritty, glorious combat
The setpieces and the combat are the true stars here. Working out how the combos, feints, unblockable and uninterruptible attacks all combing together into a fighting style takes time to learn and can only be compared to the complexity inherent in a fighting game. On the surface is looks deceptively simple, until you start looking into combos, cancels, stuns, parries and many other mechanics that make the whole system come alive. Each class has a distinct feel and playstyle, from balanced combatants to slow but heavy hitters and counterattackers that keep their foes at a distance. Working out how to kill someone isn’t that hard: the sharp end goes into the enemy. But finding out how to do it without the enemy even scratching you once, your defenses perfect while taking advantage of every opening your foe leaves, now that is a spectacle and a treat. Finding the gap, tricking the enemy into thinking they know where your next attack will come from. You feel the thrill of victory as you lop off your enemy’s head.
But how does that happen, and why is it so different from other games involving hacking and slashing? The control you have over your movements. Using your right analog stick (or your mouse) you can choose to attack from the left, right or top. Your character will move their weapon over to that side of their body, and an attack from the same direction as you are holding your weapon will be blocked, unless you are playing a class with a neutral stance, who needs to ‘lean’ into attacks. Your attack options are split into light or heavy attacks, a guard breaker or a dodge. Each hero uses these moves differently to chain together short combos, switching position of attack to keep the enemy guessing and find purchase through their defenses. It makes sense, it feels natural and to be honest I can’t believe this hasn’t become the standard control scheme for every game with a solid amount of time dedicated to melee combat.
I want to call this a review in progress. I hope to hop on one day and find the issue fixed but right now I am left with a bitter, cheated feeling. The game as it stands is not worth the money or frustration of sitting in a matchmaking queue again and again and again, only to have error messages pop up.