It’s not unusual to spend $60 on a day one video game purchase today. It is unusual to pay that kind of original fee and then remain hounded in-game for the rest of your cash in return for in-game currency. The pay to play, or pay to upgrade model is slowly edging into certain aspects of game design, but For Honor never lets you forget that you can spend just as much as you did for your preorder on the ironically named ‘steel’ currency. If you want to avoid this payout, you can always earn in the old fashioned, organic way – but by the time you earn enough for a single skin, the box will be in retro stores.
That’s not to say For Honor doesn’t deliver an exciting package by itself. Outside of the subsidiary single player campaign, online multiplayer presents one of the best fighting experiences on the market. A simplistic starting control scheme ultimately gives way to incredibly nuanced, deep duel combat. It’s these one on one duels that keep bringing me back to the game through their sheer psychological warfare. Players can choose to attack and block in three directions. Choosing left, right, or above manouvres lock you into this movement, with button prompts displaying your direction to your opponent and the moment you being the attacking motion.
Slowly circling a battleground, psyching out a ready opponent becomes incredibly tense, and when that attack officially begins you have a split second to leap into a block, attack, or dodge. It’s an elegant and simple mechanic that allows a high degree of presence through its intensely psychological approach.
To spend your days online limiting yourself only to this ground level combat gameplay would be a severe misjudgment. After a while mastering certain moves, more opportunities to mould the game system make themselves known. The feigned attack is one of the most satisfying and rewarding moves to master. Beginning an attack, only to cancel it and nip round the side to catch your opponent unaware is a skill developed over hours of practice. Just like the rest of the game, time, dedication, practice, and patience are both required and actively encouraged to move through the rankings. Clumsy button mashing is punished, and tactical, deliberate moves are highly praised in the world of For Honor.
Aside from the one on one duel system, players also have the chance to flex their all-out-war muscles on the Dominion battleground. The 4X4 mode is subsidised by weaker AI minions that fight the nitty gritty while you can focus on pushing back enemy lines. Capturing control zones and pressing forward through these weaker minions will ensure the battle ends in your favour. The first team to hit 1000 points are usually the victors, as this milestone renders your opposing team vulnerable in their inability to respawn. Nevertheless, it’s a heart-pumping mass of frenetic action for both sides down to these final moments.
For Honor functions as an incredibly intuitive and well balanced multiplayer experience supported by a tutorial-ish, flat, single player campaign. After trudging through menu after menu to actually get into battle, an uninspiring story mode awaits. Following three chapters focusing on each character class, players will ultimately end up frustrated and bored with For Honor‘s constantly sidelined, lacklustre attempt to comment on the state of violence within human nature. Attempts at profundity rear their alien head every now and then in jarringly mundane cut-scenes, before being drowned out by the gory combat everyone actually came here for. It’s a cliche message that seems like an afterthought, a single scriptwriter’s last ditch punt for profundity in a game that’s been designed to clearly have little of it. Needlessly bloated, and bound to put off certain players who don’t stick with the tutorials, the single-player campaign is extremely disappointing.
Nevertheless, For Honor is first and foremost an incredibly satisfying online experience with both tactical brawling depth and mouth dropping gore. If you have the patience and time to get past the initial frowns of the first few hours, you will be delightfully rewarded, but it’s understandable if you’re looking for more of a drop in and out experience. The constant plugging of micro transactions is, however, a slap in the face that sorely undermines For Honor‘s slick style. Whether a strong online experience is enough to carry you over (or even up to) that $60 price remains to be seen, but it’s certainly appealing in itself.