Video Games

‘For Honor’ has potential, but it lost me with its steep learning curve

“For Honor” features brutal close-quarters combat.
“For Honor” features brutal close-quarters combat. Ubisoft

Here’s the thing about “For Honor”: The more honorable you are, the more you get your butt kicked. I guess “For Sneaky Backstabbing Then Running Away Giggling” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.

Ubisoft’s anticipated third-person brawler dropped on Tuesday, and while it may make Medieval historians queezy with its lumping of knights, samurai and vikings together as playable factions, it has a few thrills for the skilled gamers out there. The combat is both a major strength and a glaring weakness – a souped-up version of Ubisoft’s “Assassin’s Creed” system that allows for devastating combinations from those with the patience to master them. But we gamers aren’t known much for our patience, and the hours and hours of getting cut to pieces while learning the game soured my experience.

“For Honor” can be fun, I think, but its complexity makes it only accessible to highly skilled gamers willing to die repeatedly in order to learn its secrets. Think of it as a player-vs.-player “Dark Souls,” although it isn’t quite that demanding. It’s a step in the right direction for developers who have long hoped to create a melee-driven brawler that can somehow capture the multiplayer greatness and commercial success of the first-person shooter genre, but the gap between niche hack-and-slash and “Call of Duty” remains vast.

In “For Honor,” players can choose from 12 total playable classes – four for each of the factions (knights, samurai and vikings). These options are pretty diverse and can suit each player’s preferences. Some are nimble, lightly armored assassin’s wielding two small weapons, while others are massive bruisers who basically beat their opponents to death with giant clubs. In the multiplayer modes, having a diverse team is important.

Sort of.

I’ve found the quicker classes are much more useful – at least in the four-on-four modes, which I believe are the most entertaining multiplayer options. The game is built around two warriors facing each other down in a sort of punch, counter-punch style. You can attack from three angles, and your attacks can be parried by a defender mirroring your approach. Combinations, throws and special moves shake this up, but the combat appears to have been designed around attacking and blocking in a one-on-one scenario.

The agile guys get around this, though. They run in, slash around a bit and run out. The bigger characters can not chase them, and on the dominion mode – where players’ main focus is on capturing zones, not just decapitating one another – this is a major problem. You are basically forced to field a team of four sprinters or lose.

This is something that probably won’t be an issue in a few months, as players will get better and Ubisoft will balance out the classes. But right now, during launch week, it’s annoying. Sure, I can play the one-on-one or two-on-two modes, but I prefer the objective-based multiplayer modes, of which “For Honor” has one: the eight-player dominion. The single-player campaigns are a good way to learn the game, but they are clearly secondary to the multiplayer.

I was also pretty peeved with the progression/equipment system. As you play a particular class, you will unlock new skills and gather new loot. This takes forever, and it greatly rewards those who are spending dozens of hours playing only “For Honor.”

This isn’t uncommon. Multiplayer games often reward those who are playing more. But “For Honor” does not have the player base of a “Call of Duty” or “Battlefield.” Because less players are online, the matchmaking system often pits beginners against seasoned veterans, which is extremely frustrating for the beginners. Even the AI bots give you major headaches for your first four or five hours, which proved enough to make me slam my keyboard down in disgust and switch to another game.

Maybe this just isn’t my game. Whenever I complain about difficulty, I inevitably get that comment saying “you just suck. This game is awesome.” Maybe, but I play an awful lot of games. I have written about them at least once a week for about 160 weeks in a row. If I can’t find my groove in 10 hours, then the game probably doesn’t have a danceable beat.

But remember: I am biased. I hate the “Assassin’s Creed” franchise, and “For Honor” is developed by the same company. If you love “Assassin’s Creed” – specifically the combat – you will probably love “For Honor.”

For me, it’s too difficult, too quickly, to be fun. More players, a better matchmaking system and/or more diverse multiplayer modes could fix this in the future, but I see “For Honor” frustrating many casual warriors into quitting before they’ve truly started. There are brief flickers of brilliance – perhaps my tune will change in a month or two – but right now, it’s a drag.

For Honor

Video Game Review

1/2

▪ Rated mature for blood, gore and intense violence

▪ Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

▪ Publisher: Ubisoft

▪ Out now for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC

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