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Is Now A Good Time To Jump Back Into For Honor?

by Jeff Cork on Feb 18, 2021 at 12:38 PM

Rainbow Six: Siege is still going strong six years after its launch, but that’s not the only Ubisoft title still pulling back players in for more. For Honor recently celebrated its fourth birthday, and the company revealed what’s ahead for the game as part of its Year 5 update (Shovel Knight cosmetics!). I haven’t played much of the melee fighter since I reviewed it back in 2017, which made me wonder what it’s like to jump back in. After all, new heroes and maps have been released over the years, along with balance changes and tweaks to the overall meta. The bottom line? It’s still fun … but get used to dying.

Ubisoft was kind enough to loan me three members of the For Honor team to get me back up to speed. Before I joined the session, I went back through the tutorials and reacclimated myself to the combat basics. If you haven’t played For Honor, it’s simultaneously simple and complex. Characters hold their weapons in three different stances (up, left, and right). If your stance matches that of an incoming attack, you’ll block it. If you attack in a direction that an opponent hasn’t picked, surprise, your attack will land. There are combos to master, unblockable moves to learn, special attacks, weapon and armor unlocks, strategies that vary depending on maps and game modes – it’s a lot. 

“For Honor’s strength is its very unique gameplay experience, and even though it’s quite simple to get used to the art of battle, understanding all the intricacies of each hero and match ups can take a bit more time,” says game director Nicolas Bombray. “On the upside though, the community has put up a lot of useful videos and tutorials online about many aspects of the game. So, if you want to get serious about For Honor, you should definitely check that material out.”

I selected Warmonger, one of the characters introduced since I last played. She’s a visually intimidating member of the Knight faction who wields a two-handed flamberge. She has great range, and her combos include poking attacks and sweeping strikes. She also has a cool guard-break variation that is a nice departure from the other heroes; if you charge it in the middle of several different combos, she lashes out with a clawed gauntlet. Based on aesthetics alone, I was all in.

“Right off the bat, players are going to notice the hero roster has expanded greatly,” says lead game designer Stefan Jewinski. “When For Honor first launched it had 12 heroes. Now we have 28 (and 2 more coming in Year 5). Year 4 heroes, the Warmonger and Gryphon, are built with accessible gameplay in mind – if you are a new or returning player, these are effective heroes that are easy to pick up and be able to start playing well with. At the same time, because of hero reworks, core combat updates, and various improvements over the years, the general hero balance across the board is better than ever – so whoever you pick, you’re going to be able to wreak some havoc on the battlefield.”

We played three matches of Dominion, which is essentially a zone-based mode where two teams of four players try to control several strategic points in an arena. You score by capturing control points, killing enemy heroes, and killing fodder A.I. that typically gathers in the center of each map. When you reach 1,000 points, the other team breaks, preventing them from respawning. Kill all four heroes at that point, and you win. It’s basically For Honor’s flagship mode, and it seemed like as good a place as any to dip my toes in.

If you’re a person who gets frustrated easily in multiplayer games, you may want to practice your deep-breathing exercises before playing For Honor. I don’t know if it was a matter of luck (or lack thereof), matchmaking, or just my waning muscle memory, but my return to the battlefield was a brutal reminder that a lot of players haven’t stopped playing the game. I found myself easily outclassed in one-on-one battles, and in the rare moments where it seemed as though I was gaining the upper hand, my opponent’s teammate would materialize from nowhere and gank me – my death usually displayed with a gruesome, demoralizing execution.

“Of course, the most experienced players are masters these days, but our skill-based matchmaking should ensure that all players get generally fair matchups, and generally keep those masters away from players who are working their way up the skill curve,” Jewinsky says. I may have been a victim of Ubisoft’s generosity; I didn’t look too closely at my teammates’ stats, but there’s a distinct possibility that their presence tipped the scales against a novice like me. I tried a few matches later in solo queue, and sure enough, it didn’t feel like I was battling superhuman opponents.

Even though I died often and reliably, there were some changes to the UI designed to help coordinate team play. I didn’t notice it at first, but I appreciated the Team ID overlay that helps you differentiate teammates from enemies while on the battlefield. This makes it easy to see at a glance where everyone is and, more importantly, where they need to be. 

Despite some of the vein-bursting frustration that came with my short lifespans, I had a pretty good time getting back into the action. It’s satisfying to land a combo, particularly when you’re able to skewer an opponent who was bashing your head in mere moments ago. And the inclusion of a battle pass gives players who like cosmetics something to shoot for – or, of course, to spend money on if they so desire. I didn’t get on board with the cosmetics side of For Honor in the beginning, and I don’t know that I ever will. Year 5’s collaboration with Yacht Club has led to some Shovel Knight-themed outfits and something called a “shovel drop” emote, but I can’t imagine a world where I drop any cash on it. 

Would I recommend getting back into For Honor? If you’re looking for weapons-based fighting on console, it’s among the best options I’ve played, even with my rusty skills. When it was released, I spent a lot of time playing it for review and got into a nice groove. The combat was satisfying, and victories – as hard-fought as they were – felt earned. I’m certainly nowhere near that place right now, but I’m tentatively putting it back on my rotation. I imagine that getting proficient at it again has to feel great, even if the path to get there is paved with whiffed attacks, dead heroes, and a demoralizing string of losses. With mastery comes the possibility of earning a little cash, too.

“For our more competitive audience, last year we introduced the Dominion Series – our official competitive program for PC top players – with a total cash prize of $35,000,” Jewinsky says. “We will keep running the Dominion Series during Year 5 and will communicate all the details in the near future. We also have intentions to introduce more casual tournaments within the year to give a chance to less experienced players to participate, here again more details will follow as the year unfolds.”

Ubisoft remains bullish on For Honor, even if it isn’t grabbing as much mainstream attention as it did closer to its initial launch. It’s clear that it still has a healthy fanbase; the bulk of the matches I played filled up with live players in short order, with only a few bots filling up vacancies when necessary.

“For Honor’s in the best shape it’s ever been,” Bombray says. “We have 28 heroes, a more offensive meta and a booming competitive scene for the combat fans. For those more attracted to the fantasy, we have a lively platform that evolves every season and advances our narrative Journey. After the events of Year 4 we are now introducing the concept of covenants which will add a new spin to our classic Factions.

“As far as the future’s concerned, we’ve recently added the ability for next-gen compatibility on PlayStation and Xbox, which is a great signal that we intend to keep For Honor running long term. Playing the game at 60 fps on console was a dream of ours for a long time, and now it’s possible on next-gen consoles. The future of For Honor is constantly on our mind and we feel that even though there’s never been a better time to play the game, next season, next year should be even better. This is the reason why this team goes to work every morning. This is a unique game defined by its very special core experience, and we want to push it further using our competitive scene to keep learning, improving the gameplay and promoting it to new players to keep growing this amazing community of fighters.”

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